Plenty of notable situations to watch for playoff-bound squads
For some of you, it's the last week of the season. For others, it's about playoff slotting. Regardless, much of fantasy football -- and real football -- has been about injuries this season. Whether you lost Jamaal Charles early or Jay Cutler late, or anyone in between, very few escaped unscathed. The winners are either wicked lucky or the ones that made the smart adjustments. Philip Rivers was a disappointment for me, but I got lucky drafting Cam Newton in the last round (before kicker, of course) as something of a flyer. Whatever got you to this point, for good or bad, is a lesson for next year. I hope you've kept your Fantasy Notebook handy this year, jotting reminders to yourself that will inform you next year.
A quick reminder that there won't be a chat Sunday morning as I'll be headed to Dallas for the Baseball Winter Meetings:
If you just look at the Official Injury Report (OIR), the Chiefs look healthy. Most of their injuries are "hidden" on the Injured Reserve and lost for the season. Their active roster is relatively healthy, with two key linemen, Casey Wiegmann and Ryan Lilja, banged up but likely to play. With the Bears, the key injury is Jay Cutler, out again and for at least the rest of the regular season after thumb surgery.
It's a key matchup for both teams, but neither is at full strength. The Steelers expect to have LaMarr Woodley back after missing several weeks with a hamstring strain, which will help. Troy Polamalu is a GTD+ after a "head injury" last week. Since he was not diagnosed with a concussion, he was not subject to clearance. The Steelers also think Maurkice Pouncey will be ready to go, but let's call him a GTD+ since his absence would hurt Rashard Mendenhall and the running game. The Bengals don't think Carlos Dunlap will be ready to go and have questions about Nate Clemens and Chris Crocker, though I'd list all of them as GTD+ right now. Cedric Benson should play normally, losing only a couple carries to Bernard Scott due to his sore foot.
Buffalo doesn't look that bad off, missing only George Wilson this week, but hidden by the IR are a number of injuries that have contributed to their collapse. Leodis McKelvin and Rian Lindell will be GTD-, which should open up the passing game some. The Titans don't have Matt Hasselbeck on the OIR, so the worries about his elbow seem to be past. Barret Ruud is out again for the Titans, but they adjusted to his absence well last week.
The story of the Texans' season is as much about their injury management as it is their run at their first division title. Andre Johnson came back from his hamstring injury last week and didn't have his burst, then was listed on the OIR this week with a knee problem. That confused a lot of people and there was no real explanation for the change. It's enough to make me stay away from Johnson if there's any other option. The rest of the Texans long list of injuries tends to be minor and shouldn't affect too much. Atlanta has real questions with two offensive stars. Michael Turner was limited in practice and will lose carries even if he's able to go. It's not clear whether Jason Snelling or Jacquizz Rodgers will pick up the touches, so this one is key for many. Julio Jones is also a question, more on how much he'll play rather than if. Harry Douglas has been solid in his absence/reduction. The Falcons could also be missing two CBs - Brent Grimes is out and Kelvin Hayden is a GTD-. The question is whether TJ Yates can exploit that weakness.
Darren McFadden is out again this week and there wasn't enough progress to predict whether or not he'll be back next week for the fantasy playoffs. The Raiders also won't have Taiwan Jones, who hasn't done much as the RB2 behind Michael Bush during McFadden's absence. There's more -- Denarius Moore, that is. He's out with a foot issue of his own, one that could linger for the speed player. Rolando McClain is listed as questionable this week, after an ankle injury slowed him, but not enough to keep him from getting arrested. There's a number of other defensive injuries, so the Dolphins look to have some places to attack. The Dolphins don't have any significant injuries, which makes me think this one might end up a high scoring game.
Denver keeps winning, but injuries could stop the miracle. Von Miller is very questionable with a thumb injury and is a GTD-, along with Eddie Royal. Royal hasn't factored as much into the offense in the Tebow era, but he is a threat. Ryan Clady is likely to play, as is Willis McGahee, who missed practice time with an illness. The Vikings will be without Adrian Peterson again this week as he recovers from his high ankle sprain. He's closer, but there's no reason to push things with their star. Percy Harvin is likely to play despite his eternal "questionable" tag. The interesting note is Jared Allen, who was rested this week. There's rumblings that Leslie Frazier is going to deploy Allen as something of a spy on Tebow. With his size, speed, and motor, Allen could be the perfect anti-Tebow weapon.
