Will Carroll
Saturday December 10th, 2011

It's the playoffs. I almost feel like I should be giving you a pep talk, ready to have you bust out on the field and play your heart out, but that's not fantasy football. You're barely a coach and certainly not a "player." You have no control the way that gamers do. All you have is a plan, a budget, a draft list and your research. You put the best team you can together and let them play on the field, living and dying with each score, each reception, each crushing blow. Still, you're like the GM sitting up in the press box or the owner sitting in a luxury box, depending on how you roll on Sundays. The people that stress too much about fantasy football, tweeting panicked messages to experts and insiders, just lose me. If you're not having fun, you're missing the point and nothing should be more fun than the playoffs. So let's have fun out there come game time.

MIN: Adrian Peterson has been ruled out of today's game. Toby Gerhart becomes a solid fantasy option.

STL: Signs are pointing negative on Sam Bradford. The Rams will give him every chance to go with the heat on him and Steve Spagnulo. Late reports have Kellen Clemens the likely step-in rather than Tom Brandstater.

TEN: Nate Washington is a true GTD with his ankle issue. If he can't make the cuts, Lavelle Hawkins will get a lot more targets. Chris Johnson would likely get more work, running and passing, as well.

DET: Reports are negative on Kevin Smith this morning. The Lions will give it one last look, but expect Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams to split carries.

TB: Josh Freeman didn't make it through practice on Friday, so making it through a game is a big worry. He's just too risky to start today.

UPGRADE: Ed Dickson DOWNGRADE: Jacob Tamme

The Colts draw a tough matchup, but given what they have left, they're relatively healthy. Dallas Clark is listed as questionable, though why they'd rush him back from a fibula fracture is beyond me. (Nice of the Colts to admit my story from three weeks ago was correct.) If he's back, Tamme is likely to lose targets. Pat Angerer should play, which helps a defense that hasn't stopped much and is facing Ray Rice. For the Ravens, they expect to be without Ray Lewis for a fourth game as they try to heal up his toe for the playoffs. Billy Cundiff is a GTD+, but it's probably a better move to go ahead and switch kickers now rather than waiting until the last minute and risking a zero. Look for the Ravens to work play action to loosen up a defense that will be keyed on Rice, which could open up short passes to Dickson and Anquan Boldin.

UPGRADE: Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner DOWNGRADE: Julio Jones, Panthers D/ST

The Panthers have been mostly healthy this year, while the Falcons have been a bit more hit and miss. The Falcons stay shaky, with all three of their top WRs limited but likely to play and several injuries on the defensive side. Turner is running better this week and should have more push, allowing him to be more productive. It's a better matchup as well. The WR situation will push more targets to Tony Gonzalez and perhaps Roddy White, if Mike Smith follows his "quit throwing deep" idea. The Panthers are a bit more banged up than usual, especially on the defensive side. They're already short on LBs, and the middle of the field could be pounded by Turner and Gonzalez.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Andre Johnson, T.J. Yates

The Texans ruled Johnson out on Friday, ending any real drama. It's not a surprising move, but one that puts even more pressure on Yates and telegraphs that on most plays, the Texans are going to run. The rest of their injuries are minor and shouldn't affect things much. The Bengals big concerns are on defense. Carlos Dunlap is likely out with his hamstring, and Nate Clements is a GTD-.

UPGRADE: Toby Gerhart, Matthew Stafford DOWNGRADE: Adrian Peterson, Kevin Smith

Christian Ponder is a GTD+ but almost sure to play. He'll run a bit less, but with the Lions defensive line a bit thin, it shouldn't be that big an issue. Peterson is pushing to play, but even if he does, he hasn't shown any ability to cut, stop or accelerate. He'll do nothing more than take some carries from Toby Gerhart, who'll need to make the power runs. Percy Harvin will play despite his eternal "probable" status and could see more running plays this week to try to keep the DEs off Ponder. The Lions' problems are mostly on defense, but Smith is a GTD-. Like Peterson (but much less than Peterson), he's unlikely to be functional enough to be a solid play. Stafford seems to be beyond the finger issue now and without much of a running game, he'll be looking for more short passes and wherever he can find Calvin Johnson.

UPGRADE: Josh Freeman DOWNGRADE: none

Tampa Bay is down two QBs, but the team is hoping Freeman can go. They'll give him every chance to show he's ready, and he gave enough hope in practice this week that I'm listing him as GTD+. Don't expect deep passes, so there's some downgrade for all WRs. Josh Johnson is banged up but available, but in most situations, the team would likely shift to a QB3, but there's very little faith in Rudy Carpenter. The Bucs have a number of defensive injuries, most notably to Aqib Talib (out) and Albert Haynesworth (GTD-). Jacksonville is also banged up on defense, but Mel Tucker has dialed things down a bit in practice. The team did place Aaron Kampman on IR Friday, so with Matt Roth hurting, the pass rush is a problem.

UPGRADE: Michael Vick DOWNGRADE: Jeremy Maclin

Vick should be back under center. That would be enough for the Eagles, but late reports have Jeremy Maclin downgraded, enough to call him a GTD-. The shoulder is the biggest worry, but the threat of Maclin opens up DeSean Jackson a bit more. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is out, but Nnamdi Asomugha is expected to play. In fact, the time off seems to have most of the Eagles back. The Dolphins have no relevant injuries.

