It's finally here! The last week of the NFL regular season is upon us and there is chaos everywhere. Who's resting? Who's playing? Who's playing a series, a quarter, a half, the entire game and into overtime if need be? This might be the most challenging week for fantasy owners making key sit/start decisions. Multiple variables factor into which players will rest and which will roll Sunday, but fortunately there are a few clues in the Friday team injury reports to help guide us.
Good luck in Week 17, everyone! May your players stay healthy and win for you.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, ankle (P): Roethlisberger practiced fully all week and is expected to play. He indicated the week off had allowed his ankle some recovery time and felt better moving around this week. The bigger question might be how long he remains in the game. At stake for the Steelers is a bye in the first round of the playoffs and home-field advantage (which also depends on the outcome of the Ravens game), so there is little doubt that they would like to secure a victory. But Roethlisberger, while improving, is not past the injury and there is no telling how the ankle will respond as the game progresses. If the Steelers get a big lead early, it leaves the possibility that Roethlisberger's day might be shortened. Of course, that might also mean fantasy owners would have gotten their points' worth by that time.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys, hand, (P): The probable tag tells you all you need to know: The Cowboys plan on having Romo under center. As far as the injury itself, on Thursday we noted the issues Romo could face if swelling persisted in his bruised hand. Obviously Romo has shown through the week of practice (in which he participated daily on a limited basis) that he can handle the duties. The game is too important to the Cowboys to have him out there at a significant disadvantage. As long as he doesn't aggravate the injury during the game, Romo should be able to function, just as he has through other ailments.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, shoulder, (P): On Thursday we discussed the non-separated non-throwing shoulder of the Patriots' quarterback. After sitting out Wednesday's practice (non-injury-related, according to the Patriots), Brady, while limited, did enough in Thursday and Friday's practice to demonstrate he could play. With 16 other Patriots listed as questionable and Brady holding the only probable designation on the team, it's clear they expect to have him on the field Sunday. According to ESPNBoston.com, teammate Wes Welker hints at Brady playing the entire game. From an injury perspective at least, it does not appear the shoulder will be a factor.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings, concussion, (P): Ponder left last week's game early with a concussion but was cleared to return to practice by Wednesday. After putting in full practice sessions all week, Ponder is expected to start Sunday.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles, ankle, (Q): The questionable designation is a bit mysterious since even coach Andy Reid has indicated that McCoy is expected to play Sunday. Naturally this allows for any pregame setbacks. But McCoy was a full participant in Friday's practice after a day of rest Wednesday and a limited workout Thursday. There seems to be little doubt that McCoy will play and will be given the ball plenty Sunday.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, ankle, (Q): Johnson's ankle is in better shape after another week of healing time. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but was back to full practice Friday. The Nashville Tennessean reported that Johnson said he was having trouble just walking on the ankle last week. Johnson indicated the ankle was much improved this week and that the rest early on helped prevent setbacks. It seems a healthier Johnson would want to end his season on a much brighter note. It remains to be seen how effective he can be against the Houston Texans, although there is admittedly little at stake, considering their playoff berth is secure.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans, knee, (P): There is no real injury concern with Foster here, other than the potential of suffering one if he plays too long in Week 17. It's hard to imagine the Texans, who have been so decimated by injuries at numerous key positions this year, risking Foster for an entire game. Foster can clearly score even in a short time but expectations for him putting in a full workload should be tempered.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, foot, (P): Bradshaw is following the same pattern of limited work during the week and playing Sunday. Expect him to play again in this critical Sunday night matchup against the Cowboys.
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys, hamstring, (Q): Despite the questionable tag, Jones is expected to start Sunday night in a game in which the Cowboys' season hangs on the brink. Jones was removed early from last Sunday's game, which was perhaps the best move for his tight hamstring. He was able to return to daily limited practice this week and the Cowboys are planning on him being the featured tailback. His hamstring will not be fully tested until the game but the conservative approach so far in managing his work over the past two weeks will hopefully pay off now.
Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions, ankle, (P): Smith still appeared to be struggling with his ankle to some degree in Week 16 but he was on the field. Smith practiced fully all week and at probable, is expected to play. The question is how much the Lions plan to use him. Joique Bell was signed by the Lions this week as insurance but coach Jim Schwartz has been vague as to whether he would actually play in Week 17.
