Playoffs? Playoffs! Yeah, it's time to talk about the playoffs. While the NFL teams are settling the playoff picture, fantasy players are deep in the playoffs. Almost all leagues are starting this week if they didn't get started last week. Of course, the vagaries of the way the fantasy playoffs work have many thinking that we should change things up, go to a pure points basis, but I'm not sure that's better and certainly would lead to more orphaned teams unless there was a path to return.
Playoffs are fun, but they're also the biggest issue with fantasy football. A few years back, I suggested that EA come up with a system that married the Madden technology to solving this. Instead of points in the last few weeks, there would be a simulation built on the various teams. That hasn't happened ... yet ... and in baseball, more advanced systems have failed to catch on over the basic rotisserie style that Dan Okrent and his friends made up so long ago. There's a fine line between accuracy and simplicity that our current form of fantasy football lives on, but the longer I play this game and talk to people who spend so much of their time and effort on making this better, I'm not sure if there's ever going to be a significant shift. Right now, I think the biggest issue is dealing with the way real NFL teams manage starters, i.e. the Colts conundrum. That doesn't appear to be kicking in this week, so we should be ok in most ways, though I am seeing the start of the winter shutdowns for teams that are out of the playoff race. I'm all for slow, incremental gains anyway, so let's get to the injuries:
Let's clear up one thing first: As far as I can tell, there's no rule that says a player must be cleared at a certain point before coming back to play. There's no rule that says "cleared by Friday to play Sunday," though I understand the confusion. Early discussion of the new concussion guidelines were very unclear on this. That said, there is a practical deadline and news Wednesday that Aaron Rodgers had not participated in any team activities, including film and meetings, was telling. Keeping the brain away from stimulation is one of the best practices we're seeing in concussion management and video/film is one of the things that seems to exacerbate symptoms in some. Rodgers is not ruled out, however, with the Packers saying they want to see how he's doing on Saturday. Essentially, they'll go pretty much up to game time if there's a chance that he can go. The fact that this is Rodgers' second concussion (at least) on the season doesn't factor into the medical side, but the increased focus will influence the decision, I'm sure. If Rodgers got you to the fantasy playoffs, it's unclear if he'll be able to get you through them, so have a plan B at the ready.
With the streak over, there's lots of concern over whether Brett Favre is going to play again. Keep your conspiracy theories and the idea that Favre might resurface somewhere next year to yourself for now. Right now, we're only concerned with the facts as we can best find them. Favre was inactive last week after a lack of progress with his shoulder. While others are bogged down in the details, the facts are that the doctors determined that the symptoms Favre was having made it unlikely that the painkilling injection would have helped. There was a lot of back and forth with a lot of doctors, but in the end, Favre decided to say enough was enough and to sell some autographs on his website. Favre has had the same symptoms, to a lesser degree, this week and there's going to be an open question all the way through to Monday night's game. There's even going to be some question about how the weather will affect it. (Not at all.) Add in that Tarvaris Jackson has been placed on IR after his one-game starting streak, a bunch of big hits and one very painful turf toe, and it's only Favre that stands between the Vikings and Joe Webb/Patrick Ramsey at QB. Look for lots of drama up to game time. For fantasy players, this is much easier: Stay away from the bunch of them and hope Leslie Frazier just hands the ball off to Adrian Peterson a lot.
The Vikings might not know who will be at QB just yet, but they do think that Percy Harvin will be back on the field. Harvin's migraines cost him a week of practice and a game, though there's still some question of exactly what it was that kept him out. The question is based on the vagueness of the description and is likely known to the Vikings medical staff. Harvin's symptoms were described as "migraine related" rather than actual migraines, so it's unclear whether he had a long episode of headaches, or if he had some residual symptoms after the headache had gone. The result is the same and the downside on Harvin remains the unpredictability and uncontrollability of the migraines. When he plays, he's effective. The rest should help his legs to boot.
A week after having his appendix removed, Matt Cassel was back out on the practice field. When I had mine taken out, I didn't go back to school for a week. Cassel was understandably ginger and he's being protected from any contact or activities that will stress the area, but he's not having much problem with the basics. Throwing does put pressure in that area, so the incision didn't seem too bothered by it or he wouldn't be able to throw the passing tree the way he reportedly did on Wednesday. Assuming normal progress, Cassel should be good to go on Sunday and you have to assume that he'll play normally as well. There's no reason to think he'll be limited in any way, though I'm sure the defense is going to try to test his pain tolerance early.
