Thursday was always going to be the most important day of practice for the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of hosting Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, wideout Sammy Watkins and cornerback Bashaud Breeland all participated. Thus, they should all play against the Bills, who are 3-point underdogs on the William Hill Sportsbook NFL odds. It's not out of the question that spread rises a half-point once Mahomes (and to a lesser extent the others) is officially cleared, but the early lean at William Hill has been on Buffalo against the spread.
Mahomes also practiced Wednesday – when the Chiefs first released their injury report it said Mahomes practiced in full, but then the team flip-flopped and said it was in a limited capacity. By league rules, a player can't be listed as having practiced in full if he is in the concussion protocol.
Frankly, there was never much doubt Mahomes would play Sunday as he technically didn't suffer a concussion in the third quarter last Sunday vs. Cleveland but was more choked out on an unusual tackle by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson.
The bigger worry for Mahomes is his left foot/big toe, which clearly was bothering him against the Browns before the concussion issue. Mahomes had a few uncharacteristically inaccurate throws once he was back on the field following the toe injury.
In Mahomes' past eight starts, the Chiefs have won them all (he sat out Week 17) but all by six points or fewer and have covered the spread just once. Kansas City has failed to cover five straight home games, the longest such streak in the NFL this season. Mahomes is 4-2 ATS in his six career playoff starts.
Edwards-Helaire and Watkins both were inactive for the Chiefs' victory over Cleveland. Edwards-Helaire hasn't played since Week 15 due to an ankle injury. In Kansas City's Week 6 victory in Buffalo, the first-round pick out of LSU rushed for a career-high 161 yards on 26 carries.
Watkins (calf) has battled injuries all season and was a disappointment with 37 catches for 421 yards and two scores in 10 games. He's on a one-year contract and likely won't be back in 2021. Watkins was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft by Buffalo but didn't play in the first meeting with the Bills.
Breeland, like Mahomes, is in the concussion protocol and, like Watkins, is set for free agency after this season. Breeland had five tackles, including one for loss, Week 6 vs. the Bills and helped hold Stefon Diggs to six catches for 46 yards.
The Bills are very healthy entering the AFC title game.
Weather-wise, the current forecast for the 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff from Kansas City is 34 degrees and overcast with winds from the northeast at 5-10 mph. It may rain a bit earlier in the day as it won't be cold enough to snow and may not get below freezing at all.
The SportsLine Projection Model, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, is up almost $7,900 for $100 players on top-rated NFL picks since its inception five-plus years ago. It is a sizzling 24-14 on top-rated NFL picks this season, returning well over $800. The model also enters Championship Weekend in the 2021 NFL Playoffs on an incredible 120-78 run on top-rated NFL picks that dates back to the 2017 season.