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Cassel, Big Ben among wounded heading into fantasy playoffs


What would happen if teams just threw open the doors on medical information? What if the Training Room opened up and allowed the reporters in? It's not going to happen any time soon, but I'm less and less convinced after monitoring this kind of thing for a decade that it's an advantage at all, let alone enough to affect anything.

We'll have a couple surprise injuries here and there, a game-time decision that breaks the opposite way, and occasionally something that's hidden enough to get my the amassed press and tape-watchers. Not often though and certainly not so much that it requires anything in the way of the secrecy and outright deception that teams go through.

I don't mean to make an example of the Steelers, who tend to be up front, but did they gain anything by saying Ben Roethlisberger had a sprain instead of a fracture? Did the Chiefs gain anything by not being up front from the start about Matt Cassel's surgery? Did the Colts ever really believe that Bob Sanders was coming back this season? The NFL is a league of copycats. If you read Tim Layden's book, you'll realize that the best NFL offenses of today amount to one part Don Coryell, one part innovation and two parts pure plagiarism. The league limits information to restrict gambling, but the shell game that injury information has become is something that I believe will end up being thrown open. Information, they say, wants to be free, but good information wants to be expensive. A great thinker once said that information was the power and currency of the Internet age. Oh wait, that was Billy Idol. Either way, it's true. Let's get to the injuries:

UPGRADE: Kenny BrittDOWNGRADE: Donald Brown

The short week doesn't help the Colts after a tough loss to the Cowboys, but the 10 days following this game might be a big plus for them, assuming they can make it through this with a win. Otherwise, health might come, but it will be too late. Joseph Addai is out, as is Mike Hart, and the word is that the Dominic Rhodes signing is an indication that Addai might not be back this season. Expect Rhodes to mix in immediately since he knows the offense and Peyton Manning trusts him. He's a decent play in PPR leagues. Austin Collie is also out this week, while Jacob Tamme seems headed towards a game-time decision. The Colts defense is banged up as well, with Jerraud Powers heading to IR after a nasty arm fracture required plates and screws. They look to be getting Kelvin Hayden back, however. Owner Jim Irsay also indicates that Bob Sanders is headed for IR. On the Titans side, they'll be getting Kenny Britt back after missing several weeks with a strained hamstring. Expect him to be full-go and mix in at WR1. Kerry Collins will be looking for him early, though everyone expects Chris Johnson to be the big weapon against a weak Indy run defense. The Titans have some depth issues up front on defense as well.

Word leaked out on Wednesday that Matt Cassel had an appendectomy Wednesday morning. Though the Chiefs are not listing him as out for this Sunday's game, common sense tells us he is. While laproscopic techniques have reduced the complications surrounding an appendectomy, reducing the scarring, incision size, and need to cut through muscle in order to remove the vestigial problem, it's still surgery. People take about 30 days to recover fully, but Cassel is a football player, so the question is when he'll be functional and when it will be safe. Doctors I spoke with today hesitated to give low-end estimates, including one that says "two weeks is too fast, but he'll likely do it in less," due to the possibility that normal patients would overdo it and create bigger problems. The consensus was that 10 days -- just in time for Week 15 -- is the absolute low end of safety. We'll get plenty of looks next week in practice to give a better indication of exactly when Cassel will return. Brodie Croyle will take over, but it does hurt the fantasy value of Dwayne Bowe while upping the running game just a bit.

Ben Roethlisberger had minor surgery to fix his broken nose, but the foot is the real problem for him. The Steelers admitted that the fifth metatarsal is broken, but as I said last week, it doesn't really matter to the treatment and protection of the injury. The key is protecting the foot from trauma, something the Steelers were able to do. Roethlisberger's running was also limited, since the lateral forces -- either stopping or pushing off to his left -- would be very taxing for that fracture. A heavy cover and thick tape job did what they were supposed to as Roethlisberger's performance was key in a big Steelers win. There's no reason to think it will be any different this week or for the next few as the bone heals. Back to the nose for just a second -- several people, including some in the game, asked me why Roethlisberger's nose continued to bleed for nearly the entire game. There's no good answer as to why, though many doctors I spoke with suggested that the use of certain painkillers can cause a thinning of the blood, making it tougher to stop the bleeding. It clearly didn't affect him during the game, so I doubt that the Steelers will need to hire a cut man.

We learned a little about Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson on Sunday, but we learned a lot more about head coach Leslie Frazier. Frazier played it very close to the vest, watching Adrian Peterson before the game and even making him re-do some drills before putting him on the active roster. Once Frazier saw what he saw, it was off to the races for Peterson. Peterson showed absolutely no effects from the ankle sprain and had his best day of the season production-wise. Was this a sandbag by the Vikings or something else? Based on information from several sources, including the time Peterson was with the medical staff before and after the game, the injury was real. One team source tells me that the difference is the QB. "When Favre sees something he doesn't like, he checks to a quick pass. When [Tarvaris] Jackson saw something, he checked to a run. Which one's smarter -- trusting an old arm or the best back in the league?" It's hard to argue that, so we're left wondering if Favre's latest injury, a bruised shoulder, will keep him out this week. He's pushing hard to be back out there and sources tell me that he's more likely to start the game at this stage than not. But does start mean stay out there? That's less clear. "If [Frazier] lets him start, he has to produce," one source told me. Looking back to how Frazier monitored Peterson all of last week right up to the GTD makes me think Favre is going to get the same treatment.

