Everyone loves a good horse race. I'm not talking Big Brown here; I'm talking about the fight to break through the wall of parity in the NFL or the baseball playoffs. Maybe you're more into politics, but then again, you're reading this column, aren't you. In America, we like handicapping the race as much as we like the race itself. We also like the struggle. My fantasy teams are 0-4 and 1-3 respectively, so like many of you, I'll be fighting to get back, hoping that Peyton Manning remembers how to throw touchdowns and that I can dredge up some points from third-tier receivers. One thing I will help you with this week is avoiding injuries or in some cases, understanding them enough to embrace the injury and scoop up a player on the cheap. So enjoy the journey as much as the result or at least keep telling yourself that. Let's get to the injuries:
The Palmer situation has gotten a bit odd. Palmer's making a Namath-like guarantee, not of a win, but that he'll be on the field. That makes it more important than ever that we understand what he's going through, so we know whether or not he's rushing back, putting him at risk of further injury and us at risk of putting up crappy fantasy numbers. I asked one of the leading orthopaedists in the country, Dr. Orr Limpisvasti of Kerlan-Jobe, about this type of injury. He told me that "elbow injuries in football quarterbacks vary depending on the circumstances and mechanics of the injury. They do not tend to get the same overuse injuries that baseball pitchers get (UCL). Their injuries are usually a result of collisions or falls that cause twisting or impact injuries. Lower energy injuries can result in ligament sprains, tendon injuries, and joint inflammation. These can require a few weeks of rest and rehabilitation before return to play." So here at the low end, Dr. Limpisvasti is saying "a few weeks." If few equals two, then Palmer has a shot at playing, though if he's not fully healed and aggravates the injury, he'll end the game worse than he started. I'll be watching to see if he plays, which will be a gametime decision and then if he does, I'll be watching to see if his throws get progressively weaker or wilder.
Let's get past the semantics on Rodgers. He said that he'd separated or dislocated his shoulder just after the game, while coach Mike McCarthy denied it. On Monday, the official word was that Rodgers had suffered a sprained shoulder. Anyone want to guess how? In a separation or dislocation (it's the same injury, just a matter of degree), the AC joint is stressed and if the ligaments are sprained ... well, there you have it. The result is the same. Rodgers will be sore, but his response to treatment and any loss of mobility or strength will work against getting back out there on Sunday. We won't know how that works until he gets back out on the field and throws, which likely won't come until later in the week. He was very limited at practice on Wednesday, a bad sign. My early read on this is that Rodgers will be a gametime decision on Sunday, so the Packers and fantasy teams should have backups ready
Westbrook is back at practice, which is a good sign. He wasn't seen cutting, just running more or less straight ahead, which is a bad sign. Mixed signs are one thing on Wednesday and quite another come Sunday. While Westbrook is making progress with his ankle sprain, it's unlikely that he'll be 100 percent. On the other hand, he's always played well through injuries and tends to play at a high level or not play at all. With Westbrook back at practice, it's a very good sign, since he's often sat out a full week of practice and then played on Sunday. He has a high level of trust with the medical staff, which also helps. The game-planning will be similar to last week, wanting to keep Westbrook in space rather than between the tackles. While I'm still going to hedge and make you come back on Sunday morning, it looks as if Westbrook will have few limitations by then.
I often remind people that hits in the NFL come in at car crash velocities. Anyone who saw the hit that Boldin took late in Sunday's game knows that. While Ken Whisenhunt continues recklessly saying that Boldin may not have suffered a concussion, Boldin was diagnosed with a fractured sinus. The hit had so much force that it broke bones inside Boldin's head. It's an injury that occurs most often in, you guessed it, car crashes. There are not many good comparables here, but Boldin will have to wait until the small bones inside his head are completely healed. Given their location and function, having something in there healing incompletely or in a non-standard fashion is bad. There's no real timetable here, but everyone I spoke with thinks that Boldin should be able to return this season. It's also a very good sign that Boldin has been able to pass the concussion tests, making it seem as if the bones took the force of the hit and not his brain. That's a tough tradeoff. The Cardinals will adjust their passing game, but Larry Fitzgerald will see more double coverage as a result.