If you saw DeSean Jackson run on Monday, turning on that extra gear in getting away for the TD against Dallas, it's hard to believe he did that with any kind of foot injury. Makes you wonder what he could have done healthy, huh? Jackson has a mild mid-foot sprain that shouldn't hold him back. The issue is in keeping it from getting worse, which is easy enough. The bigger issue for fantasy players is if that mission will involve resting him or even turning down his involvement over the next few weeks in order to have him ready for the NFL playoffs. Jackson is a big play WR, so losing targets isn't as big for him as most, since his value comes from breaking off big TDs. Targets are opportunities for all WRs, but Jackson can still be a productive fantasy player down to a certain level of targets. Expect him to be a solid fantasy starter against the Giants this week and a must-start in all formats.
Steve Smith made it back from his pectoral strain but his season ended when he injured his knee late in the game. Originally thought to be a hamstring injury, Smith instead was discovered to have a torn meniscus. I'm still a bit confused since Smith did grab at the leg and all the sideline tests appeared to be focused on the hamstring. It could be both, but the result is the same. Smith is headed for surgery, but should be able to come back easily in 2011 and be ready to build on the success he had this season. The Giants expect they'll have Mario Manningham back in the lineup to replace Smith. Manningham left last week's game with a hip flexor injury, but things have looked good for him all week. He shouldn't be significantly limited, but he's a clear WR2 behind a healthy Hakeem Nicks, so adjust accordingly. The Giants have been a bit more run heavy as well, which leads to the next issue ...
Ahmad Bradshaw was seen at the end of last week's game with his wrist heavily taped. When asked, both on that night and since, he's been consistent in saying it's no problem. He's not lying, but there is an injury. Bradshaw suffered a moderate sprain when he fell on the wrist and had some immediate pain and swelling. It's the kind of thing that resolves fairly easily but there could be an issue holding the ball. The Giants will keep working on it, test it to see if fumbling or being stripped is going to be a significant issue, but they fully expect Bradshaw to be on the field and taking the full share of touches. With Smith out, he's even more important to players in PPR leagues.
At what point does Antonio Gates look at the medical staff and say, "No mas?" Gates has been playing -- and playing well -- on an injury that would have most people, even most NFL players, begging for percocet and headed for foot surgery. Instead, the guy has been on the field and in the training room doing everything the trainers have in their arsenal to be productive. It's worked to some extent, but last week Gates couldn't go and there's a question of whether playing through this actually makes things worse. Complicating the medical factor is the position the Chargers are in regarding the playoffs. Despite all their injuries, the Chargers still have a path to the postseason. The short week isn't going to help Gates get ready for Thursday's game, but the extra time off before Week 16 will help. Gates will be shut down if the Chargers fall out of playoff contention, so be aware of that if you're hanging on to him.
Colt McCoy was back at practice on Wednesday. If he stays there all week, he'll start on Sunday. ... Tony Romo is out again this week. There's some rumblings that if he's not able to return to practice next week, the Cowboys will shut him down. They'd be smart to do that now. ... Derek Anderson had not been cleared to practice as of Wednesday due to concussion symptoms. John Skelton will start Sunday, regardless. ... Chris Ivory's hamstring strain opened the door to Pierre Thomas getting more work in the running game. With Ivory practicing, it's unclear what the split will be for both of them this week, making them a bit risky as fantasy plays. ... Marion Barber is back at practice and looks on schedule to return for the Cowboys this week. No clue on how the team will split the carries between Barber and Tashard Choice. ... Joseph Addai remains limited and sources tell me he's not very likely to return this week or even at all. ... Austin Collie looks to be back for this week's game. Again, a big game brings him out and we have to hope the time off has cleared the issue up. ... Another streak ends as Lee Evans heads to IR. He'd never missed a start, but an ankle injury pushes him to IR, ending a very disappointing campaign. ... Deon Butler also goes to IR after a TD catch turned into a broken leg. ... The Texans placed Mario Williams on IR. He'll have surgery soon to correct a sports hernia ... This kind of research is important. Take a minute to check it out, see if you can help.