It's a week until Christmas and the NFL is the gift that keeps on ... taking? The end of year IR moves are always an odd duck; teams make the moves for a number of reasons, but mostly financial. Talking about disability insurance and worker's compensation rules are things that will make even the most technical fantasy player's eyes glaze over, but the NFL's 32 teams are businesses and not that big of ones at that. They do what they have to do to stay afloat, and sometimes that means small things like this. The attention to detail might not work for your fantasy team, but in ways, it does. By staying on top of everything from rules (we've all found a loophole) to transactions, we end up winning more often than not. So don't be taken off guard by the injuries or, as we're seeing more and more as the season winds down, those "let's see what we have" moves of playing rookies, backups and protecting players as it affects playing time. It's only the injuries that have to be listed, you have to remember. Let's take a look at this week's aches and pains:
The Colts have been affected by injuries all season, but the Jaguars haven't had much of a season because of injuries. It's an interesting contrast, seeing as the Colts have been among the worst teams at keeping players healthy despite a winning run over the last decade. The Jags just couldn't make the same adjustments, something we often see on "talent" teams but not with "system" teams. The Colts may seem like the former, but the offensive system is basically Peyton Manning, while the defense is definitely system-based.
Marvin Harrison is out for Thursday's game with a moderate hamstring strain, but this year's version has been a decent enough WR2, so Anthony Gonzalez becomes a better option. In the backfield, Joseph Addai will play and split carries with Dominic Rhodes. On the defensive side, Bob Sanders is a gametime decision, but all indications, including practice on Wednesday, have him in. The Colts are playing to win this one so that they can rest next week. Across the ball, the injuries are all in the past and the adjustments have left the Jags struggling. What they have left is healthy.
Yeah, it was a bit of a shock for me, too. Seeing Peterson pop up on the OIR with an ankle sprain caught everyone off guard, since he finished Sunday without any sign of an issue. The reason is that there's not much of an issue. Peterson is sore, and sources tell me he rolled over the ankle a bit on a sharp lateral cut sometime in the second half. It swelled up a bit afterward and it was a good enough reason to hold him out of practice on Wednesday as any. As mentioned above, it doesn't take much of a reason to rest guys at this stage of the year, especially in practice. Peterson remains the No. 1 fantasy RB this week and there won't be much question about who'll be the No. 1 overall pick next season in every fantasy draft. Who goes in the second slot? That will be a bit more of an issue and one I'll address a bit later in this column.
Bush was placed on IR after re-spraining his knee. He finishes the year with one yard more than you'd expect from an average back, according to my pals at Football Outsiders. Yes, he played much of the season with a bum knee, but he's not just a barely above-average RB this season, he's fallen to third on the depth chart and become less a "lightning" back than several others, like Leon Washington and Chris Johnson.Even Felix Jones was better in much less time. Bush's mild knee sprain being recurrent doesn't necessarily make him soft, but the slow comeback is definitely something that the "soft" police will point toward. Bush should be able to come back from the knee sprain by next season with no effect. I'm just not sure anyone will care.
The whole of the Giants backfield is banged up and the calculus of committee backfields gets a bit odd when it goes that way. Seventy-five percent of Brandon Jacobs, who will be available, plus some percentage of Derrick Ward, whose ankle is likely to keep him off the field, added to 90 percent of Ahmad Bradshaw, who will play despite a sore neck, still doesn't necessarily equal a good running game. As much as losing Plaxico Burress has thrown off the passing game, it's the unknown mix behind Eli Manning that makes the running game a mess right now. This isn't a team that happens to have a committee, it's one that planned it that way and injuries have thrown it off. The good thing is that the Giants are locked into the playoffs and can afford to rest people. The downside there is that with all of them hurt, someone has to be out there, risking further injury and less availability in the playoffs. Tom Coughlin and the Giants' medical staff have a bit of a dilemma!
There's trouble in the locker room, the playoffs are in question, and the owner is questioning whether or not Barber is tough enough to be a Cowboy. There have been questions as to why Julius Jones held off Barber for so many years, and maybe there's some Hard Knocks footage lying around where Jerry Jones talks about Barber making fun of his facelift or something. The toe injury was definitely affecting Barber, and some think that he was started against the Giants only as a courtesy, since the two plays he ran were precisely the type of plays with which he would have the hardest time. Whether that's a test or setting him up for failure, I'll let you decide. Barber's practices this week will determine how much he plays, but Tashard Choice will be involved, and this has to raise some questions about whether Barber will end up behind Felix Jones next season. Right now it looks like we're in the same position as last week, with Barber a split at best.
