Will Carroll
Saturday December 17th, 2011

I'm a creature of habit. I write the same days, in the same format. I like my mug of coffee right there, my phones over here and my chair set a certain way. When it comes to Sundays, I'm exactly the same -- coffee, chat, sit on the couch with the iPad to watch Red Zone and tweet about injuries. Football players are the same way, perhaps more so. They all have their routines and even superstitions about pre-game routines. With the spread of football from Thursday to Monday, I wonder if any of those routines are getting thrown off. Short weeks are followed by long weeks, as we're seeing with Ben Roethlisberger, so I think that amounts to a wash. I'll bet there will be some fantasy playoff games won or lost because one team remembered the Thursday and Saturday games and the other team didn't. Change isn't always easy, unless there's a real reason. It was easy enough for the NFL to change a lot of things in order to get big dollar TV deals this week, but not easy enough to make changes to their evolving -- but not yet there -- concussion policy. Colt McCoy's situation may end up a tipping point, leading to a suspension for James Harrison, the loss of games for McCoy, and new information on the "observer" policy. One thing that went under the radar was a venture capital fund with $32 million to invest. Reports say the NFL is looking at media, entertainment, and technology. I'd say they're doing pretty well in those and that investing in safety and medical advancement would be a far better payoff for the league in both the long and short term. Start with an X Prize for a better helmet and we'll go from there. For now, there's plenty of injuries that will affect the games that make up the fantasy playoffs. Let's look around the league:

10:30 a.m.

TEN: The Titans made official what was expected -- Matt Hasselbeck will start, though the Titans will switch to Jake Locker if Hasselbeck's calf gives any issues.

STL: Kellen Clemens will start, which reduces the effectiveness of pretty much the whole Rams offense. Only Steven Jackson is a decent start option.

DET: Reports from Lions have Kevin Smith running well enough that he's likely to get more carries. That's the early plan, but it's a risky one for fantasy players unless you have to find upside.

10 a.m.

NE: With Deion Branch out, the Pats will shift to a lot of two TE sets, making both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez solid fantasy plays today.

ARZ: John Skelton will get the start for the Cards over Kevin Kolb. Kolb may still be active. The QB situation doesn't affect any other fantasy plays on the Cards.

NYG: Justin Tuck will be active today for the Giants, according to NFL Network's Albert Breer. It shouldn't affect the fantasy situation too much, though it does help the Giants DST.

UPGRADE: Laurent Robinson DOWNGRADE: Josh Freeman

Saturday night's game (yeah, let's see how many fantasy players missed noting the schedule!) is a pure must-win for the Cowboys and a real test for the embattled Bucs. The Bucs are still concerned about Josh Freeman and his shoulder. His play was clearly affected last week and practice reports have made it clear that the problem's still there. Arrelious Benn is out this week after a concussion, while the defensive depth issues remain. The Cowboys are relatively healthy, with only minor defensive questions and some lingering shoulder issues for Laurent Robinson, who'll play as the WR3, though he caught Tony Romo's eye last week.

UPGRADE: Stevie Johnson DOWNGRADE: Matt Moore, Anthony Fasano

The Dolphins have enough issues on offense to worry about. Matt Moore came back quickly from his concussion and looks ready to start, but as a game-time decision, be sure to check on him. Anthony Fasano should go, but rib injuries make it tough to say he'll get full targets or even make it through the game. The Bills won't have red zone target Scott Chandler again, but backup PK Dave Rayner is healthy enough that they won't need to go three deep here.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Doug Baldwin, Devin Hester

"Not Injury Related." That's the understatement of the year from the OIR, telling us that Sam Hurd is out this week. The Bears do have some injuries, with Jay Cutler and Matt Forte out, and with Devin Hester a bit hobbled with an ankle sprain. The Seahawks, playing pretty well these last few weeks, are relatively healthy, though Doug Baldwin's ankle issue will cost him a bit.

UPGRADE: Owen Daniels, Greg Olson DOWNGRADE: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter

Houston comes into Week 15 with its normal long list of injuries. They list 17 players this week, which is actually down. The WR corps is problematic, with Andre Johnson out, Kevin Walter hobbled, and TE Joel Dreesen injured as well. Owen Daniels is likely to pick up targets again this week, with the RBs handling the rest. There's enough defensive injuries to think that Cam Newton can be effective. Most of the Panthers injuries are defensive as well, but none should affect fantasy output.

UPGRADE: Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Washington, Jamie Harper DOWNGRADE: Dallas Clark

The Titans will go with Matt Hasselbeck this week, after his calf got progressively better over the week. It was never that serious and many thought that the Titans would use the Colts as a "launching pad" for Locker. He may still play, but right now, it doesnt look like he'll start. Hasselbeck or Locker should have Nate Washington to throw to, with Washington a GTD+ who'll test his ankle Sunday morning. If he plays, he'll be a solid play. Javon Ringer is out, so there's a chance that Jamie Harper gets carries grinding out the lead late. The Colts have Dallas Clark back as a GTD- after he injured his neck in his first game back from a broken leg.

