Will Carroll
Friday December 23rd, 2011

Championship Week is the only thing wrong with fantasy football. The way we're forced into the later weeks, when teams are resting people or looking at rookies, remains a big problem for the game. This isn't what Bear Bryant would have called "our best versus your best," which is how Bryant always wanted to match -up and how fantasy players would ideally. There's just no good fix -- or none that I've seen. Changing to a simulation for the championship is silly; you don't change the rules for the Super Bowl. The same problem arises in trying to alter the scoring system to factor in full-season numbers. Until someone figures it out, we're left with this, an almost perfect game, easily understood and inclusive. I guess I'll take that. As we look out at the landscape of Week 16, injuries are once again the dominant storyline determining who will win, who will lose, who might make or miss the playoffs, and who could be drafted next year. Talent and health, people. Talent and health.

Speaking of health, I do have to give kudos to the NFL for another quick evolution in their concussion policy. Switching from ex-officials to Athletic Trainers being in the press box to monitor for possible concussions is the best possible solution to the problem. It doesn't help Colt McCoy or players like Ben Utecht, who are dealing with the consequences of previous concussions, but maybe it will prevent another player from going through what those players have experienced. The NFLPA also deserves some credit, both for pressuring the league for this and suggesting Athletic Trainers as a quick, competent solution to the issue.

There's no chat this week due to the holidays, so be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates. Now, let's get to this week's injuries:


WAS: Roy Helu is INACTIVE.

NYG: Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard are INACTIVE.

CIN: AJ Green is ACTIVE, but a very risky play. He did not test his shoulder during warmups.

OAK: Taiwan Jones is INACTIVE, giving the Raiders one less option at RB with Bush's sore shoulder

PIT: Interesting that Ben Roesthlisberger is ACTIVE, but not starting.

10:45 a.m.

DAL: Word is more adamant out of Dallas. Several reports have it that Felix Jones will not play if the Giants lose. Sammy Morris becomes a decent play if Jones is inactive.

TB: Arrelius Benn was cleared to play after his concussion and is expected to start.

CIN: Still no indication of just how healthy AJ Green is for today's game. I'm doubtful and am shifting away from him based on what my sources are telling me.

10:10 a.m. DAL: Reports from Dallas have them scoreboard watching to determine whether Felix Jones will play. Jones' hamstring injury is serious enough that he's unlikely to get a full load of carries today regardless. Sammy Morris is a risky play but Tony Romo and Laurent Robinson get upgrades.

PIT: With Ben Roethlisberger out for today and likely Week 17, Charlie Batch becomes a decent deep play. Rashard Mendenhall figures to get a few more carries. Mike Wallace is most affected of the WR.

TEN: Chris Johnson will test his sore ankle in warmups but remains a GTD+.

MIA: Anthony Fasano is out for the Dolphins.

OAK: Michael Bush is a bit more questionable than thought. His shoulder is "very problematic" according to one source and "gets worse the more it's hit." He'll likely play, but with Taiwan Jones back, look for Hue Jackson to limit Bush's touches.

WAS: Roy Helu is "improving some" according to sources, but we'll have to keep a very close eye on him up to game time. Expect a loss of some touches at the very least.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Anquan Boldin

Colt McCoy is out again this week and potentially for the year. The rumors on his concussion symptoms go in a lot of directions right now, but none of them are good. The Browns are also worried about Joe Haden, though he's been able to play through a lingering knee issue the last couple weeks. WRs Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs are GTD+. The Ravens got Ray Lewis back last week and he'll play, though the Ravens medical staff will be watching him closely. A bye week could help Lewis a lot (plus the rest of the team), so playing him now as needed makes sense. Boldin is out through the regular season after having knee surgery. His meniscus tear could have him back for the Divisional Round. Torrey Smith will see a few more targets, but Lee Evans and Ed Dickson will get the shorter catches that Boldin makes.

UPGRADE: Lance Ball DOWNGRADE: Willis McGahee, Ryan Fitzpatrick

The cold of Buffalo might work against McGahee. The team will watch him closely in warmups, but won't test his injured hamstring too much. That upgrades both Ball and Tim Tebow, with the potential they get more red zone touches. Across the way, Ryan Fitzpatrick has to hope that Stevie Johnson's hands are well enough to catch, but his hands have been an issue all season (but not medically.) Scott Chandler is unlikely to be back; his absence has hurt Fitzpatrick in the red zone.


Tampa comes into the game in shambles, yet healthy. It's an odd combination. Josh Freeman is at least as healthy as he was last week, if that's any indication. Arrelious Benn remains out and will probably stay out for the rest of the season. Albert Haynesworth is a GTD+ and affects the Panthers' running game slightly if he's in or out. The Panthers are also mostly healthy, with the bulk of their injuries stashed on the IR, where everyone forgets about the cost.

UPGRADE: John Skelton DOWNGRADE: A.J. Green

The Cards are going to make a "last minute" decision on Kevin Kolb, but the decision is really made. Skelton has been more effective and will get the start again. Chris Wells is his normal status with his sore knee. The defense is dinged, but should be effective. The Bengals' big worry was Green. Initial reports said his shoulder injury very serious, but the truth -- or at least the reports -- are that it's a relatively mild separation with a mild sprain. Green's function and pain tolerance will decide things, though there are whispers that it is more serious than anyone is letting on. He's a risky play, which also makes Andy Dalton a bit risky. Look for any signs on Saturday morning because the decision on whether to start Green or not could make or break fantasy championships either way.


