Will Carroll
Saturday December 4th, 2010

Right now, the road to the NFL playoffs goes through Atlanta in the NFC, while the winner of the Jets-Pats game Sunday night will get the honor in the AFC.

Not many people projected Atlanta to be this good, though when Football Outsiders did, one wag said that "Football Outsiders' predictions are so bad, they are literally worse than having no football knowledge at all. It's like negative information, draining us of insight." There's someone in your fantasy league in an equal power position and it's a good time to take a look at that team and figure out how the owner got there. It's a bit tougher in keeper leagues, but if you've been keeping a fantasy notebook, you should have a list of those keepers, a record of the draft, and waiver pickups. (Even if you don't have a notebook, it's easy enough with most online leagues to put that together.) In my two leagues, the power players had high draft slots (2 and 4), each got a RB1 and QB1 with the first two picks, and made early waiver claims that turned out to be spot on. One grabbed Peyton Hillis in Week 2, beating me out on the FAAB after I lost Ryan Grant, while the other snapped up Michael Vick after his first appearance for the Eagles. Neither has made a trade at all this year, which looks like a quirk until I look back at last year's fantasy notebook -- last year's winner didn't make a move at all. That one's a pure fluke, but if you're lucky enough to avoid injuries, you're going to win if you have anything resembling a decent draft. Your leagues will look different because of rules and personalities, but analyzing your league is going to give you information you didn't have before and unless you're the one in the power position, you're going to want all the football knowledge you can in order to be that guy next year. I'll try to help you be that guy this week. Check back all morning Sunday for updates and check in with my video chat at 11 a.m. Eastern. Let's look at the injuries around the league this week:

Sunday update: Pierre Thomas will be inactive today, as reported by NFL Network. The combination of his injured ankle and the cold weather will keep him out another week.

UPGRADE: Drew Brees DOWNGRADE: Reggie Bush

The Saints have Pierre Thomas listed as questionable, but he had a very active Friday practice -- even playing special teams -- and looks likely to play. With Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory healthy, it's unclear what kind of looks Thomas will get, so he's a speculative play at best. Thomas' return does hurt Bush more and may take some red zone looks away from Ivory. Unless you have no other options, you're better off risking Thomas having a big day on your bench. The Bengals have their continuing issues in the defensive backfield, which should open things up for Drew Brees and his troop of WRs while taking the load off the RB committee. The Bengals will have Terrell Owens, who missed practice this week with an illness.

UPGRADE: Calvin Johnson DOWNGRADE: Jahvid Best

The Lions will go with Drew Stanton at QB after losing Shaun Hill to a finger fracture last week. Add in a shaky running game with Jahvid Best still fighting turf toe and there's a fantasy conundrum. Stanton's not expected to put up numbers, but he might have to throw a lot. I'm not going to expect a lot from him, but I think it's going to get some numbers for Calvin Johnson and perhaps Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew. Kyle Vanden Bosch is not likely to play, which will help Jay Cutler some, though there's pressure elsewhere, so it's not a big upgrade there. The Bears have no significant injuries.

UPGRADE: Troy Smith DOWNGRADE: Greg Jennings

Frank Gore might not be listed on the OIR, but he's the key injury this week. There's no clarity on how the 49ers will try to replace Gore's production, but Green Bay doesn't have to respect the run as hard this week. Brian Westbrook is going to get first shot, but the always fragile back already had an injury this week, an ankle sprain that will cost him touches. The Niners are likely to have to abandon the run, either from ineffectiveness or the scoreboard, so the passing game could be a place to pick up some points with Troy Smith, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree. Yes, it's counterintuitive that losing a key RB could help the QB, but it works out that way on a fantasy basis more often than not. Add in a run of DB injuries for the Packers and Smith isn't a bad play at all. The Packers have a banged up offensive line, but Aaron Rodgers is mobile and can make the easy adjustments. Greg Jennings has a foot injury that's held him back a bit this week in practice, but expect him to play, but lose a couple targets.

UPGRADE: Matt Cassell, Kyle Orton DOWNGRADE: none

The only significant injuries on either side involve the defensive backfield. Now you know why those upgrades above are listed.

