KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three starters are among the inactives for the Kansas City Chiefs, who are trying to hang onto the top spot in the AFC standings Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Tight end Travis Kelce, right tackle Lucas Niang and linebacker Nick Bolton all landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week and were unable to test out in time for the game.
We have ruled out TE Travis Kelce, LB Nick Bolton and OL Lucas Niang for today’s game. (Not Injury Related - Other)— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 26, 2021
All three players had been activated Saturday in hopes that a negative test would clear the path for their return, like it did for wide receiver Tyreek Hill on Saturday.
Instead, Kelce, Niang and Bolton are inactive along with third-string quarterback Shane Buechele.
Kicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend also will miss Sunday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19. Elliott Fry and Townsend’s brother, Johnny Townsend, will step into the specialist roles.
The Chiefs also will be without cornerback Rashad Fenton, offensive lineman Kyle Long and safety Armani Watts, who are all on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
With the Los Angeles Chargers' stunning loss at Houston, Kansas City can clinch a sixth straight AFC West title with a win or tie against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers also are missing several key players.
Pittsburgh will be without tight end Pat Freiermuth (concussion), defensive end Chris Wormley (groin), punter Pressley Harvin III (personal) and linebacker Buddy Johnson (foot), who were all ruled out Saturday after missing practice time during the week.
The inactive list also includes punter Cameron Nizialek and quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Meanwhile, Steelers linebackers Devin Bush and Marcus Allen, tackle Zach Banner, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. are on the reserve/COVID-19 list and won’t play.
The Chiefs also will be without three assistant coaches — quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, running backs coach Greg Lewis and assistant offensive line coach Corey Matthaei — due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.
Mike Kafka, Greg Lewis and Corey Matthaei will not coach in today’s game due to covid protocols.— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 26, 2021
This will be the first game Kansas City’s Pro Bowl quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, has started without Kelce on the field since his NFL debut in the 2017 season finale.
Kelce ranks second on the Chiefs this season in receptions (83), receiving yards (1,066) and touchdowns (seven).
Veteran Blake Bell, who was removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week, and rookie Noah Gray will see increased action with Kelce out.
Andrew Wylie is expected to start again at right tackle with Niang sidelined. The Chiefs won all five games with Wylie there after Niang suffered a midseason rib injury.
Bolton, a rookie second-round pick from the University of Missouri, is Kansas City’s leading tackler (102) and also has the most tackles for a loss (11) on the team this season.
The Chiefs played without defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed in a Dec. 16 win at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Jones and Gay have returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list and Sneed is back after missing the last two games after his brother’s death in Louisiana.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon also returns from the reserve/COVID-19 list after missing the overtime win last week at the Chargers.