Championship week is upon us and starting a little early with a Thursday game in the books and a Saturday night special. Neither of these games is a great matchup, but both have fantasy implications. The Steelers have put up their points, with Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to the fantasy world and Rashard Mendenhall not exactly being coal for the stocking. Now, we have to wait and see whether Boxing Day means winning or losing, with lots of cheer (and cash) changing hands after the points are all counted. Remember that naughty and nice means nothing for fantasy; here, it's winning and losing and beating the projections. For some of us, we've already gotten our best gift, that 10th-round pick that turned out to be Arian Foster or that last-round flyer you took on Michael Vick. Some, no doubt, will remember picking Chris Johnson first overall, only to see him have fewer points so far than Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden. And what do we call Kyle Orton, who has more fantasy points than Eli Manning and Matt Cassel, but has lost his job? Fantasy is like Christmas morning: You never know what you'll get when the season unwraps. Let's look at the injuries around the league ...
The Cowboys have put Tony Romo on IR, but at this stage of the season and of his career, there was nothing to learn. Romo will be back next year and Jon Kitna's not taking his job, but auditioning for the next one. The Cowboys expect to have Marion Barber back for Saturday's game. Combined with Felix Jones' sore shin, the Cowboys running game will be an unpredictable committee which limits its fantasy usability. The Cowboys passing game is prepping for another game without Roy Williams, not a big deal since Dez Bryant has solidified himself as the WR2 and likely will be the WR1 next season. The Cardinals are relatively healthy, though they have some defensive depth issues, especially at linebacker, that could free up Jason Witten.
The Jets head on the road to Chicago for what could end up a combination of negatives -- on the road, in poor weather, and with an injury list that is as long as some spoiled kid's Amazon wish list. Mark Sanchez has the shoulder cartilage issue, but there's little doubt that he'll play. While he's sore, there's no evidence that he can't do most of what he could before. Expect the game plan to shift a little more to the run, and a little more to short passes. That's a plus for Dustin Keller and Braylon Edwards, who's the healthiest of the WRs and most likely to get sent on some short slants and crossing routes. Both Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith have minor injuries, but will play. Holmes' turf toe does bear watching from a production standpoint. All of Chicago's major issues are on defense, though they're expecting all of their key players to be ready, including Lance Briggs. Earl Bennett won't get his full targets, but should play.
Jay Glazer reported on Friday afternoon that Maurice Jones-Drew was out due to swelling in his knee not dissipating after playing on turf last week in Indy. This isn't an isolated complaint, about Indy's flat, hard surface, though it's certainly better than the last few years in the Hoosier Dome. Jones-Drew, a noted fantasy player who drafted himself first overall this season, must not have made the championship if he's sitting out. (I'm told he did not.) Glazer has great sources, but don't go tossing Jones-Drew aside just yet. I'll stick with calling him a GTD, though Rashad Jennings becomes an immediate great waiver pickup whether you have Jones-Drew or not. Mike Sims-Walker is also a GTD with continuing ankle issues. For the Redskins, they'll see just how fluky Rex Grossman's Week 15 was -- and maybe it wasn't. (Yes, it was.) The Redskins defense is missing a lot of rush with Brian Orakpo and Kedric Golston out, but everyone else that matters should be on the field. Sorry, Donovan.
The Lions have pushed Matthew Stafford to the IR, a move that's a bit worrisome. The team had hoped to get him back, even for one game, for a confidence builder. The confidence in Stafford's ability to lead this team is key and losing most of another season to injury isn't helping. Going out with some positive made a lot more sense for Stafford and the Lions than it does for someone more established, like Tony Romo. Instead, the Lions are left with a GTD between two injured backup QBs, Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill. Neither is a good fantasy option, as you well know. It leaves Calvin Johnson as about the only fantasy positive in Honolulu blue. The Dolphins, who have been amazingly healthy for the second season in a row, will likely be without Karlos Dansby. Everyone else is ready to go.
The Rams might only have four names on the OIR, but they're all key in their own way. Jason Smith, their blind side tackle, is doubtful after rolling his ankle after being cleared to return after concussion. Let's just say it hasn't been the best week for Smith and has to worry the Rams, who have only two season goals: get incrementally better and keep Sam Bradford healthy. Michael Hoomanawanui is out, again, and is all but done for the season. Chris Long has established himself as a solid rusher in a good week to be a solid rusher. Finally, Kenneth Darby is a solid backup for Steven Jackson who can keep the big back from getting worn down. The Niners have their own problems, with Brian Westbrook and Josh Morgan both GTDs, but both likely to play. The rest of their injuries, to the offensive line and linebacking corps, are long-standing.
There's some question marks for the Pats, but the real question is whether Bill Belichick will look out at a road game in Buffalo and think "rest is good." Players like Aaron Hernandez, Devin McCourty, and Deion Branch all look ready to play, but with the playoffs locked in and home field all but set as well, there's less reason to put someone out in the Lake Effect for the full game, if at all. McCourty is the most questionable of those and could help the Bills passing game if he's out. The same holds true for Tom Brady, who continues his Favre-like streak of "probable"-ness. The Bills have no significant injuries.