UPGRADE: Ryan Grant, John Kuhn, Kyle Orton DOWNGRADE: none

Greg Jennings is out for the Packers, as expected, plus they'll be missing a couple others. The LB corps is very dinged, with only Clay Matthews in the clear, though only Des Bishop is out. James Starks is a GTD-, as is Brandon Saine, meaning that Ryan Grant will get most of the carries, like it or not, with John Kuhn picking up some work. Jennings' absence will cause his targets to be spread around, but a big lead could give more of those to Randall Cobb, who best mirrors Jennings' skill set. The Chiefs -- or what's left of them -- are relatively healthy. Kyle Orton looks to be active and starting, though the finger is still something of an issue.

UPGRADE: Jimmy Graham DOWNGRADE: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder

Adrian Peterson will play, but there's open questions about how well and how much he'll play. Peterson's high ankle sprain still has him limping visibily and he hasn't pushed too much in practice. It makes him a very risky play. Christian Ponder's hip injury isn't enough to keep him off the field, but Joe Webb is likely to get some looks and an ineffective day for Ponder could see him out. The rest of the Vikings various injured players should play. The Saints come into this week with dings all around the field. Jimmy Graham is a GTD+ due to back spasms. The team thinks they have them under control, but back injuries are always a tough read and one good hit could have them back. Mark Ingram is out again this week, which will give Chris Ivory some work in the backfield committee. There's some defensive depth issues, but it shouldn't affect the defense too much as they try to heal up for the playoffs while holding position.

UPGRADE: Roy Helu DOWNGRADE: LaRon Landry, Justin Tuck

Oddly, LaRon Landry is listed as "probable" even after the Redskins put him on IR. I'm guessing that will change. Landry's absense hurts the run support, which helps the Giants some. Ahmad Bradshaw will play, giving up a couple carries to Brandon Jacobs. Justin Tuck is a GTD+, but he's going to have to be spotted in, making it a tougher gameplan on defense. Given the rollouts that the Redskins like to run, it gets a bit tougher. It could also open up the edge a bit for Roy Helu, so he could end up with a couple more catches, a boon in PPR leagues.

UPGRADE: Andy Dalton DOWNGRADE: Bengals DST

Cincinnati gets an easier matchup than they've had in weeks and comes in relatively healthy. They have some defensive depth issues, but have adjusted. Andre Smith is a GTD and the right side of the line is problematic, but the team can gameplan around those. The Rams have Sam Bradford as a GTD- and have a tough situation if he can't go, with Kellen Clemens getting the start. The defense is dinged up and even healthy, they haven't been that good, upgrading everyone on the Bengals offense, especially Andy Dalton.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Denver DST

Pats injury reports are never easy to read, but they're not misleading either. The deep injury report will probably end up being right if you read that half the "questionable" players don't play, but for names like Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, they'll likely play despite minor injuries. Deion Branch, on the other hand, is out now after being questionable, meaning that Chad Ochocinco is now the healthiest receiver Brady has going. With a week to prepare for the Denver offense, it will be very interesting to see how the Pats defense matches up. Patrick Chung's absence won't help in run support while the DBs will have to make sure that Eric Decker doesn't get his one or two deep releases that he seems to find when they creep up. Denver is relatively healthy, but the injuries they have are in the defensive backfield, giving Tom Brady even more room to work.

UPGRADE: Denarius Moore DOWNGRADE: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith comes in as a GTD+, but it's more the game against the Saints a few weeks ago that you should be expecting if you put Smith in your roster than that one big one against Carolina. Smith is on grass, which will help, but he's still not 100 percent. The Lions defense is dinged all around, but most are expected to play normally. Nick Fairley could be back, spotting in at DT, alongside the returning Ndamakong Suh. The Raiders will be without Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford again, but the offense does get Denarius Moore back. Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey will pick up targets deep if Carson Palmer gets enough time to throw.

UPGRADE: Peyton Hillis DOWNGRADE: Colt McCoy, Kevin Kolb, Josh Cribbs

Both Colt McCoy and Ben Watson are out due to concussions suffered in their last game. McCoy didn't travel with the team, so Seneca Wallace gets the start with Thaddeus Lewis the backup. Josh Cribbs and Montario Hardesty are still slowed by muscle strains even with the extra rest, so back off those two a bit. Kevin Kolb is GTD- for the game, which would put John Skelton back at the controls. It hasn't really affected Larry Fitzgerald either way. Beanie Wells has his knee issue, but the Cards have adjusted well to it and this week should be no different.

UPGRADE: none DOWNGRADE: Shonn Greene, Jeremy Maclin

Michael Vick will start again, with only Jeremy Maclin a GTD+ as a relevant fantasy injury for the Eagles. They have plenty of dings around the field, but all are expected to play normally as the Eagles turn spoiler. The Jets have LaDanian Tomlinson healthy, but both Shonn Greene (ribs) and Joe McKnight (elbow) are probable if slightly limited.

UPGRADE: Ravens DST DOWNGRADE: none

Most of the Ravens issues are minor and defensive, but Ray Lewis is progressing. The Ravens are leaning towards resting him another week, just to make sure he doesnt have a setback, but Lewis is pushing to play this week in a primetime game. Haloti Ngata is dealing with some back issues and isn't full strength, but they can rotate him in and keep him effective. The Chargers are relatively healthy, something they haven't been much of this season.

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