There are two key things to avoid this week: panic and frustration. I'm bad with the last one. I'll admit that when someone asks me about someone's injury on Sunday night before I've had a chance to talk with anyone, I have to try not to snap. When I get asked the millionth time about something, same thing. I'm working on it. Be a better person than me and don't let these negative impulses burn you in the midst of the fantasy playoffs. Without a real reason to do so, the rule of "dance with the one that brought you" should hold true. There's a reason you're in the playoffs and trying to second guess, play matchups, or think that there's something better on the waiver wire is seldom true. Maybe you're the wire wizard whose moves all worked, week after week, and you'll need to do it again, but that just makes you the exception to the rule. No, a hard look at the numbers over the long term show there's only one thing that consistently gets a team to the playoffs -- a solid draft that provides both a good base and some upside, reading the weekly matchups correctly to cash in on that upside, and avoiding the injuries that can derail a team. I've received a lot of nice messages from people saying I've helped them with the last part and, if so, I'd love to hear from you. Let's take a look at the injuries, but be sure to check back for updates and
There's some late concern about David Garrard. Listed as questionable with a strained hamstring, Garrard is expected to play, but sources tell me that he may not have his normal mobility, a problem against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. That puts a bit more pressure on Maurice Jones-Drew, but he's one of the
One of the things a team needs to make it to the Super Bowl is a little luck, something that often comes in the form of health. Stay a little healthier than normal or keep the injuries away from key personnel and who knows what can happen. The Saints had that last year, but this year, regression to the mean is biting back. Besides the injuries they've fought through all year at RB, the Saints have problems at TE, OL, special teams, and defense. Chris Ivory is the main fantasy cog, but a hamstring strain is going to, at the very least, cost him some touches, which should go to Pierre Thomas. Courtney Roby looks to be out, leaving the return game to someone else, perhaps Reggie Bush, which could make him a more attractive fantasy option. The Saints' toughest issue is at TE, where with David Thomas out, they'll need Jeremy Shockey to fight through a nagging groin strain, both as a safety valve and to help cover in case Jermon Bushrod, their big OT, is limited by an ankle sprain. Defensively, the Saints have a lot of minor injuries, but enough that the whole seems a step slow, which could open some room for Ray Rice. The Ravens aren't quite as banged up, but will be missing Todd Heap again this week with his quad strain.
The "questionable" tag on DeSean Jackson seems overblown, given what we've seen in practice this week. There's really been nothing beyond the OIR to give any indication that Jackson won't be on the field as normal. It's enough of a worry, especially in the midst of the fantasy playoffs, for me to say check the inactives before locking in your roster, but that's about it. Most of the Eagles questions are on defense, where they're down a couple LBs and CBs, including a very questionable Asante Samuel. Over on the Giants side, Steve Smith is out, Mario Manningham is slowed, and the rest of the team is a bit banged up. All in all, it's a pretty normal week for the Giants, so there's no big changes. Be clear that Hakeem Nicks is back and normal as the WR1.
The Cardinals have the same injuries they've had for a while -- Steve Breaston's knee and Chris Wells, this time with an illness that pulled him out of last week's game after toughing it out as long as he could. Both should play normally. After losing so much talent to the IR this season, what's left of Carolina is healthy.
The Browns have a load of names on their OIR, but only a few have a fantasy impact. Colt McCoy returns this week at QB while Josh Cribbs looked like he was running better in practice. Most of the Browns' injuries are on the defensive side, with Scott Fujita being the most notable name unlikely to suit up. Carson Palmer and Terrell Owens did have a big day last time out, but I'm pretty sure the Browns noticed that, too, which oddly makes Chad Ochocinco a decent play. Owens has a minor knee injury and will be a GTD, to boot. Watch out for any QB change for the Bengals and the chance that the team shifts to a "let's see the young guys" mode at some point.
Ryan Torain is as questionable as Donovan McNabb has been all season. (What's that? He's benched? And listed as probable? That's priceless.) OK, Ryan Torain is as questionable as most of Mike Shanahan's decisions this year. Torain showed his hamstring wasn't an issue last week and beyond some residual soreness, came out of last week fine. With Rex Grossman at the controls, there has to be some worry the Cowboys will put about 11 in the box and dare Grossman to impersonate a QB. The GTD to watch for is Casey Rabach. If the C isn't out there, it will affect a lot of things, all of them negative for Washington. The Cowboys have a couple GTDs in Marion Barber and Roy Williams that could really alter things from a fantasy perspective. If Barber goes, Tashard Choice becomes someone to avoid in fantasy, but Barber isn't a great play either with an unknown split. Williams' presence shouldn't alter things as much, since he's become a de facto WR3.