Sunday update: Brandon Marshall didn't look good enough for the Dolphins liking in warmups and is inactive. Davone Bess is a big upgrade, as is the running game.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Brandon Marshall

The Browns will go with Jake Delhomme again this week with Colt McCoy's ankle still bothering him. Beyond McCoy, there's a lot of worries around the Browns, though don't worry a lot about Peyton Hillis. He missed practice on Friday for "personal reasons" but is expected to play. Josh Cribbs has made some progress with his running and should play more -- but not normally -- in the passing game this week. He's not a great play unless you get return yards as well. On the Dolphins side, the biggest concern is Brandon Marshall. His hamstring has him listed as questionable, but most seem to think he'll play. He'll be a risky play given the injury, so check your options as well as his GTD status. Jake Long continues to struggle at OT due to his shoulder injury, but Chad Henne seems to have enough mobility to make it less of a concern.

Sunday update: Surprise inactive for Percy Harvin today. Sidney Rice is a massive upgrade, as is Vinsanthe Shiancoe. Adrian Peterson is active. Expect him to play, but there's still no clarity on how much or how well.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Adrian Peterson

This one all comes down to whether Adrian Peterson plays or not. Peterson can't be replaced, on your roster or in the Vikings offense, but there's a huge difference between out and playing. The ankle made progress during the week and Leslie Frazier has been positive, but this is a GTD. Assuming Peterson plays, the question becomes how effective he can be and how much he'll touch the ball. Expect the Vikings to be very protective of Peterson. Toby Gerhart is only a good one if Peterson is out. The Vikings saw Percy Harvin miss practice this week with his recurrent migraine issue, but as always, his status will be determined on Sunday morning. The Bills expected to get C.J. Spiller back, but he'll get a small share of touches with Fred Jackson keeping the lead role. The Bills DST has some issues up front, though no one seems to agree on whether Peterson or Gerhart would expose it more.

Sunday update: Ryan Torain is inactive. Not much of a surprise, but he had travelled with the team.

UPGRADE: Mario Manningham DOWNGRADE: none

It's funny -- Mike Shanahan's Redskins go 18 deep on the OIR, but while the Giants have fewer injuries, they're more important. The Redskins have their usual collection of questionables, though most will end up playing. A few, like Ryan Torain, will be GTDs. Torain will mix in if he's ready to go, but there's no clarity on the running game. It is Shanahan, so don't expect that to change. For the Giants, they'll be missing Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith again. Both made progress this week, but there's some late rumblings that Smith might have pushed it a bit and had a mild setback.

UPGRADE: Mike Thomas, Kerry Collins DOWNGRADE: Mike Sims-Walker, Kenny Britt

The Jags will be without Mike Sims-Walker again after he reinjured his problematic ankle. That leaves David Garrard with one less key target, but Garrard showed no problems this week, despite a wrist injury. The Jags adjusted without Sims-Walker before, so we have a good read on what they'll do, which is more running and more Mike Thomas targets. The Titans think they'll be able to end the Rusty Smith era, getting Kerry Collins back from his calf strain. He practiced all week and will start, barring some pre-game setback. The Titans might have teased you with thoughts that Kenny Britt would be back this week from his severe hamstring strain with sightings at practice all week, but Britt won't go. With the short week ahead for the Titans, Britt is looking more probable for the Thursday game.

Sunday update: Antonio Gates remains a GTD. Gates is usually active when it gets to that stage, but make sure you have a plan B.

UPGRADE: Ryan Mathews DOWNGRADE: Raiders DST

The Raiders have a load of question marks heading into a big game, but we do know Jason Campbell will be under center. Most of the major issues are on defense, with Nnamdi Asomugha, Richard Seymour, and Rolando McClain all likely to try to play through injuries. They'll all get tested early, especially Asomugha. Zach Miller is also likely to play but, like Antonio Gates, his foot injury has hurt his production. Gates looks like he'll play this week despite his injured feet. Yes, both feet. This had looked like it might be a rest week for Gates, so don't be surprised if his production is very limited this week. The Chargers think they'll have Ryan Mathews back, which is perfect timing. Mike Tolbert has a severely bruised right hand and is having issues holding the ball. Expect Mathews to get the bigger split of touches this week. Patrick Crayton and Vincent Jackson are both out but the Chargers have shown they have plenty of WR depth to keep Philip Rivers productive, or maybe it's the other way around.


