FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s incredibly rare for an NFL team to be close to full health three-and-a-half months into the season, but that’s where the New England Patriots stand heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots have had perfect attendance at each of their last four practices, including Thursday’s, and currently have just one player listed on their injury report: defensive end Deatrich Wise (ankle), who’s been a full participant this week.
New England’s most important players also have avoided serious injury this season, which hasn’t been the case in recent years.
The Patriots’ injured reserve includes just five players who were expected to play significant roles: rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, cornerback Eric Rowe, running back Jeremy Hill, rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and tight end Jacob Hollister, plus a few low-round draft picks and end-of-the-roster players.
At this time last year, the Patriots were without starters Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower and Marcus Cannon, and the status of quarterback Tom Brady came into question after he suffered a freak hand injury in practice. In 2016, it was star tight end Rob Gronkowski who had to watch the AFC title game from the sideline.
The Patriots were fortunate enough to win both of those games. In 2015, they weren’t so lucky. With a slew of key players on IR and an astounding 20 more listed as either questionable or probable, New England lost 20-18 to the Broncos in Denver.
A similar situation also played out in 2013, when the Broncos handed a depleted Patriots team a 26-16 defeat at Mile High.
For more context on just how fortunate the Patriots have been health-wise this year, here’s a look back at their injury status entering each of the last six AFC Championship Games:
— Injured reserve: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Eric Rowe, Jeremy Hill, Isaiah Wynn, Jacob Hollister
— Only one player on injury report: Deatrich Wise (full participant)
2017 (beat Jacksonville Jaguars)
— IR: Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Mitchell, Nate Ebner, Martellus Bennett, Vincent Valentine, Cyrus Jones, Shea McClellin, Derek Rivers
— Five questionable for AFC title game (Tom Brady, Rex Burkhead, Alan Branch, LaAdrian Waddle, Mike Gillislee)
2016 (beat Pittsburgh Steelers)
— IR: Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Jonathan Freeny, Jacoby Brissett
— Five questionable (Danny Amendola, Dont’a Hightower, Chris Hogan, Brandon Bolden, Malcolm Mitchell)
2015 (lost at Denver Broncos)
— IR: LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Aaron Dobson, Dominque Easley
— Fifteen (!) questionable (Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins, Rob Gronkowski, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Matthew Slater, Sebastian Vollmer, Scott Chandler, Nate Ebner, Darius Fleming, Jonathan Freeny, Bryan Stork, LaAdrian Waddle), five probable (Tom Brady, Brandon LaFell, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Josh Kline)
2014 (beat Indianapolis Colts)
— IR: Aaron Dobson, Dominque Easley, Alfonzo Dennard, Jerod Mayo, Stevan Ridley
— Three questionable (Brandon Browner, Bryan Stork, Chris Jones), three probable (Tom Brady, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon LaFell)
2013 (lost at Broncos)
— IR: Rob Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images