By Sam McPherson
With a 5-10 record in 2017, the Denver Broncos don’t have much to play for in their final game of the regular season. They cannot even play the spoiler role for the visiting Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, as the Chiefs already have wrapped up the AFC West Division and secured a playoff spot. Therefore, the team is playing it safe with some injured players that do not need to be exposed to risk on the field in a relatively meaningless game.
Three players—including two wide receivers—have been ruled out for the Week 17 matchup against division-rival Kansas City at Sports Authority Field, and Denver also has one player designated as questionable. In a season where the Broncos currently have 13 players on the injured reserve, there is little point in risking more damage to a fragile roster in the final game of a lost year.
Lynch to start, but without Latimer and Sanders in the lineup
Second-year quarterback Paxton Lynch gets the start against the Chiefs, and he himself has been fighting an ankle injury. Regardless, he will take the field without WR Cody Latimer (thigh) and WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle). Latimer leads the Denver WRs corps with a 15.1 yards-per-catch average this season, although he’s played in only 11 games this season. The veteran Sanders also has missed three games this season already and was removed from the game last week with the ankle problem. He is second on the team this year with 47 receptions.
Injuries in the Denver trenches
Nose tackle Zach Kerr has been ruled out for the game as well, also due to an ankle injury. He played last week against the Washington Redskins, notching three total tackles, but Head Coach Vance Joseph doesn’t see the need to risk Kerr in this game against Kansas City. Kerr started one game this year and has wracked up 19 tackles and a half sack in 11 games over the course of the 2017 season.
On the offensive line, right tackle Donald Stephenson (finger) is questionable. A third-round pick of the 2012 draft for the Chiefs, he has started four games this year, playing in seven total. Stephenson has played in all 16 regular-season games just three times in his six-year NFL career, and in two years with Denver, he’s appeared in just 20 of a possible 31 games.
Chiefs sitting Hunt and perhaps Smith, too
Kansas City already has a home playoff game coming up as the result of winning the division, so QB Alex Smith will not be starting. He will take the week off to rest and prep for the postseason. Meanwhile, running back Akeem Hunt (shoulder) might join Smith in street clothes on the Chiefs sideline Sunday. At 5-foot-9 and just 184 pounds, Hunt has taken a bit of beating this season as a rookie, and resting him is in Kansas City’s best interests in terms of playoff advancement.
Two other K.C. players—defensive end Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Bennie Logan—are listed as questionable with knee injuries. With little incentive in this game for the Chiefs, it would be a surprise to see either player on the field Sunday in Denver.
- (OT) Donald Stephenson (Finger)
- (WR) Cody Latimer (Thigh)
- (NT) Zach Kerr (Ankle)
- (WR) Emmanuel Sanders (Ankle)