Oakland and K.C. arrive at Week 16 from mirror opposite directions in many ways, yet here they are, in very similar spots. They didn't start with these QBs. They overcame injuries to get here. But now are they going in the same direction? The Raiders are badly dinged up, with Darren McFadden still out but some of their receivers back and in more or less full stride. There are some defensive issues, but none that can't be adjusted for. The Chiefs have almost no one on the injury report, but many on Injured Reserve, which makes that statement one that Jesse Pinkman would call "Kafkaesque." Yet, it's the Chiefs who beat the Packers last week and have the same exact set-up in Week 16.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Deion Branch, Brandon Marshall

The Dolphins' only real injury concern is Marshall. Officially a GTD, he's likely to play, but cautiously so. The Pats have a much more extended OIR -- of course they do -- but as usual, it's fairly easy to read. They have some issues in the defensive backfield and will have Deion Branch as a GTD- again this week. Everyone else is an easy up or down, as they have been for weeks.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Jake Ballard

From the look of the OIR, you'd think the Giants were already down. Ahmad Bradshaw, Jake Ballard and Mario Manningham missed practice time and were listed as "limited," but this tells us nothing. Bradshaw's foot is fine and he was only being rested. Manningham is iffy, a real GTD. Ballard is out with a torn PCL, leaving his status without question except on paper. The Jets also have some dings and a number of players listed, but Rex Ryan's rallying cry usually includes clearing out the locker room, like it or not. This game is going to be very physical and how the winner comes out of it might mean as much as the result

UPGRADE: Rashard Mendenhall DOWNGRADE: Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace

All indications are that Roethlisberger will sit this week, though there's still some question as to whether he'll be active or not. If he's active, he'll push to play, so look for the Steelers to make it easy on him. Pittsburgh will be scoreboard watching a bit, but don't be surprised to see them conservative with the playing time for anyone with questions of injury or durability. The same is true for the Rams, who have nothing to play for -- and even more nothing after the Colts won on Thursday. Kellen Clemens will be back at QB with Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley out, while Brandon Lloyd and Chris Long are both GTD+.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Chris Johnson

I'll make this one simple: Maurice Jones-Drew will play and get a lot of carries as the Jags try to get him a rushing title. It's a bauble, but the Jags don't have many baubles as they prepare another rebuild this offseason under new ownership. Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis are GTDs. Tennessee came out of a bad loss last week relatively healthy, if that's some consolation. Johnson's ankle sprain isn't an issue, though his play last week was. Maybe it was the ankle.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Toby Gerhart

While Christian Ponder might be looking over his shoulder a bit given the Colts win, he will have a more healthy Adrian Peterson to help him this week. Peterson was a go last week, but ceded some carries to Toby Gerhart. Peterson won't get it all back this week, but the load will shift some. Aside from those issues, the Vikings are essentially healthy. The Redskins don't think that Roy Helu's toe will be much of an issue, but I'm always wary of any chance for Mike Shanahan to sneak in a RB surprise pack on Christmas Eve.

UPGRADE: Kevin Smith DOWNGRADE: Vincent Jackson

This is another must-win game for both teams. The Chargers come in mostly healthy. Only Jackson is a worry with his groin strain slowing him a bit. He can adjust to losing a step and should start. The Lions have an extensive OIR, but most of it is on defense and is an issue more of depth than real effect. Smith is running better, but he's still not 100 percent. If you liked him last week, you'll like him this week as well. Skimmers might see the upgrade but it's a very slight one, so you get the payoff for reading.

UPGRADE: Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson DOWNGRADE: Felix Jones

Is this the Rib Bowl? There are enough bowls out there with ridiculous names that there probably already is one. Michael Vick and Tony Romo have both dealt with rib fractures this year, but are healthy at this stage, putting them at the center of a must win game for both teams. The Eagles should have everyone except Asante Samuel, which could jumble the matchups a bit and give the WR2/3 slots some extra room. Robinson could get singled and showed last week that even with his targets down, Romo can find him in the end zone. The Cowboys may have to pass a lot if Jones is hobbled. He hadn't practiced as of Thursday and was questionable. Only Sammy Morris is on the roster behind him, so the Cowboys might have to go four wide or jumbo. Jones is risky regardless.

UPGRADE: Vernon Davis DOWNGRADE: Doug Baldwin

The Niners are Team GTD this week. Patrick Willis and Braylon Edwards are both iffy to play and have the added "playoff lock" issues. Edwards' situation boosts Davis, as it did last week, whether Edwards plays or not. The Seahawks' only real concern is Baldwin, who's got an ankle sprain, but is expected to go. The injury will cost him some targets, but Tarvaris Jackson does seem to trust him.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Ryan Grant, Marion Barber

The Packers are beatable, but can the Bears do it with a new QB in a must-win situation? If they don't, all the rehab work done by Matt Forte goes by the wayside and Jay Cutler can officially shut things down. The Bears also are a bit worried about Barber, who's breaking down a bit under the workload, as well as Julius Peppers, who's just wearing down a bit after all the double teams. The Packers have their issues on the O-line, but might get James Starks back this week to help Grant. Of course, that could hurt Grant's fantasy status. Greg Jennings remains out and the targets should stay spread for Aaron Rodgers' WRs.

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