Judging from my emails and tweets, injuries are as big a factor as ever when it comes to winning and losing in the NFL. Whether you care if "your team" is notching a win or if you're counting points in your fantasy league, talent wins, but keeping that talent available is as big a part as assembling it. Fantasy players often don't feel like they can manage that risk, but while they don't have doctors and trainers advising them, you can make adjustments. I'm here to help with that.
If you're following me on Twitter, you can ask questions and get the quickest updates all week long. I got a great email this week from a guy who said he was 0-2 already. He noticed his opponents were both making a lot of Sunday morning adjustments while he was still trying to check his rosters by listening to chuckling ex-players. It wasn't working, and someone finally told him about this column. We'll see whether we can get him -- and you -- a win this week. Be sure to check back throughout the morning on Sunday for regular updates.
UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Eli Manning
The Giants come out of a big Sunday matchup with a lot of injuries and a loss. Their o-line was utterly exposed by the Colts rush and it doesn't look much better this week, meaning Manning is a downgrade against an aggressive Titans defense. Kevin Boss is expected to return from concussion, which gives Manning one more target if he needs to avoid a rush. Justin Tuck is a game-time decision, but even if he plays, he's likely to be spotted in. The Titans have been doing it on the ground, which comes as no surprise. What is a surprise is that Chris Johnson hasn't had any support. He would have had a nice fantasy day last Sunday, but a penalty called back a big run. The Titans D/ST hasn't been much better, with lots of small injuries. Jacob Ford remains out, but there's enough depth that Jeff Fisher will follow the Colts gameplan by testing the Giants line.
UPGRADE: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart DOWNGRADE: none
Chad Ochocinco tweeted that he has a fractured rib (and then deleted it), but the Bengals didn't get the message, leaving him off the injury report. That can't make the NFL happy, but no one really knows how accurate the "Ocho News Network" really is. Sources tell me that he has practiced fully and has received no X-rays, so let's give this one a "child please" for now. Where the Bengals are hurting is on defense, where Antwan Odom, Keith Rivers and Frostee Rucker are all injured. Odom -- still awaiting an appeal on a drug suspension -- has a wrist injury that has him unlikely to play, while Rucker and Rivers will be game-time decisions. That gives the Panthers running game a full upgrade, especially considering that they'll be trying to take some of the heat off Jimmy Clausen in his first start. Clausen will, like Matt Moore before him, be lacking blind-side protection from Jeff Otah. He will have both Steve Smith (thigh) and Brandon LaFell (hamstring) available, though LaFell is likely to be slotted as the third wideout this week. Smith plays through injuries well and is likely to be Clausen's first option in most passing situations.
UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Cadillac Williams
The Buccaneers are one of the real surprises of the year, but looking at their injury report tells you a bit of why they've surprised. Getting all the talent out on the field is key to any team's hope. There is a big red flag flying over the pirate ship with Kellen Winslow having knee pain. This is anticipated to some point; Winslow's chronic knee issues have held him back for years. Winslow seems determined to play through it as long as he can, but he's a sell-high candidate on any good week. Williams had a sore hamstring coming out of last week, but practiced well and will get the start. The Steelers will counter that with the return of Casey Hampton, which will make it tougher for the Bucs to run between the tackles. On the offensive side, they should get Max Starks back in, which will help Charlie Batch stay upright a bit more.
UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: noneUPDATE (11:30 a.m.): Not that they needed the help, but Brandon Spikes is active and starting for the Pats. Upgrades Pats D/ST.
The only injury of significance on either side is to Fred Taylor. His toe injury has him slightly hobbled through this week's practices and means that the carries will be shared. With Kevin Faulk's season done, that leaves those carries to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It's unclear how much of a split it will be, though it appears that if Julian Edelman is available this week, the Pats will use the short passing game as a running replacement.
UPGRADE: Ray Rice DOWNGRADE: Browns D/ST, Seneca WallaceUPDATE (10:30 a.m.): Downgrade Josh Cribbs, who sprained his ankle and is a game-time decision. Upgrade Mohammed Massaquoi.
The NFL has 53-man rosters. The Browns' injury report this week listed 20 of those players. Across the board, the Browns are in a situation where depth is a real issue. Jake Delhomme is out again this week with his ankle sprain, and so are Jerome Harrison, Brian Robiskie and much of the offensive line. The defense is just as injured with Shaun Rogers and D'Qwell Jackson unlikely to play and limited even if forced into action. Facing all this and the physical style of the Ravens seems like a nightmare for Joe Sheehan and the Browns medical staff. The Ravens have their own share of injuries, including an ankle injury to Rice and a sore shoulder for Le'Ron McClain. Both should play, and practice observers say that Rice showed no real functional issues with his running on Friday. Rice should be able to exploit the holes and lack of depth in the Browns defense on Sunday and is a must-play. The Ravens have several defensive players listed, but all should play, though the hope is that they can spot them in or run up the score and get them out early.
