Week 6 of the NFL season tends to be the tipping point for injuries. There's definitely a survivor effect to a season, where those players that are going to break down tend to do so early, oft-times in training camp or the first two weeks of the season. It trends down to about Week 6 and then goes sharply down in Week 10. There are still going to be traumatic injuries in each week, the type of 'big hit' issues that are part and parcel of the NFL. What we see less of are the somewhat lesser problems that indicate fatigue or what some doctors call "tissue issues." Not all bodies are made to hold up over the long, brutal football season. If you've escaped big injuries so far in your fantasy season, congratulations. You may not be the lucky one that doesn't have to rely on his backups for more than bye weeks, but the odds are ever in your favor.
Julio Jones is not on the injury report this week, which means he should trend up this week, splitting the big targets with Roddy White. This also opens up Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez a bit more. The Raiders get Darrius Heyward-Bey back, just weeks after he was carted off after a huge hit. Heyward-Bey isn't going to get his normal targets, but enough to be a valid flex play in deep leagues. Darren McFadden has a shoulder injury and still hasn't figured out how to work in the zone blocking scheme the Raiders are using. Coming off a bye week and still hurting, McFadden probably isn't going to see his normal touches. Sebastian Janikowski is still dealing with his normal leg issues. He'll kick but probably won't get the long shots that get bonuses in some leagues.
It's seldom that one defensive player is enough to downgrade a whole defense, but for the Ravens D/ST, missing Haloti Ngata would be that significant. His shoulder injury shouldn't keep him out, but the idea of him being limited does make us step back and run the scenarios. Remember that in the absence of Terrell Suggs, the Ravens pass rush isn't as good, putting more pressure on an aging Ray Lewis and their ballhawk secondary. The Cowboys' issues are all on the lines, both offense and defense. Until they can establish both of those, they will continue to struggle or need to rely on big plays.
The Browns get Joe Haden back and he'll be tested immediately by covering AJ Green. Green has a minor knee injury, but it should not cost him any targets. That and the Haden coverage have people knocking down expectations, but I believe Green will have a normal week. The knee injury that ended Bernard Scott's season puts more pressure on BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but I think he'll handle the pressure. The Cleveland D/ST, aside from Haden's return, is down and has a lot of dings and depth problems. How much D'Qwell Jackson plays, and how well, could go a long way in deciding this game.
Steven Jackson isn't on the OIR, but he's not 100% either. Remember, the OIR is about whether someone is going to play, not whether they'll be effective. The Rams are a team in transition and Daryl Richardson is a nice bridge between Jackson and whatever comes next. They'll continue to split carries. The Rams will also be looking to see who takes Danny Amendola's targets after losing him for the next few months. Brandon Gibson gets first look, with many impressed by rookie Chris Givens. With Rodger Saffold still out, the O-Line will force adjustments and quick passes by Sam Bradford. On the Miami side, Reggie Bush is banged up but will still take the bulk of carries. Another concussion for Daniel Thomas means that Lamar Miller gets Bush's hand-me-downs, though Javorskie Lane is becoming a red zone and short yardage option. Brian Hartline should play normally. More attention on him isn't cutting down targets, but is amping up the hits he's taking, which seems to be wearing on him.
The Colts came out of Week 5 with a big, emotional win over the Packers, but a lot of injuries. Donald Brown is out for a couple weeks after having his knee cleaned out. That means Vick Ballard gets first shot at the carries. Ballard looked solid in the preseason and is a good blocker as well. Mewelde Moore is healthy enough to get some time in the backfield, especially in the passing game. The Colts D/ST is where the real problems are. Dwight Freeney gutted through last week, but still has issues with his high ankle sprain. Robert Mathis is out after knee surgery, an almost identical issue as Brown. Add in the injuries they already had and this is a very vulnerable defense. Can Mark Sanchez and the Jets take advantage? They have their own injury issues, going 23 deep on the OIR. Stephen Hill returns from his hamstring strain, but will be the WR3 at best. Dustin Keller is still limited and unlikely to factor much in the game, though it's sounding like he will play. Jeremy Kerley will try to establish himself as Sanchez's first look, but he's banged up and has a bad finger. If the Jets focus on the pass and the Colts thin secondary, Clyde Gates could put up some long ones, so he's a speculative play with upside. The Jets D/ST should have everyone, save Darrelle Revis, but they certainly have a number of dings to key players.
The Lions' health issues are still amost entirely on the defensive side. Depth there, especially in the secondary, is holding this defense back. Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young were limited, but are both expected to play. With Calvin Johnson talking about a concussion and the hits he takes, some are thinking that Jim Schwartz might try to spread the ball around more, but with two key WRs banged up, this probably isn't the week to try that. One to watch for is Mikel Leshoure, who used the bye week to heal up a bit. He hasn't proven he can stay healthy enough to be a fantasy stalwart, but he should be healthy right now. The Eagles should have all their WRs relatively healthy this week, including Jason Avant and Riley Cooper, who both made all the practices this week for the first time. Michael Vick finally has all his targets, so we'll see what he can do.