Williams is "a little fuzzy" on what happened in the second half In Week 15, but he returned to the game. Jackson was knocked out of his game against the Seahawks with a hard double-hit (helmet to helmet, then helmet to turf), but returned late in the game as well. Once again, we're seeing that when it comes to concussions, the NFL still lets game-to-game concerns overrule serious medical issues.
The coaches can't be blamed here. Jim Haslett is playing for a job and John Fox is playing for the playoffs, but in both cases, especially Williams, there are adequate backups and not enough reward for the risk that they're taking. Despite the writing I've done on this issue, and especially in light of the work Alan Schwarz has done at the New York Times, it's very sad that this is still even a problem, but it is. It's a big one, and the NFL can't keep sweeping it under the table. Both players are expected to play this week.
Remember the season-ending, perhaps career-threatening neck injury to Jones? Not so much. Jones did have a severely herniated cervical disk, but it's something he's had. Jones is not only back at practice, he's expected to play in Week 16. The disk isn't any worse than it's been and is normally asymptomatic. The danger is, of course, that he does more damage to it in a game, but according to doctors, he's at no more risk than someone who has normal disc anatomy. It's a big shift and one that makes me wonder whether his clinging to an NFL career and complete lack of options off-field make him willing to take more risk than is safe, but who are we to say? I can complain about the possibility of injury, but Jones is the type of guy that my grandmother would say is headed for jail or the grave, whichever comes first, so is severe injury that much worse?
Breaking a scapula (shoulder blade) isn't easy to do, but for Williams, it has ended his regular season and put the playoffs in jeopardy. Without his run-stopping abilities, the Vikings have a tougher road to just getting there and putting a return in play. It will heal and tends to heal normally, though this is such an unusual injury that without knowing the specific mechanism, it's hard to say how much stress the shoulder will be placed under in normal play. The question is really one of range of motion and whether or not Williams could adjust to the limitations. He can't be braced or harnessed and remain effective.
Adding an element of intrigue is Williams' looming suspension. With the injury, many players would drop any appeal and serve the time they would miss anyway, but there's a bigger principle here for Williams. While Williams isn't on many fantasy rosters, note his injury if you have Michael Turner or the Giants RBs on your roster, since running against the Vikings just got easier.
You all know about the dreaded 370 rule, right? If not, here it is: Aaron Schatz of Football Outsider discovered that taking 370 carries in the course of a season seems to be the breaking point for almost all running backs in terms of their play for a single season and a career. Turner might be about to learn the rule. He's on pace for 379 carries right now (and only seven catches!), meaning that in his first year as a starter, he may end up having a second-season dropoff reminiscent of Heroes. There's not a big sample size, but the fatigue factor is interesting. Can a modern, 24/7/365 athlete really not recover, not only week to week but also year to year? Is the beating that their bodies take so costly that they're literally leaving something behind with every carry, up to a breaking point? You can look at 370 and say it's not a perfect cut-off point. Some backs break down before, and maybe Eric Dickerson is just such a physical freak (or did he just avoid big hits?) that it didn't work for him. All we do know is that Turner (and perhaps Mike Mularkey, who's done this before) has to be accounted for by the Falcons. Maybe their under-use of Jerrious Norwood is more understandable if it turns out they know they're going to need him next year. The interesting thing here is that I can make a pretty valid case for Turner being the second overall pick in next year's fantasy drafts. Now you won't make that mistake.
Gus Frerotte will be a gametime decision for the Vikings, but they're leaning to making Tarvaris Jackson the starter as of this second ... Matt Hasselbeck is out this week and likely done for the season ... The Bengals are still hoping to see Carson Palmer in Week 17, just as a cameo. I'm not really sure why ... Matt Forte has about the mildest case of turf toe possible, so don't be scared to use him ... Frank Gore is very unlikely to play this weekend, though the Niners hope he can at least share carries ... Donnie Avery has been playing this season on a fractured hip and handfuls of painkillers. Want to complain about his declining production some more, Haslett?