Watching a game from the cheap seats is a different experience than what I've done for the past couple years. I didn't have the cell phone exploding (I turned it off ...), the e-mails going, and the pace that most don't have on a Sunday morning. I tried to turn my analyst brain off and just be a fan, but you know what? I don't think I can go back to that. I watched injuries on the field, looked for the turf "puffs" when players went down, watched pulling guards cut the linebackers and even better, had a darn good time. I'll take my HD and broadband most days, but even from a 20-minute walk up, an NFL game is still an experience. Now, let's get to the injuries:
The Steelers have been pushing through injuries for the last few weeks, and this will be no different. Besides winning against a weak team, the Steelers want to make it through the game as unscathed as possible in order to take advantage of the long week that follows a Thursday game. WillieParker will be in a harness again to protect his shoulder, and if they're up, I expect to see a lot of Mewelde Moore. Ben Roethlisberger will play, but a big lead means we could see Byron Leftwich to protect Big Ben's banged up shoulder. The Steelers do get Heath Miller back and Roethlisberger's shoulder has kept the TE involved in the passing game the past few weeks. Across the field, the Bengals have big problems with their offensive line, which is going to make it tough on both their running and passing games. While the team hasn't made it official, there's little chance we'll see Carson Palmer before the last few weeks, if then. Even if that happens, it will only be a "test run" to see how he looks.
Beware injury semantics. When a team says something like "no structural damage," they often mean that the knee is stable, not that there's no discernible problem. In the case of Jacobs, it appears that the Giants are playing it straight up. Jacobs has a sore knee, likely a bruise inside the knee, but no damaged ligaments and no torn meniscus. The early word this week was that he was fine, but by Thursday, Jacobs was saying he could play "if needed." That points to the Giants going with Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw, using their depth to make sure that Jacobs is fully healthy and doesn't spiral down as the Giants fight for playoff position. A three-game cushion in the standings and depth means the conservative play with Jacobs is to keep him out. We'll know more by Saturday, so have your options ready now.
Portis played. Not just played, which was a bit unexpected, but started and played well. Portis wasn't a sandbag job by the Skins, he simply was a game time decision based on the flexibility of his knee and his rapid progression. While the knee problem sounds serious, and most have focused on the MCL sprain, the bruising was the real problem, though one that heals much quicker than ligaments. If you think of it as a fluid buildup inside the knee, you're not far off. Once that settled down and his knee got the normal range of motion back, or at least more normal, he was quickly back to a productive physical place. He didn't have the same burst, but the thing about being hurt all the time like Portis is that a player can learn to play through it. Portis can and did. As always, the question is how long he can do it, or whether the next injury be the one that he can't play through.
The Rams sent Jackson back to the doctors to figure out why his leg isn't making any progress. The good news is that there's no further damage, but the bad news is that it's still in a tough area and that it hasn't healed up enough to let him play. The Rams have already ruled him out for Week 12's games, and there is discussion in the front office of shutting down Jackson and making sure that he heals up for next season, which they hope might go a bit better for the Rams. Injuries to Orlando Pace and Richie Incognito are also factoring in here and may lead to Marc Bulger getting more bench time. Pace is out with a knee sprain and could be done for the season, while Incognito tore his rotator cuff and is also likely done, leaving the whole left side to the backups. If the Rams decide to throw in the towel on the season, Jackson and pretty much the rest of the team loses a lot of fantasy value.
The Bucs just can't keep their RBs healthy for some reason, with Earnest Graham the latest victim. It's a classic cascade, his knee problem helping lead to a season-ending ankle sprain. Players that try to play through injuries often make subtle changes that lead to new problems, or the exacerbation of old ones, which is one reason I hate to see players trying to play through things. Graham's ankle injury may need surgery to correct, but won't heal up even for the playoffs. That will put pressure on Warrick Dunn, who's had back issues throughout the season, and Cadillac Williams, who's still getting back up to speed. Expect Dunn to see the bulk of carries, with Williams working in more as a change than a timeshare.
The Dolphins have been amazingly healthy this season by any measure. It has led to a lot of long looks and suspicion with their empty injury reports, and Bill Parcells' lurking in the shadows. Fact is, they've been both lucky and good. I can't comment on what may or may not have changed about their medical and conditioning practices, but the luck isn't something that should have lasted this long, nor can it be counted on for next season. I have theories, though testing them will be an offseason project. The first major injury of the season is a sprained foot to starting quarterback Pennington. No one seems quite sure how it happened, but it's painful more than it's serious. Pennington was able to play through it last week and should be able to do it again next week, but it's unlikely he'll get the rest he needs to eliminate the problem. We'll have to watch to see that it's not limiting his mobility, though the Fins could use Chad Henne some or shift to the Wildcat in order to get Pennington some rest.
The Cowboys got what they needed from Romo last week. He came through the game as healthy as he entered it, and more important, was effective enough to paper over some of the other simmering issues around Valley Ranch. Romo's hand showed no problems, and the changes the line made to give him a "deeper" pocket to prevent his hand from accidentally hitting a helmet worked well. Romo should continue to play at this level, but expecting big leaps in performance due to the hand healing up isn't likely. This isn't exactly binary, but Romo's performance is going to have to rely on his decision-making and his receivers, not any change in his physical status.
Brian Westbrook's knee is still an issue and he's about to face a hard-hitting Ravens defense, so expect the Eagles gameplan to protect him ... Brady Quinn broke the tip of his right index finger on Monday. They'll watch him in practice to see if he can play through it ... Felix Jones is still out, though reports of a toe injury suffered during rehab are starting to come out. Jones could be out through Thanksgiving and beyond ... Selvin Young is out again this week, leaving the Broncos carries to Tatum Bell and Peyton Hillis ... Reggie Bush is still questionable for this week. He'll be a gametime decision, though even if he plays, he'll be a change back, not his normal load ... Antwaan Randel El will miss practice this week with an ankle sprain, but will play. Downside is that he likely will be about as involved as last week ... Matt Hasselbeck is expected to play, though the soreness he had mid-week was "more than normal," according to sources ... Calvin Johnson is expected to play despite a quad strain. Remember that he didn't play well with a back issue last season ... Kellen Winslow is likely to play despite a sprained right shoulder. He plays well through pain, so the biggest worry is whether he'll need to wear a harness which would hamper his catching ability. He'll be a gametime decision.