Congratulations to all who took home the championship trophy in Week 16 and, frankly, to all who gutted out the season, regardless of how you ended up placing in your league(s). We appreciate those who play hard right up until the bitter end. Speaking of which, a number of fantasy leagues take their championship matches right through the bitter end, otherwise known as Week 17, seeking a challenge by playing in a week where teams may alter their rosters either because they have nothing to lose or everything to gain by fielding backups. If you're playing for glory this Sunday, then the injury news is of import, but be forewarned: The picture of who sits and who starts may be even cloudier with the playoffs looming next month.
One player we already know will not be present on Sunday has been a staple in virtually every fantasy football league for several years running. Unfortunately, the most dramatic -- and devastating -- injury of Week 16 was the one suffered by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who took a blow to his left knee that left him visibly in pain and on the ground. The video, difficult as it was to watch, showed Peterson's knee moving into an awkward combination of valgus (bowing inward) and rotation, finally coming to rest at an odd angle underneath the weight of his body. Even in the absence of any specific knowledge of anatomy, the visceral reaction viewers collectively experienced while watching a knee bend in ways that it shouldn't told us something had gone terribly wrong. Peterson officially has a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) along with some damage to both the medial and lateral meniscus. He is expected to undergo reconstructive surgery in the next week to 10 days. The true extent of the damage within the joint may not be fully appreciated until that surgery takes place. For now, the Vikings remain hopeful that Peterson will be ready to contribute early next season, but understandably the timeline must remain fluid to allow for the many unpredictable variables that accompany this type of injury and subsequent rehabilitation.
Working in Peterson's favor are his youth (he is 26 years old with only five NFL seasons under his belt), his physical fitness and his work ethic. He has also shown resilience in responding to past injuries that were expected to either keep him down longer or potentially hint at future problems. While a junior in college at Oklahoma, Peterson broke his clavicle, which forced him to miss the last seven weeks of the season. He entered the NFL the following year with some concern about whether the collarbone would be a problem. It was not. In Peterson's first NFL season (2007), he did suffer a less common knee ligament sprain, a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury (incidentally, which was to his right knee). Not only was Peterson back on the field within three weeks, the knee healed well and did not prove to be a liability going forward. In fact, since that time, Peterson had missed only one game until suffering a left high ankle sprain just five weeks ago. Peterson returned in Week 15 after missing three games, but just one short week later, his world turned upside down with this latest injury.
Peterson will be challenged to return to form in 2012. There is no reason at this moment to believe he cannot be back to playing football next season. It is also reasonable, however, to allow for the possibility that it will take some time for him to show the explosiveness and aggressive style for which he is known. It's not just the physical recovery; there is the mental aspect of regaining confidence in a leg that has been severely damaged, believing it will hold up to the physical demands of the game, including, of course, the contact it will naturally be expected to absorb. Not only do the stats show that players typically perform better in the second year following reconstructive knee surgery, but athletes will often say it takes a year of playing on that leg until they get their "feel" back or until they believe they are playing like themselves again.
At this point, we simply wish Peterson well on his road to recovery and hope for positive updates along the way.
• There is a possibility, a probability even, that Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson will make an appearance Sunday. Johnson has missed three games while recovering from his second hamstring injury of the season and has made it clear he would like to see some regular-season action before entering the playoffs. Last Friday, following a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, coach Gary Kubiak told the Texans official website, "I'm hoping [Johnson] is back out there this week." Johnson did return to practice Monday and said, "We're just trying to see how this week goes, see if I can make it through the week, first of all, without any soreness or anything like that. ... I'll be doing a little rehab tomorrow and I'll go back at it on Wednesday." If Johnson has a good week of practice, expect him to see some time Sunday. How much time that will be is unclear, but hopefully we'll get a better hint later in the week.
• Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones was removed from Saturday's game as soon as the announcement came that the New York Giants had won (rendering the Cowboys' game essentially meaningless). The good news for Jones is that his hamstring held up for the four carries he managed, but the rest he got afterward probably served him better. Expect Jones to be ready to go this weekend.
• The bigger question for the Cowboys this week might be the status of quarterback Tony Romo, who hit his right (throwing) hand against Jason Babin's helmet Saturday, causing the hand to swell to roughly twice its normal size. Fortunately, tests were negative for any fracture and, presuming the swelling resolves enough to allow Romo to function effectively, he will indeed play Sunday night. Coach Jason Garrett, a former quarterback who innately understands the physical demands of the position, captured the issue perfectly when he spoke to reporters Monday. "I don't think it's that complicated," Garrett said. "Can you take a snap? Can you grip the ball? Can you throw it? What's the ball look like when you throw it? Can you hand off? Quarterbacks that have had injuries in the past, and really, it's a functional type thing. ... How accurate is he when he's throwing it? Does everything have to be perfect for him to throw it well? Because, as you know, that position is a spontaneous one and he's certainly a spontaneous quarterback. So we'll evaluate all those things as the week goes on." And that pretty well sums it up.
• It is unclear whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger under center Sunday or whether there will be another Charlie Batch sighting. Roethlisberger sat out Week 16 to rest his left ankle following a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 14. Roethlisberger played the Monday night game in Week 15 but struggled to step into his throws and was clearly limited in his mobility. There won't be any clues as to a decision until the Steelers can evaluate what Roethlisberger can do in practice.
• New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore was questionable coming into Monday night's game because of a sore hamstring injured late last week in practice. He did end up playing but didn't last through the first half, as the injury forced him out in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether he will be well enough to play Sunday.
• The Philadelphia Eagles saw LeSean McCoy leave Saturday's game for a period of time with an ankle injury. McCoy was able to return after X-rays were negative, but there seemed to be some discrepancy between McCoy's opinion as to whether he'd be available this week and coach Andy Reid's thought on the matter. For now, we'll go with Reid's interpretation, which is that McCoy has a "slight" ankle sprain and should be available Sunday.
• Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith played Saturday and posted decent fantasy numbers, but at times looked to be struggling with his right ankle. The Lions signed running back Joique Bell on Monday, which certainly gives pause as to Smith's availability for this week. With the playoffs looming, it would seem the Lions would not want to risk Smith's health for when it is most needed. Fantasy owners may want to avail themselves of other options.
• Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush injured his right leg late in Saturday's game, but the non-specific injury appears mild. As Bush told the Palm Beach Post, "I don't think it's serious. I mean, I'm walking." Good point. So far, there's no indication Bush will be forced to miss this week's game. Meanwhile teammate Anthony Fasano missed Week 16 due to a concussion. He will need to be medically cleared to return to practice before his game status can be evaluated.
• Green Bay Packers running back James Starks suffered yet another setback with his injured right ankle. It's tough to imagine him playing this week when the Packers' biggest goal might be trying to maximize the health of their team going into the playoffs.
• And finally, if you were holding out any hope for the return of either Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler or running back Matt Forte, you can now let it go. The Bears officially ended their seasons Tuesday, and they can focus on getting healthy for next year.