Well, that didn't last long. Steelers rookie Mendenhall, taking over for an injured Parker, is done for the year after fracturing his shoulder blade. It's an unusual injury that even after looking at the play, I can't tell you how he managed to get enough force to crack the bone. It's likely just the right amount of force on a limb put at just the wrong angle and place. He'll go on Injured Reserve, which leaves the Steelers RB1 slot to Mewelde Moore until Parker is ready to come back after Week 6. Mendenhall shouldn't have any trouble once the bone heals, so this shouldn't hurt his long-term prospects. With Parker, the next that he's expected back in Week 6 adds further credence to the reports that he tore his MCL. I'll be watching to see what kind of bracing he comes back with.
First it was the knee. Then it was the eye. Now, it's his ribs. McGahee just can't avoid the injuries this season. If there's any upside it's that he hasn't had a really bad injury yet. The rib injury he suffered was a simple one -- a helmet to the side. McGahee doesn't wear a flak jacket, though I'm guessing he's being fitted for one now. This is one of pain tolerance, since there's no fracture. McGahee will test his ability to play in practice this week, while the Ravens are likely to adjust their gameplan to use more of Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice. The downside for McGahee is that he'll be running into the hard-hitting Titans defense come Sunday, a team that week after week is putting people in my column. It's safe to say that he's going to take some hits that will test his pain tolerance.
The Seahawks survived. The seeming curse on their receivers has at least a respite as the team gets it's top two back in Engram and Branch. Neither is expected to be full-go, but both should be better options than the ninth-stringers that Mike Holmgren was forced to use due to a string of injuries. The concept of "injury stacking" in football is especially tough to deal with due to roster constraints and specialization, so multiple injuries at any one position is devastating. Worse, the sheer number of injuries can clog a training room, cause a team to lose focus on preventative care, and go into what I call the "death spiral." That Seattle made it through both so early in the season and still have a clear path to the playoffs speaks volumes. Don't expect Engram or Branch to get a full set of targets, but do expect them to be valuable starting realsoonnow(tm).
McAllister exploded back into fantasy relevance with a solid week of production, and Sean Payton's pronouncement that he would be a key part of the Saints' offense going forward. Sources told me that conditioning held him back, not out of laziness or lack of effort, but simply that he wasn't able to do enough on his repaired knee to keep in top condition. The Saints running game is still a committee, but if McAllister is going to be in a committee of two rather than a committee that has seemed more like a Mardi Gras Krewe, he'll have value. More important, McAllister appears to be the guy who will get the goal line touches, which gives him even more value. Timeshare backfields are becoming more common across the NFL, both because of injury concerns and the sheer replaceability of running backs, but it doesn't necessarily mean that value is halved. In fact, a study by Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders shows there's really no "nose for the end zone" and that it might be better to be the guy getting the touches outside the five than from the one.
LaDainian Tomlinson is still held back slightly by his turf toe, but he's shown enough that he's sliding off the injury radar ... Dr. Neil ElAttrache of Kerlan-Jobe will repair Tom Brady's ACL in Los Angeles soon. Yes, waiting for the MCL to heal is standard ... Look for Jeff Garcia to challenge for his starting job again soon in Tampa ... Vince Young is back at practice with the Titans, but will not challenge Kerry Collins anytime soon ... Brandon Lloyd's sprained knee will keep him out at least a couple weeks, but no surgery yet ... Laurence Maroney was back at practice after the bye week and will be back in the mix at RB ... Kevin Curtis will be back after the Eagles' bye, so it might be time to snap him up off the waiver wire. The same holds true for Ryan Torain, who Peter King touted on Monday.