I can't say that guys named Smith and Jackson don't get injured since I have both those names in this week's report. Still, it's tough knowing I have to type out (and say) Michael Hoomanawanui. The big TE has a high ankle sprain that might cost him the rest of the season. With a chance at the playoffs and depth at the position, this could go a lot of different ways. The Cardinals have a lot of defensive injuries, but the only significant one on the offensive side is the continued maintenance of Steve Breaston's knee. He's likely to play, but is still not 100%, nor will he be this season.

Sunday update: Jim Caldwell told reporters Austin Collie has not been medically cleared to play, so he will be OUT in today's game vs Cowboys. Dez Bryant had a setback, twisting his ankle during drills. He's been downgraded to questionable and will be a GTD in a late game. Risky play.

UPGRADE: Miles Austin, Tashard Choice DOWNGRADE: Reggie Wayne

The Colts have their normal long list of "questionable" players, though they mixed in a "doubtful" for Joseph Addai. That should read "out", since he didn't practice Friday and will not play. His hand/shoulder issue made little progress this week. Donald Brown is the only fully healthy RB and will get the big share of touches. Reggie Wayne was rested Friday, which is normally the key day for Colts practice, but don't think this means he's out. It seems to be a bit of a shift this year away from Tony Dungy's hard and fast Friday rule. Wayne should play, but could be more limited than most expect. Austin Collie is not expected to return this week, despite practicing on a limited basis all week. The defense is very banged up, with Kelvin Hayden unlikely to be available. Gary Brackett could return though with Marion Barber out, that's less of an issue. On the Cowboys side, only Dez Bryant's sore back is any concern. The team expects him to play. Marion Barber is out, which should give Tashard Choice a few more touches.

Sunday Update: Pete Carroll says he expects Mike Williams to play, but sources continue to indicate that the WR is having a hard time with his foot.

UPGRADE: Jonathan Stewart, Ben Obamanu DOWNGRADE: Matt Hasselbeck

Mike Goodson has been a decent find for many fantasy players, but with Jonathan Stewart back and not even on the OIR, it looks like he'll shift to, at best, the DeAngelo Williams role for the rest of the season. Goodson missed practice some this week for "non-injury" reasons, but there's no reason to think that will limit him Sunday. The defense is very banged up, though they've shown some signs of playing better lately, now that it's too late. Seattle has a lot of issues on defense, but a series of lower profile injuries to Chester Pitts and John Carlson add to the possible absence of Mike Williams enough to downgrade Matt Hasselbeck a little (unless Ben Obamanu turns into the next Seyi Ajirotutu. Never thought you'd hear that sentence, did you?) The Seahawks offense might try to run more early and could stick with it if they have success, but no one can predict which of their backs might profit most.

UPGRADE: Michael Turner DOWNGRADE: none

If you just looked at the OIR, you'd think that the Falcons were the team with bigger health issues. They're a bit short of depth at RB, have several WR injuries, and some key defensive issues. Take a closer look and you'll realize that aside from depth, none of these should affect what the Falcons want to do. Roddy White is going to play after being rested in practice this week. Jason Snelling is less likely to play, so Michael Turner could get the red zone touches this week. The Bucs are a bit worried about their LB core, which could give Turner and Tony Gonzalez more looks this week. Both Cadillac Williams and Kellen Winslow will play normally.

The Jets had a shock this week, losing Jim Leonhard to a broken tibia. He had surgery late this week, but the team will wait to IR him. There's a chance he could return for the playoffs. The Jets also figure to be missing Damien Woody. Most of the other injuries are minor and will play, though Jerricho Cotchery and Shaun Ellis will be GTD. The Pats have fewer injuries, though Tom Brady appears a bit more banged up than usual at this point of the season. The Sunday night game doesn't have many significant fantasy injuries, but with Michael Oher coming off a sprain and Flozell Adams dealing with back issues, line play could end up key in a tight, physical matchup. Ben Roethlisberger will play, but look for the Ravens to try to bait him early to test that foot.

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