Ryan Mathews, calf, (Q) and Mike Tolbert, hamstring, (P), San Diego Chargers: Earlier in the week it seemed Mathews was faring better with his injury concerns than Tolbert. That seems to have changed Friday. Mathews sat out Wednesday with a sore calf but participated to some degree Thursday. Post-practice soreness led the Chargers to give Mathews another day off Friday in the hope he'd be well enough to play Sunday. Even if active, his response to Thursday's light workout suggests he could struggle to get through an entire game. And this is nothing new. Mathews dealt with a calf injury in October but benefited from a bye week immediately afterward. His status will not likely be known until game time. If he plays, he will be sharing with Tolbert who was bothered this week by a sore hamstring. Tolbert did not practice until Friday but participated in a full workout his first day back. Barring a setback, listed as probable, Tolbert will play.
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins, toe/knee, (Q): Helu says he feels better this week after sitting out Week 16. But Evan Royster delivered such a solid performance in his absence, it's hard to know how the workload will be divided even if Helu plays. Tricky.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle, (P): Jones-Drew has been remarkably durable this season and leads the league in rushing. So much for those who doubted him before the season began. He can help increase his chances of securing that title by playing Sunday, which he is fully expected to do. After getting some rest for his ankle Wednesday and Thursday, Jones-Drew turned in a full practice Friday.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns, elbow, (P): It's no secret to fantasy owners how much the injury bug has impacted Hillis this season. Now he's on the report because of his elbow but the Browns plan to have him on the field after he put in limited practices daily. Hillis faces a tough Steelers defense but undoubtedly would like to finish the season strong after what can otherwise only be called a disappointing year.
Chris "Beanie" Wells, Arizona Cardinals, knee, (Q): Again Wells is listed as questionable for the Cardinals but again he is expected to play. The Arizona Republic reports Wells is likely to have offseason surgery on his right knee, not entirely unexpected given the chronic irritation he has dealt with since injuring his knee in Week 6. Still, with one final outing awaiting him, Wells is expected to gut it out once more.
Shonn Greene, rib/shoulder and LaDainian Tomlinson, quadriceps, (P): Greene has been playing through the rib injury for weeks and will do so again. Tomlinson has a sore quad that kept him out of practice Wednesday but he returned to full practice Thursday and Friday. The probable tag for both indicates the Jets expect them to play.
Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons, groin, (P): The groin injury has kept Turner on the injury report and appears to have hampered his effectiveness in the latter portion of the season. Nonetheless, the probable tag indicates the Falcons are planning on him being in Sunday's lineup, although how much time he'll see is questionable.
Marion Barber, Chicago bears, calf, (D): Barber is again listed as doubtful, making Kahlil Bell the feature back for the Bears again Sunday.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, hamstring, (P): Johnson will play; this much coach Gary Kubiak has indicated. Kubiak also shared that Johnson is likely to be restricted to approximately 15 to 20 plays. From a health standpoint Johnson appears ready, but how much can he do for fantasy owners in that window? That, friends, is the roll of the dice inserting Johnson into your lineup will require.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals, shoulder, (P): Green suffered a third-degree shoulder separation in Week 15 but returned to finish the game. He was active in Week 16 and although his numbers weren't extraordinary, he did make an impressive catch while well-defended, suggesting the shoulder was not holding him back. Another week of recovery should only help. After limited practice Wednesday and Thursday, Green returned to a full practice Friday and, at probable, is expected to face the Ravens on Sunday.
Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys, shoulder (P): Robinson practiced fully each day and will be in the lineup again Sunday night.
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers, ankle, (P): Wallace was limited Wednesday but fully practiced Thursday and Friday. At probable, the Steelers plan on having him Sunday.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, Achilles, (P): Johnson rested Wednesday and Thursday but returned to limited practice Friday. At probable, he is expected to play Sunday at Green Bay.
Mario Manningham, knee and Hakeem Nicks, hamstring, New York Giants, (P): Manningham has struggled off and on with swelling in his knee but managed to practice every day this week. Nicks has been dealing with a hamstring issue but insisted early in the week it would not keep him down. After resting Wednesday and Thursday, Nicks returned to a limited workout Friday. Both players are now expected to be available in the game that will determine whether their season continues or ends abruptly.
Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins, knee, (P): Marshall played through the knee soreness in Week 16 just fine and is expected to do so again Sunday. Marshall practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday but was back in full practice Friday.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers, groin, (P): Jackson did not practice until Friday as he rested the sore groin that plagued him last week. He was available for a full workout Friday, however, and the Chargers obviously feel confident he will go against the Raiders this Sunday. It's worth noting that Jackson has typically played well despite injuries in the past but was clearly not up to par in Week 16. The layoff during the week no doubt helped move him along and with the team feeling more confident about his status this week, Jackson is presumably faring better.
Wes Welker, knee and Deion Branch, groin, New England Patriots, (Q): Both Welker and Branch were listed similarly last week and both played without limitations. While the receivers are being kept to limited work during the week, both are expected to be on the field again in Week 17. That is, of course, unless the Patriots decide to surprise us all and rest their starters. Welker told ESPNBoston.com that he expects to play all four quarters. Fantasy owners would be wise to check pregame inactives just in case.
Santonio Holmes, New York Jets, hip, (P): Holmes was an addition to the Thursday injury report after being limited in practice but coach Rex Ryan said they expected him to be ready by Saturday. The probable tag supports that and fantasy owners can put him in their lineups.
Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders, foot, (Q): Ford is looking to make his return after missing the last seven weeks because of a foot injury. He was able to practice on a limited basis all week but has yet to test his foot in a game situation. While he presents another option for Carson Palmer, it is unclear how much Ford would be utilized after missing so much time, and with Denarius Moore demonstrating last week that he is back to full strength.
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, knee, (D): Boldin underwent knee surgery last week and missed Week 16. Originally projected by the Ravens to miss the remainder of the regular season, it was a bit surprising that he was not officially ruled out in advance of this week's game. Perhaps that was due to the encouraging sight of Boldin back in practice Friday, albeit on a limited basis. The doubtful tag confirms though that Boldin is likely to be out again this week.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers, knee, (P): Finley didn't practice early in the week but managed to make it back to limited workouts Thursday and Friday. At probable, he is expected to play but the Packers have already hinted at resting a number of their starters. It does not seem likely that Finley will play the entire game.
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts, neck, (Q): Clark missed the last two games after suffering a stinger-type injury but was back in full practice for the first time this week. It would seem he has a chance to play, but check the pregame inactive list to be sure.
Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins, head, (P): Fasano missed Week 16 with a concussion but returned to full practice daily this week and is expected to play.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, knee, (P): Daniels only practiced on a limited basis and although he is expected to play Sunday, that too may be on a limited basis. The Texans already have their playoff berth secure and may want to limit the risk exposure for their key starters.
This space is intended for a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured-reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins, knee: This one is a bit surprising since Bush made it seem like the injury was not a big deal. He never was able to practice this week, however, so with the Dolphins out of contention, resting him Sunday seems wise.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers, knee: Since spraining his MCL three weeks ago, it always seemed the Packers would keep him sidelined until the playoffs. Jennings has returned to running but will not see game action again until the postseason.
James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers, knee/ankle: Starks has struggled to get his ankle healthy, suffering multiple setbacks over the last month. The decision to hold him out in advance of the playoffs is no surprise.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints, (toe): As noted Thursday, Ingram suffered a setback to the toe in practice this week and it sounds as if it could be a problem for the playoffs. All fantasy owners need to know is that it will be a problem for this week, as in, he won't play.
Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints, (hamstring): Moore suffered an in-game setback with his strained hamstring in Week 16 and was forced to leave the game early. After not practicing at all this week, Moore's status for this Sunday is not surprising, especially with the playoffs looming for the Saints.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders, (foot): McFadden isn't coming back after all, at least not during your fantasy season. He might not be available during the playoffs, either, but first the Raiders have to get there.
Jake Ballard, TE, New York Giants, knee: Ballard injured his PCL and, as expected, will miss the game again this week.
Be sure to check out Fantasy Football Now, Sundays on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. ET, and Fantasy Surround on ESPN.com starting at 10 a.m. ET Sunday for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!