NFL Week 4 Med Check: Spiller, Jackson, Nicks among downgrades
I'm fighting my own injury this week -- don't worry, it's a minor burn on my hand, but it's right in the spot where I hold my iPad, shake someone's hand, or worse, where my hand rests on the computer while I type. It's not painful, but it is annoying and inhibits things a bit. It's a reminder to me that it's not always the big injuries that affect things. Those are what keep a player out from week to week, but it's the small things, perhaps even things we don't know that can affect fantasy totals. Can a cut on the hand keep a WR1 like Julio Jones from catching a tough pass that costs him (and Matt Ryan) yards and points? Does a lingering foot injury slow down Hakeem Nicks or Marques Colston enough that the WRs behind them become good fantasy plays? We'll never know all of it or understand exactly how the puzzle pieces come together, but those pieces of information are what you have to use each week when setting your lineup. I'm here to help -- especially in the pre-game chat, here at SI.com from 11:30 a.m. Eastern right up to the 1 p.m. kickoff - but in the end, it's your team, your decision. Let's get to it:
This could be a shootout and if so, the Falcons will need Julio Jones. Jones' lacerated hand shouldn't affect him much, but it could cost him in the red zone. If so, Tony Gonzalez gets a bump. It will be impossible to say even in-game, so don't overshift your expectations on either. The Panthers should have Jonathan Stewart back, which puts their RB situation back to it's more normal but unpredictable split.
The best way to think about CJ Spiller is like Ryan Mathews. A RB might run with his legs, but he leads with his shoulders. The AC sprain could have been a lot worse -- and looked it at the time -- but Spiller has made enough progress that he's not yet been ruled out. He's a GTD-, but probably not a good play, as the Bills will need to be careful with him (and are likely to be playing from behind, forcing more passing.) The same is true with Fred Jackson, who is closer to playing normally. The knee is still not 100% and his lateral mobility remains a question. That leaves Tashard Choice as the most likely RB to get the most touches here. Rob Gronkowski was a late add to the OIR and at questionable, it's very concerning. I'll be watching that one very closely Sunday morning and hope to have better info by then. The Pats have some issues up front, with OLs Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer hurting, which could affect both the running and passing games. Aaron Hernandez is making progress but is very unlikely to play this week. With Julian Edelman out, Wes Welker has to get more looks, right? Deion Branch could factor in as well.
The Vikings had a couple big named on the OIR -- Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, and Jared Allen -- but all are expected to play normally. The Lions have a longer list and more problems. Matthew Stafford is dealing with an upper leg/hip strain that could keep him off the field. He's a GTD+ and if he plays, I expect him to put up normal numbers. It could push a few more touches to the running game, but it might not shift to Mikel Leshoure. A groin strain continues the worry that his fragility will wipe out his talent. It won't. The DBs are still an issue for the Lions, which makes all the Vikings WRs a better play, especially Jerome Simpson, who will give the Vikings a vertical element they've lacked throughout the Ponder era.
It's hard to say a guy with nearly 80 carries is someone to worry about, but between the workload, a nagging knee injury, and his history, Arian Foster is someone I'm watching. He's not a "sell high" guy -- you can't do that with a first rounder -- but I do think that Ben Tate is a near must-have pairing if you are counting on Foster. Gary Kubiak is going to have to find a way to keep him healthy and laying off touches on Tate could be it. The Texans have an extensive injury list, but most shouldn't affect the game, including Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. The Titans should have Kenny Britt at near-normal despite missing practice, but Jared Cook will be a GTD+ and won't see his normal sets. They'll protect his shoulder by keeping him out of the biggest blocks, but watch for the Texans to test him with blitzes early.
Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates didn't even make the OIR this week. That's more a symbol than a signal. The Chargers are monitoring the groin strain of Nate Kaeding and have Nick Novak ready to go. (Late word is Kaeding will not play.) They'll make that call late. The only other key injury for the Chargers is Quentin Jammer and it appears he will play. The Chiefs OIR is more extensive. Dexter McCluster is unlikely to play, though the extent of his elbow injury is still something of a mystery. Peyton Hillis is probably out, pushing more to Jamaal Charles, who responded big time last week. Dwayne Bowe will play and get his full targets.
