Will Carroll
Thursday October 6th, 2011

Fantasy football is fickle. In one league, I'm 0-4 and in another, I'm 4-0. The players are similar, the competition is stout -- one is an SI house league, the other is the Football Outsiders house league -- and yet, I'm in completely opposite situations. Will getting Arian Foster back help me as much as I'd hoped? Yes, but I still came up a point shy last week. Can Wes Welker continue to carry the other team, while Cam Newton remains the surprise fantasy stud of the century? I'm sure you're all dealing with the same issues, but it's no time to let up. An 0-4 start isn't out of it and 4-0 isn't a lock.

With bye weeks coming up and injuries beginning to cull the herd a bit, we're getting beyond the point where luck is the great determinant. Injuries are part of the game, but they don't have to be the deciding factor. Then again, I'm convinced that the next innovation in fantasy football should be the "in-game replacement." The NFL should love this -- it would force you to watch closely enough to jump on the web site or app and make the move. Anything that makes the game more interactive -- bonus points for calling plays anyone? -- is good for the game ... and the gamers. Let's get to it:

"The Texans should win the AFC South if they stay healthy." How many times did you read this in the preseason? They got Foster back in Week 4, but lost Johnson to a Grade II hamstring strain. Johnson's strain not only was a significant one, but was very low on the muscle,as could be seen from when he dropped and grabbed near the knee. It's a location where Johnson already had some scarring, so he elected to have a second opinion, which amounted to him finding a doctor that was comfortable doing something more aggressive than waiting.

Johnson had a "procedure" early this week that's been notably vague, but was nothing more than the kind of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections that we've seen more and more in sports. Johnson had the injections pushed directly into the strain and scar in hopes of breaking things up and stimulating the healing. According to Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, orthopedic surgeon at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., "PRP for hamstring injuries such as Andre Johnson's is now a common practice in professional athletes, with the major objective to help healing and decrease time to return to sport. There are limited studies that are very encouraging, but to date, there is no firm evidence yet [of the procedure's effectiveness]. The goal for this athlete would be to get him back to the field efficiently and minimize his potential for reinjury." He also noted that PRP isn't always effective at reducing scarring. In essence, Johnson took a chance that PRP will help with the knowledge that it might not. If we need to put a range on it, Johnson is likely out for 3-6 weeks with an outside chance of seeing him back in Week 7.

Roethlisberger has leveraged his size into a defense against a poor offensive line. The problem is that getting hit -- even hurried -- creates a sequence of events that raises the risk of injury. Dropping back and passing isn't dangerous, but add in scrambles, hits, and any other activity that tasks the body or creates situations where something like, say, a foot is twisted underneath someone in a pile, and it's no surprise that injuries will occur. That's what happened with Roethlisberger. Even Roethlisberger isn't quite sure how his foot was injured. There's no break, which was the major concern, but a mid-foot sprain can be just as painful and is tougher to monitor. It is a pain tolerance injury, so there's a good chance that Roethlisberger will be able to play through it.

The same is true for Mendenhall. He strained his hamstring making a quick lateral move and is questionable for Week 5. With Mewelde Moore injured as well (sprained ankle), the Steelers are very thin and could shift to a quick-pass game.

The bye week is coming at a perfect time for the Cowboys. There are always injuries to heal up, no matter when it comes. Austin, who is making good progress, will be rested significantly this week with the plan of bringing him back strong in Week 6 and beyond. The bye week also should help Jones, who came back from his shoulder separation last week, but didn't make it through the full game. There's some speculation that his shoulder popped out again, but the description given in one report reads more like a dislocation, which would have much more serious consequences, and given that Jones came back, doesn't make much sense. The more likely explanation is he needed either a change/adjustment to his shoulder harness or another painkiller. The hope is that the week off will have him ready to go, though 100 percent might be a ways off.

The Dolphins have lost Chad Henne for the season. There were conflicting reports as to what Henne, the Dolphins and doctors are advising, but Henne decided to go with the surgical option. This is a similar situation to what shut down Matthew Stafford in 2009. Henne's injury is considered "moderate" -- a Grade II separation -- but there's question about stability. With the surgery, he should be fine to return next year, just as Stafford, Sam Bradford, and others have done. The Dolphins are checking their options beyond Matt Moore, hoping that the bye in Week 5 will give them time to get someone else into the playbook. You should be doing the same.