Things are looking up for Matthew Stafford. He's throwing passes at practice, but he's running out of time to be ready for Week 14. Week 15? Sure, that's looking more likely. The question remains as to whether bringing Stafford back is the right decision for the Lions, but getting some confidence for the future for Stafford, for the team, and for the fans has some value. You can easily compare the return of Stafford to that of Tony Romo, but we know a lot more about Romo and who he is and is going to be as a QB1. Stafford's not a bust by a long shot, but he's going to have to establish that he can stay healthy if his ceiling is going to go any higher than Matt Schaub Lite. Stafford is going to have a ways to go in the next ten days. Look for him to start throwing deep balls and outs to prove to the coaches that he's ready.

The Dolphins made Brandon Marshall a very late inactive last week, surprising many. It's remaining a surprise just how much the hamstring strain is continuing to affect him, keeping him to limited action in practice even days later. With Brian Hartline injured and Chad Henne needing all the help he can get, Marshall's return would be a big help, but we're no closer to seeing whether Marshall can play today than we were last Sunday. We know that Tony Sparano made the call last week and that the medical staff had cleared him to play, which leaves me wondering what the current limitations are. Are the Dolphins worried that there's recurrence risk or that Marshall isn't self-aware enough to self-limit? He'll be a GTD going into this week and for teams either in the fantasy playoffs or needing a win to make it there, Marshall's going to be almost too risky to play in all but extreme situations.

The Texans won't say it and neither will Andre Johnson, but I will -- playing through the ankle sprain this season has cost Johnson and the Texans (and fantasy owners) a lot of value. Johnson's been good, but this is a guy who was drafted as the first WR in a majority of leagues, so good isn't enough. The Texans don't owe fantasy owners anything, but there's a value equation in place here that's pretty easy to note. We don't have access to the real, hands-on data that the medical staff does. I can say things like "Johnson looks about 80 percent out there" but I don't have real data to make that statement. They do. Does 80 percent of a player get 80 percent of expected production? No, it's not that simple either. Production is a range of possibilities, especially in a game where TDs aren't distributed in any rational fashion. (See: Vrabel, Mike.) It's reasonable, however, to say that there's a certain amount of lost production while Johnson hobbled through half the season. Fantasy owners didn't get what they hoped and if the Texans end up at home in January, it's hard to say they did either. All I'm saying is no matter what he does in December, remember all this come next August.

Things looked promising last week for Pierre Thomas, but he wasn't able to go in the end. Sean Payton made the decision based on what he had available and where Thomas fit into the game plan. Thomas was close, which gives us a lot more indication that he's going to be even closer this week. Reports from practice have him going without limitation, but a closer look shows that Thomas got reps behind Chris Ivory. That makes Thomas less of a clear play from a fantasy perspective. He's a clear RB2 to a healthy Ivory, isn't going to take carries from Reggie Bush, and isn't likely to get the goal-line carries that would amp his value. Don't be fooled when you see Thomas on the active list ... unless Sean Payton fools us all and uses Thomas as relief for Ivory, a rookie with a long history of injuries.

Compartment syndrome is no joke. If you read the description of it in the Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries, you'll probably make a face two or three times before you even get to the treatment. Hakeem Nicks has made it through the hard part and now all he needs to do is run without experiencing a setback while keeping the wound closed. That might not sound so simple, but it really is. There's not even much the medical staff can do to help it along. Nicks either will or won't, and it should be fairly easy to figure it out even from out here. If Nicks makes it through Friday's practice with no problems, he's very likely to be back in the Giants starting lineup. It's a bit more complex with Steve Smith. Reports that his limitations in practice were minor is certainly a positive, but it's going to be much harder to get a read on how his pectoral strain is going to hold up. Again, we'll have to wait and see if he remains in this same state, but even so, he's more likely to be one of the players I'll be talking about in Sunday's video chat.

Tony Romo is still throwing, but the discomfort he feels is likely to lead to IR ... Chad Pennington will have surgery on his shoulder, again, this Friday. His career may be over ... Marion Barber will be out again this week. Tashard Choice's big day made it easy to give Barber more rest ... Mike Shanahan says Ryan Torain was "full go" on Wednesday. You know not to trust him by now, right? ... Darren Sproles has not yet been cleared to play after his concussion, so the Chargers might be forced to give the ball back to Ryan Mathews. Mathews was a healthy zero last week, one of the most frustrating things in football ... While the Chargers don't know how much, if any, they'll see Vincent Jackson, Legadu Naanee, and Antonio Gates at practice, all three have a solid shot at playing this weekend ... If you missed it, Dez Bryant's broken ankle will cost him the rest of the season ... Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu were both out of practice on Wednesday and will be iffy at best for this weekend ... The timing on Percy Harvin's migraines is the deciding factor on when he can play and when he can't. It's impossible to read ahead of time ... Todd Heap is very iffy with a hamstring strain. He's not been a quick healer in the past ... Heath Miller is making progress after a nasty collision led to a concussion, but the Steelers seem to be taking things very slow with him. Playing the Bengals helps slow things down.