Darrelle Revis is out, but not yet on IR. Why? The Jets are giving him a courtesy and really not needing the roster spot just yet. Why not the IR with the could-return slot? That can only be used once a year. Revis is, at best, a miracle away from coming back even in the playoffs; the Jets need to save that slot for someone coming back from a fracture or high ankle or something like that. The defense is a downgrade without Revis, but I'm not sure just how much, since Rex Ryan teams seem to feed on being underdogs and having the "us against the world" mentality. Problem is, it's not just Revis. The Jets go 20 deep on the OIR, including Stephen Hill, who is unlikely to play, Bart Scott, who will but could be hobbled, and Dustin Keller, who is a GTD-. The Niners are watching Patrick Willis, though he's expected to play, while Ted Ginn is not likely to participate again this week.
Steven Jackson played last week after not practicing and it looks like this week will be the same. Jackson was a decent option last week, not losing too much to Daryl Richardson as many had worried. The Seahawks, even on a short week, are relatively healthy at the fantasy-relevant positions.
Good defenses against good running backs should make for an interesting matchup. Neither team can count on the passing game, so they will have to go with a dinged Reggie Bush, plus Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. Miami has a good run defense, but they do have some depth issues at DT, so they could wear down. We'll see whether that helps Ryan Williams. Both Bush and Williams have been injury prone in the past, but they have great opportunities to step up and help their team. The Cardinals are a surprise, but they should have a solid shot at 4-0. Their biggest concern is in the defensive backfield, where Ryan Tannehill hasn't proven he can make a team pay. John Skelton is likely to miss at least this week before returning and fighting Kevin Kolb for the QB slot.
It's pretty amazing that I can say it was even a possibility that Darius Heyward-Bey could have played this week. He's not running as of Friday, so don't expect him on Sunday. Rod Streater could pick up Heyward-Bey's targets. The Broncos expect to have both Willis McGahee and Jacob Tamme on the field. They have favorable matchups and figure to get normal workload.
The Bengals continue to have all their real injury problems on the defensive side. That opens things up for the passing game and for Maurice Jones-Drew, who feasted on a Colts defense last week that runs a similar scheme to Cincy. Jacksonville has some minor injuries, but none that should affect their game plan or fantasy owners.
Marques Colston is dealing with a lingering foot injury that multiple reports and sources have as plantar fasciitis. Yet here we are looking at the OIR and he's nowhere on it. That's curious. I had expected a downgrade given what we saw last week, but given that he practiced fully, it's hard to put him there. (For you, we'll call it a reward for not just scanning this column.) The Saints don't have any fantasy relevant injuries, just some very minor defensive depth issues on the edge.
Pierre Garcon is likely to miss Week 4 as his foot injury continues to make very slow progress. The early season has worn on Leonard Hankerson as well. He should play through a sore back, but it's very tough to say how the young WR will respond. That leaves Robert Griffin III targeting down the depth chart to Aldrick Robinson and Fred Davis a bit more, though Griffin really spreads the ball around. The Bucs are healthy and have no fantasy relevant issues.
The recovery is still the issue for Hakeem Nicks. After playing last week, Nicks appears to not be ready this week, despite it being a big divisional matchup. If Nicks is out, Ramses Barden will have another chance to show off his skills, but don't forget about Domenik Hixon, coming back from a concussion. Nicks is far enough out from the foot fracture that this kind of recovery issue is worrisome and may force some corrective action. Reports of a knee issue complicate things; a compensation injury like that would be a major negative. A late bye week (11) doesn't help here. The news is better on Ahmad Bradshaw, who should split carries with Andre Brown. The Eagles will have Jeremy Maclin back, but a quick recurrence is possible with this hip flexor strain. Watch to see if Riley Cooper is active this week. His return would give Michael Vick the tall target he lacks right now.