The Saints brought Colston back last week, just two weeks after having his fractured collarbone plated back together. It was an aggressive move and one not without its risks, both medically and in terms of game-planning. Colston came back as a decoy, more or less, getting only three targets on 31 plays, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That's more than Devery Henderson, but notable. We don't know intent, but it seems like Drew Brees and Sean Payton saw that Jimmy Graham had a nice matchup on top of full health. Even PFF can't tell us how Colston's presence altered coverage, but we can be sure that Ron Rivera's watching tape on this in preparation for this week's game and thinking the same things. Colston's bone is healthy enough to play, but he's still risky on two fronts -- health and game plan. I'd wait another week to see whether he's getting more targets, but the Saints may be in for a shootout in Week 5, so I won't argue if you use him at Flex.

Fractured eye socket doesn't even make the top of the "eww" list this week, but it's up there. Harrison, the big-hitting Steelers LB, will have surgery to fix the injury, which is important to ... well, there's no delicate way to put this -- it will keep his eye in place. Harrison reacted as if he'd been concussed, but watching tape of it, it's unclear how the injury happened. It wasn't a direct hit, so the most likely scenario is that he was hit, the helmet shifted, and his bone snapped. That's never good. Harrison should miss a few weeks as the bone needs to be very stable to prevent any sort of internal injuries. Given the way he hits, that could be longer than normal.

Michael Vick's hand showed no problems in Week 4. Call it another win for Unequal ... Frank Gore looked fine in Week 4 despite not getting the "start." He says he's better this week than last, so he's a must start ... Chris Wells had a breakout game -- and re-injured his hamstring a bit. Watch the practice reports late this week, but expect him to be a GTD again ... Ryan Grant has been cleared to play. He'll split carries with James Starks ... Tim Hightower's shoulder injury opened up touches for Ryan Torain last week. His split of carries will likely be down again this week ... Danny Woodhead's ankle sprain has him very unlikely for Week 5, opening the door for Stevan Ridley to get more touches ... Ben Tate isn't 100 percent, but it looks like he'll be available in Week 5. Downside is Arian Foster's healthy and getting all the touches for now ... Brandon Jacobs' knee is swelling, an indication of some underlying problem. With their bye in Week 7, they'll try to get him through this week at least. It should shift some carries to Ahmad Bradshaw and Henry Hynoski in pure short yardage ... Vincent Jackson missed much of Week 4 after another muscle strain, but he's likely to play in Week 5. It remains to be seen if he's worth rostering ... Roddy White will miss some practice time to help heal up his thigh bruise, but he won't miss any game action ... Donald Driver came back from what looked like a serious injury last week. His knee is structurally sound, but there was some swelling after the game, so keep your eye on practice reports. Any issue could cost him some targets as Jordy Nelson continues to impress ... Danny Amendola is heading to IR after a "major setback" with his elbow. Surgery sounds likely ... Mario Manningham is back from concussion, but his role is a bit unclear after a couple solid weeks from Victor Cruz ... Malcom Floyd was back at practice Wednesday, a very good sign given all the Chargers injuries. Vincent Jackson did not, but is expected to play ... It sounds like the Chargers are going to give Antonio Gates another week off, though Gates has been clear that rest won't make this problem go away, bye week or not ... The Colts lost both rookie OTs this week. Anthony Castonzo injured his ankle while Ben Ijalana sprained his knee and is done for the season ... Trent Cole is out at least two weeks with a Grade II calf strain ... Pat Haden has an MCL sprain, but won't require surgery. He could play as soon as Week 6, with the bye week helping a lot ... Bryan Thomas is done for the season with an Achilles rupture ... The Bears look to be without Chris Harris again this week as he continues to heal up from a significant hamstring strain ... Eric Foster's gruesome ankle dislocation has ended his season. He needed surgery to reconnect several structures and was placed on IR ... Thanks again, Steve.

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