With Lee Evans out, the focus shifts to Steve Johnson. He's had some good work this season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as Evans has faded even pre-injury, so I don't think being the WR1 will make much difference. The Bills are otherwise healthy, which should be good for Fred Jackson and for C.J. Spiller, though Jackson is the much better play. The Dolphins are very healthy, aside from the chronic injuries like Chad Henne's knee. They did leave Nolan Carroll on the list as a reminder to the NFL of what happened last week and how it could have been much more serious.
The Chiefs only question is a big one: QB Matt Cassel. Will he play and if so, how will he play ten days after having his appendix removed? He almost played last week and the only problem anyone can anticipate is pain. NFL teams and players know how to deal with that and I get the sense that Charlie Weis has put a challenge onto his offensive linemen to keep Cassel upright. Then again, the Rams know this as well and will send a lot of numbers early to test Cassel. I have confidence in his ability and say to keep him at the level he'd have been at pre-surgery. The Rams are down a little depth, but have their key parts ready for this cross-state rivalry that for the first time in a while has real playoff implications.
While it looks less likely that we'll see Matthew Stafford this season, the worry is Jahvid Best. He's played through turf toe for most of the season, but that injury has held him back significantly. The Lions may not be sure what they have in him just yet, which could affect how they plan for next season, i.e. drafting another RB to pair with him. On the Tampa side, Mike Williams looks ready to play while Kellen Winslow should do the same, especially after having a game last week that showed flashes of the brilliance that had been predicted for him.
Houston has a lot of names on the OIR, but most are probable and will play. I wouldn't worry too much about any of them, though Owen Daniels and Josh Dreessen's respective issues make it tough to figure out a split of the TE targets. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson will all start and play normally. The Titans don't have any significant injuries, though Kerry Collins becomes a slightly better play than normal with Mario Williams on IR and the Texans' defense across from him.
The Seahawks' Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu have practiced this week and look solid to play. There's some question about Brandon Stokley, but he hasn't been a significant contributor, though with Deon Butler out he'd provide some depth. The Falcons have Roddy White as normal and hope to have Jason Snelling in the RB mix, but their problems at defense remain. Coy Wire, Jonathan Babineaux, and John Abraham are all GTDs. With his WRs in play and some of the defense out, that makes Matt Hasselbeck a pretty nice play, especially if they end up in catchup mode.
Kyle Orton's rib injury offers enough cover to give Tim Tebow a look. Even if Orton does play -- and Tebow will be getting the start, I'm told -- Tebow figures to get more looks as the Broncos try to figure out what they have in him now that Josh McDaniel is gone. Brandon Lloyd should be a good target either way, though he's still dealing with a calf strain. The Raiders have a lot of defensive issues, with the biggest being the continued struggle for Nnamdi Asomugha to overcome his ankle sprain. There's a lot of depth issues and Richard Seymour up front that could make things a bit easier on Denver, though they haven't shown much spark lately.
Ben Roethlisberger didn't show much issue last week with his broken nose or his broken foot. It should be the same this week. The defense is far more affected this week, with Troy Polamalu very questionable with an ankle sprain and James Harrison missing practice with an illness. Both are GTDs and absent the playoff implications, this would likely be an easy "rest game" for them. It could still be, if the Steelers take a longer term approach (or do some scoreboard watching on the Ravens). Heath Miller will be a GTD with his concussion, while Hines Ward should play after missing some practice time this week. The Jets have some of their normal defensive injuries, with the key being the possible return of James Ihedigbo, to cover for the loss of Jim Leonhard. The hole showed last week, so they'll be pushing to have him back if at all possible. LaDanian Tomlinson will play and get the big split of carries despite missing some practice this week.
The week's most notable fantasy injury comes in a Sunday night game, but the Packers gave fantasy players an early holiday gift by letting us know Aaron Rodgers would be out. There's still a chance he's the QB3 -- face it, losing the QB2 isn't that big a deal if necessary and if Rodgers is cleared to play. Matt Flynn doesn't inspire confidence, so go to your backup or hit the waiver wire now -- Sam Bradford is available in a majority of leagues and is a solid pickup. Expect the Pats to be conservative with Aaron Hernandez given his illness this week and the presence of Rob Gronkowski. Deon Branch should be ready to go. In the Monday night game, the open question is who'll be at QB, but no one on the Minnesota offense is fantasy-worthy this week apart from Adrian Peterson, and even he's a bit risky if the Bears don't have to respect the pass.