Watching the game on Thursday night, as I'm sure most of you did, we all saw the new NFL "Heads Up Football" program that the NFL is sponsoring. Along with USA Football, the league is attempting to change a violent culture from the bottom up, trying to stem the tide that we'll see and hear a lot more of with this week's release of "Head Games." I highly encourage you to see the movie. I have not screened it yet, but Chris Nowinski's book and story will make for troubling, yet powerful viewing for parents everywhere.
Back to the "Heads Up" commercial, there's one line that struck me, where they mention that the NFL is spending millions to improve equipment. I'd like to know a lot more about that. No one would give me a comment on where that money is being spent and I haven't seen any results. The league is still dealing with players who don't like wearing pads, an equipment industry that is resistant to change and a public that doesn't truly understand the problem. It's a very uncomfortable place for the NFL to be and helping to make better equipment is one of the best paths to a solution. I hope that line is more than a throwaway and that the league is pushing for better pads, better helmets, better monitoring, and ... well, better everything. The players get bigger, stronger and faster every year and the equipment has, for the most part, fallen dangerously behind. That has to change, if only so that this column can be a bit shorter.
Be sure to check out my chat Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET) to make sure you get the latest fantasy updates and answers. Let's get to it:
Ryan Tannehill popped up on the OIR on Friday. His listed thumb injury is considered minor, though sources disagree on the exact injury and how it occurred. If Tannehill warms up on Sunday morning and isn't having major problems, he'll go. Reggie Bush is a bit of an upgrade. I still don't get a lot of confidence that he's back to where he was, but the Dolphins think they have to run more to keep Tannehill in a good place. Bush as well as Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are plays, with the latter spec plays in very deep leagues. The Bengals have some minor defensive injuries, but they get Bernard Scott back on offense. He's got good burst and could take snaps away from BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the passing game.
It's bad enough that the Colts are matched up against the Packers' offense, but doing it without significant portions of their defense makes the task even tougher. Dwight Freeney is questionable and unlikely to play much, if he does, but without Pat Angerer and Vontae Davis, the Packers passing game gets an upgrade. The Colts also have some depth issues on the O-Line. Indianapolis hopes to play inspired football, while the Packers just hope to play up to their level. The Pack won't have Greg Jennings, who they won't push this week, which leaves the rest of the WRs to take slight upgrades.
Aside from Peyton Hillis' expected absence, which will push more carries to Jamaal Charles again this week, the Chiefs are essentially healthy. That's even truer for the Ravens, who are making the first four weeks of compressed game schedule look like no big deal. Only Torrey Smith is a fantasy relevant player listed on the OIR and he'll play.
Trent Richardson isn't so much an upgrade as I wanted to note that his missed practice was not due to injury. While they are generally being careful with him, he missed practice to be at the birth of a child. He'll play on Sunday. Brandon Weeden won't have Mohamed Massaquoi, so he'll stick to Greg Little again in Week 5. The Giants have a lot of WR issues, with Hakeem Nicks out with knee inflammation and Ramses Barden out with a concussion. Add in some O-Line problems and the passing game is going to be quick. I like Martellus Bennett, a tall talented pass-catcher, especially in the red zone, to get more of the upside than Domenik Hixon. Also watch to see if Rueben Randle can work his way into any targets. He could end up a sleeper if Nicks is out for a while. Finally, watch Ahmad Bradshaw this week.
The Steelers come off the bye week and get Rashard Mendenhall back. He'll be eased back in, so expect 10-15 touches rather than a full load. The Steelers defense gets James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back as well, which can't make Michael Vick very happy. The Eagles aren't worried about Vick or LeSean McCoy, who had a mild bruise last week that caused him to be listed on the OIR. Both will play normally as they try to win by more than two points for the first time this season. The Eagles could also get Riley Cooper back this week, which would give them healthy WRs down to the WR5.
Washington seems to think they'll have all their WRs this week. Pierre Garcon has been at practice, if not full go, while Aldrick Robinson was back at practice this week as well. Brandon Meriweather remains out after his pre-game collision last week set him way back. The Falcons aren't too concerned about Julio Jones. His lacerated hand has some convinced it affected him last week, while others say it was no big deal. He seems healthy enough to make people forget all about one bad game, but the risk is still there for similar production.
Marshawn Lynch continues to be listed on the OIR while he continues playing. He's not playing great, but if we assume that he might be slightly held back by this lingering back problem, there's some upside for an improving Seattle team. The Panthers won't get Jon Beason back, but they have a healthy backfield. Watch to see if the O-Line is intact Saturday as Ron Rivera continues to try to get Cam Newton settled.
Matt Forte isn't quite back to 100 percent, leaving him about where he was last week in terms of touches. He could get a bit more if things break right, but he could also lose a couple as Forte and Michael Bush fall into split carries. On defense the Bears have their normal dings and Brian Urlacher's knees, but should be able to play at a similar level as the last couple weeks. Laurent Robinson is out Sunday after concussions in back-to-back weeks. Cecil Shorts seems to be getting more looks even though he's further down on the depth chart, making him a speculative play.
Matt Hasselbeck steps in while the Titans try to figure out whether Jake Locker will be back quickly or could potentially miss the rest of the season with his shoulder issue. Hasselbeck should be able to handle the offense much as he did last year and doesn't force a downgrade to anyone. Chris Johnson will need to show more life than he did last week, while Kenny Britt is a GTD-, which could open things up again for Kendall Wright and Nate Washington. The Vikings have some minor dings that shouldn't affect much come Sunday.
Twelve questionables isn't some courtroom drama. It's the Pats OIR. Most of the players will play, including Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both TEs should be back in their normal roles and if the game with the Broncos turns into a shootout, they figure to be very high scorers. Watch to see how the line injuries set up pre-game for indications of any adjustments. The Broncos are relatively healthy, with good depth behind the minor issues they do have.
Scott Chandler and Ruvell Martin are likely to play. Chandler could be key since he's both an outlet against the rush and one of few matchup issues for the Niners' defense. The Niners are once again pretty healthy coming in, with no significant fantasy injuries.
Lance Moore is out this week due to a hamstring strain, which gives even more looks to Marques Colston. Reports of him dealing with plantar fasciitis appear to be erroneous, though it remains unclear just what the problem is or was. He's a great play this week, but holds some risk going forward. The Saints defense continues to have issues stopping teams, so injuries to two safeties, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, won't help. Ryan Mathews isn't injured, but the Chargers seem to be going away from him. They won't name a starter, so downgrade Mathews until his talent starts to show. The Chargers will be without Nate Kaeding again, but Nick Novak was a solid fill-in last week and is fine again as a K this week.
Owen Daniels was limited in practice, but the thigh bruise isn't going to change what he can do Monday ... Andre Johnson's groin strain is said to be minor, but his production so far this season has been minor as well. He's still a must-start given his talent, but he's close to that point where we may have to re-assess that status ... Ben Tate should be able to back up Arian Foster. Justin Forsett is still in the mix, but Foster is getting the bulk of carries ... Stephen Hill remained out of practice Friday. The extra day may help, but he's very risky coming off the hamstring strain if he does play ... Dustin Keller is said to be a GTD-, but the Jets seem willing to let him miss another game rather than play him at far less than 100 percent. He's not a good play even if he talks his way into the lineup ... Calvin Pace and Bart Scott are both on the OIR this week, but both will play normally. The Jets D isn't a good play for performance issues, not injuries.