When determining your optimal fantasy lineup, you need to look beyond health at this point in the season. Some teams are already looking ahead to next year, like the Raiders, making cuts and trying to figure out which of their players they want back. Teams start to give more playing time to backups and young players in order to evaluate them. Some will start protecting players, making sure that they're healthy or sending them out for surgery to get them back for the minicamps, summer schools, and "voluntaries" that make up the NFL's so-called offseason. No team will publicly admit to being out of it in early November, but some of them are and will start acting like it soon. It's just another thing to look at as you try to get into your fantasy playoffs, which are now just a few weeks away. Let's look at this week's injuries:
Steven Jackson RB STL: The Rams made it easy for me this week, pushing Jackson to inactive early. The quick move reminds Jackson that they don't trust his judgment and that they want him actually healthy before putting him back out there. The worry that this injury has some tendon involvement is gaining steam.
Willie Parker RB PIT: Adam Schefter is reporting that Parker has a torn labrum. Luckily, Parker is a RB, not a pitcher. Once the initial swelling is under control, Parker will be able to get back out and wait for the off-season to have surgery. Parker's definitely out for the Colts game, but we'll have to wait and see if this will be one week or a couple.It puts Mewelde Moore back in the saddle against a schizo Colts run defense.
JaMarcus Russell QB OAK: Russell, like the rest of the Raiders, isn't having the season anyone hoped for. A case of patellar tendonitis has him looking like he'll be on the sidelines this week, though it's unclear if Andrew Walter is healthy enough to take over. Some think this is the Raiders giving Russell a breather, but sources tell me this is a real injury that's been bothering the big-armed QB for a of couple weeks.
Kyle Orton QB CHI: Orton looks to be dressing this week, but as indicated earlier this week, the matchup is a bit worrisome. The Bears will have Orton dressed and available, but are more likely to have Orton as backup rather than starter this week. He won't be out long.
Ryan Torain RB DEN: I told you he'd be good. I just didn't tell you he'd stay healthy. Torain tore his ACL in his first start and is done for the season. The Broncos have no healthy RBs and even with the extra time, might need to bring someone in.
Darren McFadden RB OAK: While the Raiders are calling him a gametime decision, he is, at best, a backup to Justin Fargas this week. He'll get his chance once he's closer to 100 percent.
LaMont Jordan RB NE: Jordan's not likely to play, leaving the running game to the BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Kevin Faulk combo again. Jordan's closer, but the Patriots don't seem in any rush with an effective combo in place.
Dan Orlovsky QB DET: Orlovsky's thumb seems headed for surgery and Daunte Culpepper seems headed for the field just days after unretiring.
Jared Allen DE MIN: As I said on Thursday, Allen's shoulder is just a mess, but he's precisely the type who will take the shot and get out there for a big game. Tough? Stupid? All of the above? Just be ready for him to be on the field, but to be a very risky play, whether as an IDP or as part of the Vikings DST's sack totals.
Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT: The risk here isn't that he won't start -- he will. The risk is that like last week, he'll be forced out or ineffective. That depends on how the Steelers get the running game going and which Colts defense shows up this week.
Jonathan Stewart RB CAR: I hate bad nicknames. They happen organically and trying to force something like "Daily Show" on Stewart is just lazy. Worse, with Stewart's injury history, anything implying regular playing time is going to end up inaccurate. Look, the guy is fast becoming the next Fred Taylor with both the positive and negative connotations. He'll play this week as the change-of-pace to DeAngelo Williams.
Chris Chambers WR SD: Chambers' ankle is healthy enough to get him back in, but he'll be the third option rather than the first this week.
Deion Branch WR SEA: Branch has improved enough over the past couple days that the final decision on playing will happen just before gametime. Sources tell me that the Seahawks are planning for him to play, but that he's essentially a "bonus, not a focus" of the offense.
Titans DST: With Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bulluck both banged up and maybe out, the Titans defense is hoping to see more running than passing. That means they're hoping to see Rex Grossman.
Hines Ward WR PIT: With the QB situation in flux, Santonio Holmes just back and Heath Miller out, Ward could have a big week. He's had a quietly productive year and the shoulder isn't enough to keep him out of a big game.
Fred Taylor RB JAX: Taylor practiced and should slot into his normal role. The knee isn't that big of a concern for the Jags.
DeSean Jackson WR PHI: With everyone healthy, including Jackson, who has a minor groin strain, the concern is if there's enough balls to go around. Against the Giants D, that might not be a problem.
Kevin Walter WR HOU: His back is still a bit sore, but he'll get in there against a tough passing D with his backup QB throwing.
Jeremy Shockey TE NO: The bye week came at just the right time for Shockey. He's "100 percent" according to the Saints and looked that way in practice.
Willis McGahee RB BUF: McGahee was a "healthy zero" last week, but no one believes it. Is it his knee acting up? The ankle that he's listed with? No one's really sure where McGahee fits in ... and that's assuming he plays this week.