With Matt Cassel out this week due to conucssion, Brady Quinn gets the start. Quinn's showing last week isn't enough to give much confidence. The Chiefs are more likely to feed Jamaal Charles a ton of carries. The Bucs will key on him, of course, but all he needs is to break one to make your fantasy day. Peyton Hillis remains out, which helps Charles even more. The Bucs are "fantasy healthy", with only a couple O-line issues of any consequence.
Arizona is down to it's real fourth and fifth options at RB, which is never good at any position, let alone a so-called skill position. Both LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell showed up on the OIR this week. Howling is coming back off a hip injury that stalled his burst, but he'll be the clear go-to if he's close to 100%. Powell will be more the power back, assuming he's cleared to go after a head injury. Powell's upside would be at the goal line, but the Cards have struggled there all season despite their record. Kevin Kolb holds the QB job despite John Skelton being healthy enough to play. One to watch Sunday morning will be Paris Lenon. He was a late add to the OIR with a knee problem and is key to the flow of the Cards' D/ST. Buffalo has real issues along the O-Line, which will hurt the Fred Jackson / CJ Spiller RB split as well as Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Pats offense may be built around Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but the real key is Tom Brady. Brady adjusted quickly to injuries to both TEs plus Julian Edelman (who is very unlikely to play again this week.) Hernandez did not practice again and is very unlikely to play. Gronkowski is gutting through a painful hip injury and will play. Wes Welker has a minor ankle sprain and should play normally. Last week's hot pickup, Brandon Bolden, has been limited by his knee injury and will be behind Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead for carries. Ridley figures to get the bulk of carries.
Seattle's only significant injury is Marshawn Lynch, who continues to deal with his lower back issue. His performance thus far has been solid but there's upside if he can get past the recurring issue.
It's deja deja deja vu for the Giants. (Sorry. Do you know how many times I've seen that obnoxious commercial during the MLB playoffs?) The Giants are dealing with the same defensive backfield injuries, the same O-Line injuries, and Hakeem Nicks again this week. Nicks is making some progress as the medical staff continues to focus on both the knee and the root injury, the foot. He looks like a GTD+, but the question remains how well he'll recover. Andre Brown remains sidelined after a concussion, making Ahmad Bradshaw the clear RB1 but leaving a door open for David Wilson again. Ramses Barden and Martellus Bennett are both likely to play, though it's unclear how many targets either will get. The Niners are only worried about Alex Smith this week, but his finger showed no signs of problems during practice.
Robert Griffin is going to play. His practice time and effort indicates that the Redskins expect Griffin to be Griffin and that they won't try to keep him in the pocket more. I do think they'll lean on Alfred Morris a bit more, just to make sure that Griffin doesn't take any more hits than he has to. The same logic means Fred Davis is a bit of a downgrade, as the Skins may hold him in on blocking. Pierre Garcon is back on the OIR with his foot injury continuing to linger. He's definitely one I'll be watching right up until gametime. Brandon Meriweather remains out. Worried about Adrian Peterson? Don't be. His ankle injury is not enough to keep him off the field, though he may get spotted out a bit more. You may have noticed he tends to heal quickly. The Vikings will also have Christian Ponder and Percy Harvin in their normal roles. Jerome Simpson's back problem remains a major issue and keeps his explosiveness off the field this week while they try to correct it. Simpson may need surgery, so Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashadu could become more than one week fill ins. In deep leagues or as backup, they're worth stashing.
The only times that Andre Johnson hasn't been good during his NFL career are the times he's been injured. We know he has what's been described as a minor groin strain, but we have to wonder if it's just enough to keep his numbers down through the first few weeks or if Johnson's talent level has dropped suddenly. I'll lean to the former right now. The Texans have their first three RBs on the OIR, but only Ben Tate is likely to be limited. Arian Foster will continue to get the big share of touches. The Packers lost Cedric Benson last week to a Lisfranc fracture. Alex Green will get the first chance to replace him in the backfield. System backs can work in Green Bay's offense, so he's a decent speculative pick up if you're looking for RB points. Greg Jennings is out, again, as they wait on his groin to heal up. Jermichael Finley is a GTD+, but the shoulder injury could cost him some targets in Aaron Rodgers' spread-it-around passing attack. Worse, his backup, DJ Williams, is hurting as well. The defense is unlikely to have BJ Raji locking down the middle. If he does play, he will be limited.
Monday Notes: Demaryius Thomas looked good at Friday's practice. He looks ready to go Monday, but probably will lose a couple TDs ... Ryan Mathews is on the OIR again, but he is expected to get the start and the bulk of carries ... Malcom Floyd was added to the OIR on Friday with a groin strain. He's a tough play, even with the extra day to heal, unless you have a backup from this game. I'd suggest Brandon Stokely if he's still available in your league ... SD's O-Line is a jumble right now. With a lack of mobility, rolling Philip Rivers out isn't an option, so look for them to hold in a TE to help, use their bigger backs - Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown - as blockers, and go to short passes.