UPGRADE: Percy Harvin, Jahvid Best DOWNGRADE: noneUPDATE (11:30 a.m.): Percy Harvin is active and will get "normal reps." Reports coming in that Brett Favre is having issues with his ankle. Keep an eye on this.
The Vikings look to get off the schneid against, but the Lions aren't the pushover they once were. Brett Favre has been more problem than solution, but his issues haven't been injury-related. The ankle seems to be holding up well, and sources that have watched tape on him tell me they don't see anything different this year with his footwork or movement in the pocket. What they see is a slightly reduced arm strength which they attribute to age. Favre should have all his targets, with Bernard Berrian and Harvin both listed as probable. Harvin is always a game-time decision, but the hip doesn't appear to be a major concern. The Vikings do have some defensive issues, especially in the backfield, but no one thinks Shaun Hill will be able to test it. The Lions injury problems are all focused on the defensive side, but they're much the same as they've dealt with the last couple weeks, so there are no surprises here. Only Nate Burleson, out with a sprained ankle, changes anything. With his speed out, the Lions will be forced to look to a bunch of untested targets. While some think this could give Brandon Pettigrew more looks, it's more likely that Best gets more touches and targets, especially if they find a way to get him on the edge.
UPGRADE: Devery Henderson DOWNGRADE: Michael Turner
With Reggie Bush out, the easy solution would be more carries for Pierre Thomas or whoever's available, right? No. Bush is as pure a speed player as we've seen, and many of the plays are purpose-built for his skill set. Chris Ivory or anyone just can't take those plays. Until Bush returns in November, it's as if Sean Payton pulled those plays out of the book. Instead the touches and targets get redistributed, mostly to the wide receivers. This makes Henderson a solid 1a to Marques Colston and upgrades Jeremy Shockey a bit as well. The Saints will be without Randall Gay, ruled out by a concussion this week, which should open things up slightly for Matt Ryan. Those that picked up Turner in the first round are feeling the effects. Turner's groin strain last week was mild, but enough to keep him out. That shows that anything below 100 percent, and the Falcons won't hesitate to share the load. Turner looked solid enough in practice and is still a good play, but there's some risk that Jason Snelling will get more carries this week. The Falcons are also unsure just how much Michael Jenkins will play. Roddy White has been one of the most targeted receivers in the game, so he continues to be a must play.
UPGRADE: Donovan McNabb DOWNGRADE: Steven Jackson
After a 400-yard passing day, the 'Skins decided that they didn't need to keep McNabb on the injury report. The ankle was never as much of an issue as was made of it. This week, it's a knee that has McNabb a little worried. Trent Williams has done a solid job protecting McNabb while the QB's mobility might have been down slightly. Williams passed all the tests this week, but the Rams are sure to give him a couple more tests with bull rushes and stunts to test his knee's effect on his lateral mobility. Clinton Portis had a bruised wrist last week, hit hard enough that he lost some grip strength. That's a bit odd symptomatically, and reports that he had a stinger match up better with what we saw. He'll play, but he'll likely get something less than a 100 percent workload. The 'Skins D/ST will have a lot of game-time decisions, including LaRon Landry. If Landry is out or limited, Sam Bradford will be looking to take advantage. Unfortunately, all of his tight ends are on the injury report this week, negating that. Landry's problem is a wrist, not his legs, so going over the top isn't an option. With Jackson's knee an issue and playing on turf, that's not much of a sure thing either. Look for the Rams to try to vary things with different looks, but there's really no injury-based advantage to be found for this young squad.
UPGRADE: Jason Witten, Jacoby Jones DOWNGRADE: Tony RomoUPDATE (10:30 a.m.): Dez Bryant is going to get his normal looks at wide receiver and on special teams. The ribs "can be protected." Still some risk.
It might look odd up there with the tight end up and the quarterback down, but let me explain. Romo has looked terrible, even with an offensive line that's ranked No. 1 in pass protection. Romo's been taking more heat than his advanced measures would show, leaving me to wonder if the problem isn't the playcalling more than the play. This week will be a real test for both as Mario Williams and the rest of the Texans' aggressive front will be focused on rattling Romo. That quick rush could lead to a "front to back" progression and a lot of quick routes. That's Witten's forte. Witten, seen last week screaming at the medical staff after suffering a concussion, should be thanking them this week. His treatment perhaps made it possible for him to be playing just a week later. (Greg Easterbrook had a great take on concussions this week, including the contrast in how Witten and Stewart Bradley's concussions were handled.) The Texans have two major injuries that will impact them Sunday. Andre Johnson is a game-time decision and listed as questionable, but sources tell me that Johnson's ankle sprain is "manageable" and that he's expected to play. He could be used as a decoy, but expect Jacoby Jones to get the looks that Johnson can't. Owen Daniels is listed as questionable as well, though he's doing this every week as he continues to manage his return from ACL reconstruction. He was on the field for more than 60 plays last week, so it's safe to say he's fully recovered.
