Once again, Patrick Mahomes makes the list, but this time, he’s on the good end. Chiefs coach Andy Reid on Friday said Mahomes would play this weekend, ending the MVP’s absence after two games. But as one QB returns, another may have to sit, as an AFC playoff contender has a “game-time decision” to make about its signal-caller. This week, the biggest injury impacts likely will be felt on the defense front and on the offensive perimeter, with one big-time pass catcher out and a couple more holding their breaths.
10. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
STATUS: Active (knee)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: None
NEXT MAN UP: Let’s start with the name that has occupied the No. 1 spot on this list in recent weeks. The reigning NFL MVP’s absence will end after two games, as Reid told reporters that Mahomes will start at Tennessee on Sunday, 24 days after dislocating his kneecap. Original reports had him missing at least three games, and he sat out two. His early return is a gift the Chiefs could use with the Raiders close on their heels in the AFC West. After losing at home to the Packers 31-24 in Matt Moore’s first start in place of Mahomes, Kansas City edged out a win over Minnesota last week.
9. Rams WR Brandin Cooks
STATUS: Out (concussion)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: Hopeful, but extremely cautious
NEXT MAN UP: With Cooks’ recent history of concussions, there was talk during the Rams’ bye week about whether the receiver’s career could be over. However, he was on the practice field Friday (despite being ruled out early in the week), and it looks as if he’ll try to get into a game again this season. As for the next man up, Josh Reynolds will once again move into the starting lineup with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The Rams’ offense has shown signs of improvement the last two games (albeit against the Falcons and Bengals), but with Todd Gurley and the ground game still looking to get going, L.A. could ill afford a setback in the passing game.
8. Titans DT Jurrell Casey
STATUS: Out (shoulder)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: Moderate
NEXT MAN UP: The Titans have plenty of other problems to worry about, and Casey’s numbers are off his usual Pro Bowl pace this season. But at 4-5, Tennessee cannot afford to lose much more ground in a very competitive AFC South. And linebacker Jayon Brown (groin) also will miss the game, making the Titans perhaps more vulnerable than usual to a dynamic offense. And offenses don’t get much more dynamic than the one the Titans face Sunday — the one in Kansas City with Mahomes back in the huddle.
7. Jets RB Le’Veon Bell
STATUS: Questionable (knee, ankle)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: Lowering
NEXT MAN UP: A season that has brought seemingly nothing but bad news for the Jets may actually bring some good news this weekend. Bell, struggling with the rest of his Jets teammates in his first season in New York, “looks good” to play against the co-tenant Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, coach Adam Gase told reporters. With an MRI exam taken after Bell injured his knee last week in Miami revealing no structural damage, hopes are high in Jets circles that the running back will be able to go after getting limited work Thursday and Friday.
6. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper, LB Leighton Vander Esch
STATUS: Questionable (Cooper, knee/ankle); no designation (Vander Esch, neck)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: Lowering
NEXT MAN UP: Cooper’s struggles with leg injuries are nothing new for the Cowboys. He has yet to miss a game, but he’s been a regular on the injury report and missed all but one drive in a loss to the Jets. With the Vikings up next, Cooper has to be anxious to get on the field. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill had 140 receiving yards last week against Minnesota. Vander Esch appears poised to return after missing last week with a neck stinger. With the bye week, he has had nearly three full weeks to recover. Owner Jerry Jones said on a radio show Friday he expects both players to be a go Sunday.
5. Browns DE Olivier Vernon
STATUS: Out (knee)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: High
NEXT MAN UP: The level of concern is high all around the Browns at this point. But losing Vernon against the Bills could be particularly tough against a big, mobile quarterback such as Buffalo’s Josh Allen. At 2-6, the Browns seem destined for another season out of the playoffs. But the Bills are very much in the playoff picture, and there are plenty of teams that would love to see Cleveland pull off the upset. And even if the season is lost in terms of the postseason, you’d have to imagine the second half of the season would go a long way in determining plenty of people’s futures with the Browns.
4. Steelers offense
STATUS: Out (RB James Conner, shoulder; RB Benny Snell, knee; FB Roosevelt Nix, knee; OG Ramon Foster, concussion); Questionable (WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, foot)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: High
NEXT MAN UP: The Steelers’ injury outlook has actually gotten worse since last week. Conner was listed as doubtful, but he missed Pittsburgh’s home game against the Colts. Nix played last week but won’t this week. Snell and Foster missed last week and will do so again this week. And now Smith-Schuster is on the injury report, a surprise addition after he was limited in practice Friday due to a foot injury. While the Steelers still beat the Colts last week, this week they get a Rams team coming off a bye week.
3. Vikings WR Adam Thielen, DT Linval Joseph
STATUS: Out (Thielen, hamstring; Joseph, knee)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: High
NEXT MAN UP: Thielen returned from his first career DNP but last week but only lasted a few snaps before leaving the Vikings’ game in Kansas City. He’s officially out this week for a game that could have huge playoff ramifications. Minnesota and Dallas (whom the Vikings play on the road Sunday night) are both three-loss teams, and the winner of this one would hold a tiebreaker edge for the playoffs if they end up level. Despite practicing earlier this week, Joseph was ruled out Friday. Losing an interior lineman with Ezekiel Elliott in the opposing backfield is never a good thing.
2. 49ers TE George Kittle
STATUS: Uncertain (knee, ankle)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: Rising quickly
NEXT MAN UP: Kittle erupted early on Halloween, asserting himself with a physical catch-and-run touchdown followed by other tough grabs. But an injury slowed him later in the game in Arizona, and it has continued to hobble him. He did not practice this week, leaving his status for Week 10 in question. On the bright side, the 49ers play Monday, so he gets the extra day to recover. On the down side, the opponent is Seattle, making this the biggest game of the unbeaten 49ers’ season to date. And earlier this week, San Francisco placed linebacker Kwon Alexander on injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle.
1. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett
STATUS: Questionable (knee; game-time decision)
LEVEL OF CONCERN: High, but hopeful
NEXT MAN UP: The Colts got a look at the next man up last week, as veteran Brian Hoyer took over after Brissett went down with a knee injury in the second quarter in Pittsburgh. Hoyer’s numbers were fine (165 yards, three touchdowns, one interception). However, he turned the ball over twice, had his interception returned 96 yards for a touchdown, and ultimately was on the losing end of a 26-24 score. What’s more, the Colts on Friday ruled out WRs T.Y. Hilton (calf) and Parris Campbell (hand) for Sunday’s game against Miami. And if Hoyer does have to start, he didn’t get full reps this week as Brissett has done some work with the first team in case he can play.