UPGRADE: LaDainian Tomlinson DOWNGRADE: Plaxico Burress

With 16 on the OIR, the Jets' real issues boil down to just a couple of those. Tomlinson's knee changes whether or not the Jets can run their normal offense or if the lack of RBs means Mark Sanchez has to find short yardage in slants and outs that expose Burress and Santonio Holmes to more hits. Shonn Greene will play, though his rib makes running up the middle tough. The Jets D/ST adjusts well to injuries, but Calvin Pace is a GTD+ that changes what they can do. The Chiefs look healthy on the OIR, but it's really the remnants of the team that's healthy. Kyle Orton likely won't go due to his finger injury (and the offense he's not ready to run.) The biggest issue is Casey Wiegmann. A center with a finger issue can cause any QB problems, let alone one as inexperienced as Tyler Palko. If that acts up or if he has to be pulled, the line crumbles.

UPGRADE: Chris Johnson DOWNGRADE: Mark Ingram

The Saints will go without Ingram again and with a lot of defensive dings. Jonathan Vilma's mobility will be the key, so look for reports about him working on the field early. If he's not functional, Johnson could light it up again, just in time to reward those that held on to him all season. The Titans also have defensive dings, especially in the secondary. They'll try to pass to get up early and make Matt Hasselbeck win it and not Johnson. Nate Washington is a GTD+, and in a shootout, he could have a big game.

UPGRADE: Rex Grossman, Logan Paulsen, Wes Welker DOWNGRADE: Pats D/ST, Redskins D/ST

The Pats have looked banged up all year, but here they are on the doorstep of the playoffs again. The line has forced the team to go more to the pass, and the injuries in the defensive backfield have made them go even more to the pass since they can't defend against it well. It makes for high-scoring matchups, which is fantasy gold. The DBs could get healthy in time for the playoffs, but most, including Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, are iffy for this week. That means good things for Grossman, Jabar Gaffney and Santana Moss. Of course with LaRon Landry out and Fred Davis suspended, there are plenty of issues on the Redskins' sideline.

UPGRADE: Beanie Wells DOWNGRADE: Braylon Edwards

All the issues the Niners have are on defense, but with the division locked up, it's unlikely they're going to push anyone. That means Patrick Willis is likely to be rested, given Larry Grant has been solid in his absence. Edwards is his normal questionable but is likely to play. The issue is whether he's functional enough to be a playoff start. Simple answer: not unless you have no other valid option. Arizona also has its typical issues. Defensive depth is a bit challenged, and Wells' knee is sore. Wells will play as he has for a couple weeks, productive but limited. He's still worth a play as a deep RB2 or flex.

UPGRADE: Willis McGahee DOWNGRADE: none

The Bears are down their QB and RB1. That's never good. It's enough to keep the game close, and with Tim Tebow around, you know what that sets up. A lot of people are curious to see how Tebow matches up against Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Both will be ready to go, though Urlacher didn't practice normally due to a quad strain. The Broncos will have McGahee ready to go despite some knee swelling. Lance Ball will see a few more carries than normal, but McGahee is still a solid play on 20+ carries. Eddie Royal has been a weak play since Tebow took over, so the added question after a concussion puts him on the fantasy bench. Von Miller will play normally.

UPGRADE: Ryan Grant, Darrius Heyward-Bey DOWNGRADE: none

Oakland is being chased down by the Tebow-led Broncos and missing some of their biggest offensive threats. Carson Palmer hasn't had them all together, so no one's really sure what he could do with Darren McFadden back there and a full complement of WRs. McFadden is out again as the team waits on his foot to heal up. It's a week-to-week process that could go on longer. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore are also out, leaving the targets to Heyward-Bey and whoever else is healthy enough to suit up and get open. The Packers have some minor issues, with only James Starks as a relevant out. Charles Woodson and A.J. Hawk will be out there and it seems that's enough when Aaron Rodgers is healthy.

UPGRADE: Mike Tolbert DOWNGRADE: Ryan Fitzpatrick

The Chargers come in with lots of o-line issues and LB issues. It's not enough to affect the fantasy status of the rest of the team. It could shift some carries to the power guy (Tolbert) if they can't make the holes that the speed guy (Ryan Mathews) needs. The Bills get George Wilson back, but they've lost Scott Chandler. That leaves Fitzpatrick with one less red-zone weapon.

UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: Ahmad Bradshaw

Injuries should never decide a game, but both teams come in to this key division tilt with situations that could tilt the outcome. The Giants will have Bradshaw again. Bradshaw came back from his fractured foot last week and ... well, he didn't reinjure the foot. That's the best I can say. He's expected to be a bit better, but don't think he'll be back to the full share of carries. O-line problems won't help Bradshaw, either. Mario Manningham should be back, but Victor Cruz has supplanted him as the WR2. Osi Umenyiora is out again with some DB issues as well. The Cowboys aren't that healthy, either. Miles Austin returns and will be the titular WR1, but treat him like a WR2. Laurent Robinson's shoulder makes him iffy enough to keep him out of most fantasy lineups.

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