Both teams are physical, punishing teams. Both teams have taken about as much as they've given as well. That leaves this as something like the 15th Round of Rocky, with both firing haymakers and hoping the other falls down first. The Browns have more key players sore, including Peyton Hillis (knee), Colt McCoy (ankle), and Josh Cribbs (foot), but all should play again. The Ravens have Derrick Mason (ankle), Todd Heap (quad), and Matt Birk (knee), who should all play -- though Heap's a bit more questionable than the other two. Where I think there will be fantasy impact is with Hillis. The Browns will give the Ravens a game, but I don't think the Browns will beat up their bruising and bruised back more than necessary, so his carries will go down, perhaps by a lot.
The Titans have a lot of probables, including Kerry Collins and Chris Simms, but all should play. The Chiefs don't have any significant injuries. A healthy holiday season is the best gift, right?
Andre Johnson's status on Sunday comes down to whether or not he feels like he can handle another painkiller injection in his long-damaged right ankle. He did a bit more damage to it last week and has created some problems at the back of the ankle as well as the previous issue. The ankle has been described as extremely swollen and painful throughout the week, but this is no different from almost every week of his season and he's managed to play and be reasonably productive. We have to wonder just how many injections Johnson has had this year and what, if any, long term damage he may have done to the ankle. If Johnson is not able to go, is it more of an upgrade for Jacoby Jones or a downgrade for Matt Schaub? Can it be both? Johnson is a very risky play, not only on the risk that he can't go, but also on the risk that he's ineffective or leaves early. Look for any options unless you need the upside play in a longshot game. Arian Foster looks fine to go despite his muscle spasms last week costing him some touches. The Texans will use him heavily in hopes of getting him the rushing title. The big concern for the Broncos is Knowshon Moreno. His rib injury had the Broncos worried, but he was back at practice on Friday. Kyle Orton is questionable with his rib injury, but his job is Tim Tebow's going forward.
The Colts could get a little help on Sunday when they expect to get Joseph Addai back after missing several weeks with a brachial plexus injury. While he's not likely to be a huge fantasy plus, he's a big upgrade on blitz pickups, something that will help Peyton Manning immensely. Manning got knocked around a lot early in the Jags game and the Colts used Dominic Rhodes quite a bit in the second half for precisely that reason. The Colts have Addai listed as questionable, but they've been a bit all over the place with the OIR this year. Right now, it looks as if Addai will play. It's less clear whether role players like Clint Session, Kelvin Hayden, and Charlie Johnson will be back in the mix with all GTDs. With Austin Collie out, the targets will be shifted around again, with Blair White the most likely recipient. The Raiders have their typical mix of probables, with Zach Miller and Nnamdi Asomugha ready to play, but Richard Seymour is much more questionable, with signs pointing to him playing limited snaps, if at all. That would be a big plus for Peyton Manning.
The Chargers have been good, when healthy. That could be said about a lot of players, but seldom about a whole team. Philip Rivers has essentially kept them in this thing and will have to do so again, with Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd both unlikely to play. (Gates is listed as out as of Friday evening.) That leaves Vincent Jackson as the go-to guy with the bulk of running staying with Mike Tolbert, who's simply more trusted than Ryan Mathews at this stage. The Bengals will be without Terrell Owens, likely forever, after losing him to a knee injury and Chad Ochocinco looks unlikely to play due to an ankle injury of his own. That leaves Jordan Shipley as the WR1, a role he's not well suited for. Given injuries to Brian Leonard (out with an ankle sprain) and Bernard Scott (toe), that leaves Cedric Benson as the sole hope that Carson Palmer won't have to chuck and duck all game. The ineptitude of the Bengals might work against the Chargers as a fantasy option, since they could build a big lead and sit some of their starters.
There's no significant fantasy injuries in this game, unless you count the Tom Brady-esque 'probable' that's appended to Kellen Winslow's name more than "Junior."
Aaron Rodgers looks sure to play in a big game for the Packers, but there's an extensive OIR list beyond the QB. Most of the CBs and LBs on the roster have some level of injury, but aside from a doubtful Frank Zombo, all are expected to play. That could push the Giants to try to test them with the run early, just to see if they wear down. The O-line is still an issue, which can't help Rodgers much. There's a lot of O-line issues for the Giants, but they've had those a while. They're actually getting a bit healthier, though the loss of Steve Smith doesn't help. Mario Manningham is expected to play at the WR2 despite a heel injury.
Adrian Peterson will again be a GTD as rumors fly about the condition of his knee. His self-description might be positive, but his descriptions of difficulty turning indicate something going on inside the knee. It's nothing that should scare those of you in keeper leagues, but I won't be surprised to hear that Peterson's early off-season involves a visit to Birmingham. Peterson practiced Friday, a positive indicator, but remember that even if he starts, the Vikings have no reason to risk him, which could mean a quick hook and certainly means a reduced workload. We're told that Brett Favre is out, but after last week, anything is possible. The Saints biggest concern on Monday will be Chris Ivory, so Pierre Thomas should start and get most of the interior touches in his place, with Reggie Bush in the mix for the edge rushes.