UPGRADE: Jamaal Charles DOWNGRADE: None
The Chiefs -- my surprise pick of '10 -- don't have any significant injuries. They have some players listed, including Tamba Hali, but all starters should play. On the Niners sideline, they'll definitely be without Ted Ginn, but that shouldn't affect much besides special teams. The biggest worry for Mike Singletary is, oddly enough, his middle linebacker, Takeo Spikes. His knee has kept him out of practice, but as a game-time decision, one would think that Singletary has some insight into whether or not Spikes can get the job done. Charles' speed and shiftiness would be a challenge for anyone, let alone on a shaky knee, so we could see a bit more of him and Dexter McCluster this Sunday, whether Spikes plays or not.
UPGRADE: Brent Celek DOWNGRADE: none
There's not much of an injury story for the Eagles, but all eyes are focused on Michael Vick anyway. It's no secret where I stand on this issue, whether from a pro-animal view or an injury standpoint. The Eagles have everyone back, including Kevin Kolb and Bradley, both returning from concussions. The Eagles also have Celek healthy, and we know that Vick likes throwing to the tight end. The Jags have only Maurice Jones-Drew as a significant player on the injury report, but he's been playing through issues so far and looked fine in practice. He's a must-play either way, though he'll need some help from the rest of his team. Luke McCown's season-ending injury forces the Jags to go with David Garrard, like it or not.
UPGRADE: Reggie Wayne, Colts D/ST DOWNGRADE: Kyle OrtonUPDATE (10:30 a.m.); Knowshon Moreno is out (hamstring strain), but Correll Buckhalter isn't a great option despite the start. His back issues remain, and he's unlikely to get a feature load on Sunday. Joseph Addai will get the bigger portion of a 60-40 split with Donald Brown this week. His pass blocking keeps him in the game more.
The Broncos running back situation is tough all around. Knowshon Moreno strained a hamstring in practice, not the one that cost him the preseason. (Is this another example of a player "needing" training camp to get in football shape? Possibly.) Moreno's absence combined with minor injuries to Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney leave Orton exposed, just when Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis come calling. With Ryan Harris out and Ryan Clady still slowed by his knee injury from the spring, this is a dream scenario for the Colts pass rush. The Colts prepped for an appearance from the "Wildhorse" formation, which may be needed. The Broncos defense is also hurting precisely where they wish it wasn't. Champ Bailey is a game-time decision against Peyton Manning, and his likely matchup with Wayne. Wayne is a must start, whether Bailey goes or not. On the Colts side, injuries to Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez clear up the wide receiver situation and make Austin Collie a must-play opposite Wayne. He's really the third option behind Dallas Clark, so don't expect blowout numbers. Joseph Addai will play and get his normal carries, though Donald Brown will also get his share of touches.
UPGRADE: Michael Bush DOWNGRADE: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was a high draft pick, often the first receiver off the board, but so far, he's been this year's biggest disappointment. A knee injury and poor quarterback play have kept his numbers down. Now, he's dealing with a wrist injury as well. Combine that with Steve Breaston's knee issue, the continuing absence of Early Doucet, and you get Fitzgerald isolated by the defense. If Breaston can't go -- and he's a game-time decision -- then the Cards will be forced to go with one of a pair of rookies at the other starting spot. Fitzgerald would be a WR3 or flex option if he was anyone else, but as it is, few have the fantasy depth to bench him. Derek Anderson could be a bad half away from watching Max Hall (who could be a nice waiver wire pick if you have the room and some patience.) Chris Wells will make his season debut after getting back on the practice field this week, but don't expect much more than 10 touches. Across the field, Bush should also make his debut. Bush and Darren McFadden are complementary in style rather than one and two the way Tim Hightower and Wells are. Bush should get the goal-line looks at worst. The Raiders offense hasn't been great, so we'll have to see whether the team tries to protect Bruce Gradkowski with more running than expected.
UPGRADE: Legedu Naanee, Chargers D/ST DOWNGRADE: Malcom Floyd
The Chargers offense has some real issues, with Ryan Mathews out and Floyd hobbled by a hamstring. While not officially out, the Chargers have prepped for this week assuming that Mathews would be unavailable. Mike Tolbert just isn't trusted, I'm told, to be a real No. 1 running back and will split the work with Darren Sproles. That isn't to say that Tolbert won't put up similar numbers to last week, just that he won't get 30 touches or much work in the passing game. Floyd's hamstring does have him slowed, and while he'll play, expect Antonio Gates to be the No. 1 option and more looks for Naanee. The Seahawks' only significant issues remain on the line, but they've been adjusting, mostly by using a tight end cover and schemes to protect Matt Hasselbeck. So far, it's worked, but the Chargers have gotten a look at this program and could test it with stunts and overload blitzes.