The Patriots have a lot of injuries, but look for them to try to play around them. Their inactive list could be very interesting. With O-line and DB issues, Bill Belichick will pick and choose not only who's best for this game, but factor in who he wants to get a week of rest in what should be a very winnable matchup even shorthanded. The good news on Peyton Manning this week isn't enough to help the Colts as they head into a buzzsaw matchup. The Colts have some O-line issues, but both Ryan Diem and Jeff Saturday are expected to play. Joseph Addai is a GTD+, but really an RB3 at this stage. Anthony Gonzalez is also a GTD+, but hasn't been relevant this season.
Tampa could have a real issue if Josh Freeman isn't ready to go. The shoulder injury (and lacerated thumb) for Freeman will be a pure GTD, but indications are that Raheem Morris is willing to go with the more athletic Josh Johnson. The Panthers defense struggled against the Colts, so this is a chance for fantasy points assuming the Bucs offense doesn't unravel without Freeman. Johnson could end up a nice option if Freeman isn't available, but in a much different way. The Bucs have some defensive dings, but should be fine with their depth and scheme. The Panthers are once again healthy coming into the week.
The Jets come into what amounts to a must-win game for them with no relevant injuries. LaDainian Tomlinson is expected to play and get a split of the carries with Shonn Greene, though the knee is still bothersome for Tomlinson. The Redskins will be missing LaRon Landry and possibly London Fletcher on defense, two huge losses, especially in the running game. Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth are listed as probable and should play normally.
The Browns got Peyton Hillis back last week and should get Montario Hardesty back for Week 13. That's only bad news for Chris Ogbannaya. Hillis came out of last week healthy and while he doesn't have a great matchup this week, he's a nice sleeper for the fantasy playoffs. The Browns defense is very banged up, especially in the linebacking corps, which should open up longer runs and shorter passes for the Ravens. The Ravens only question mark is Ray Lewis, who is a GTD- with his ongoing toe sprain.
The Cardinals will wait until gametime to make it official, but it looks like Kevin Kolb will step back into the QB1 slot. Chris Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling are both dealing with their chronic injuries but will play normally. Dallas will be without Miles Austin for another week, but the real worry is on defense, where several players are hurting or slowed. If Mike Jenkins and Gerald Sensabaugh can't go -- and they're both GTD- right now -- then Larry Fitzgerald is thought to be a big upgrade.
Green Bay comes in knowing they'll be short a couple LBs - AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop are out. There's also a couple O-line absences. James Starks looks ready to play and should share carries with Ryan Grant. The Giants don't have Ahmad Bradshaw back and it doesn't look like Mario Manningham will be available either, though Victor Cruz has proven himself to be a solid WR2. Osi Umenyiora is out with his severe ankle sprain, but Justin Tuck should be able to go.
Sam Bradford has a major setback with his ankle and is a GTD-. If Bradford can't go, it downgrades everyone in the passing game. Steven Jackson already had a tough matchup, but he'd likely be asked to take on more work as he was when Bradford was out. You can take that as positive or negative. Chris Long is a GTD+ with his shoulder and would be a big plus for Alex Smith if Long can't go. The Niners aren't sure whether Braylon Edwards will be able to play and seem inclined to rest him this week, given the matchup and that they've locked up their division. Frank Gore will play, but will share touches with Kendall Hunter again this week.
Ndamakong Suh isn't listed on the OIR, but he'll be missing Sunday night and I'm sure he'll be a big part of NBC's storyline. Beyond Suh, the Lions have real depth issues on defense, with lots of GTDs including Louis Delmas and Chris Houston. Kevin Smith is another GTD+. He was able to practice Friday but looked limited, so even if he plays, he's a risky fantasy start. The Saints have a couple minor defensive dings, but are otherwise healthy as they make a playoff push.