It's the final week of the NFL regular season and the last weekend to crown a fantasy football champion. It might also be the trickiest week for fantasy owners, as NFL teams evaluate the amount of playing time their starters will see, if any. Teams already ruled out of the postseason have little motivation to risk their ailing starters in a meaningless contest. Other teams hoping to go deep in the postseason want to preserve the health of their starters for entirely different reasons. Our task is to try to gauge just how much injuries will influence those decisions.
With that in mind, we embark on the final Saturday update of the 2012 NFL season.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins, knee (P): Griffin's best friend is time, and no doubt he is making improvements from week to week. Although he might not be 100 percent, he showed last week that he is highly functional. His mobility might be a bit compromised, but he says he is not having any discomfort, and this game is critical. Griffin will be on the field, and, although he might be a little less nimble, his knee should not significantly compromise his game.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears, ankle (P): Forte himself said he couldn't see missing this week's game, and it appears he won't. The bigger question is how well his ankle will support him in the effort. Forte aggravated the ankle yet again this past Sunday, and he was removed from the game as a result. Not one to shy away from discomfort, Forte quickly went from not practicing Wednesday to limited work Thursday to a full practice Friday. The Bears need to win this weekend to have a shot at the playoffs, and they likely need Forte's contributions to win, especially with Michael Bush on IR.
Forte does not expect to be pain-free. As he told ESPN Chicago, "I know it's going to be painful, especially when you get tackled or hit on it, but it will be just like the Dallas game when I got hit on the first play and had to get it re-taped." Forte has managed to play in all but one game this season despite twice reinjuring the ankle. Expect Forte to gut it out, although the ankle might challenge his mobility, especially as the game progresses.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, knee/foot (P): Bradshaw was active last week when his status was far murkier because of his knee. This week, the ever-resilient running back is listed as probable after managing limited practices Thursday and Friday. He will be on the field Sunday.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, abdomen (P): Is there really any doubt? Peterson already indicated he plans to try to break Eric Dickerson's rushing record, and the Vikings are in a must-win situation.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, ankle (Q): Noted here on Thursday , Johnson insisted he would play Sunday despite not practicing early in the week. The "questionable" tag suggests the team might not be as confident. Or maybe it is. Johnson did return for limited practice Friday, and Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports Johnson is, in fact, expected to play. The team might be leaving Johnson an out if there is trouble with the ankle Sunday. Kickoff for the Titans is early, so fantasy owners should know well in advance whether he is a scratch.
DeMarco Murray, foot and Felix Jones, knee, Dallas Cowboys (P): Both running backs have been listed as probable for several weeks and have played each week. They will again in a must-win game for Dallas.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams, foot (P): Jackson will play. The foot has not limited him so far this year, and he will continue to run hard until the end. Of course, this week his matchup is in Seattle, making it just a little bit tougher.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos, ribs (P): Moreno is on fire in the second half of this season, and the rib issue isn't slowing him down. He continues to practice fully every day and will play Sunday against the Chiefs.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks, back (P): Watching Lynch run all over the Seahawks' opponents, his back sure doesn't look to be an issue. He's on the injury report weekly, but he's also on the field every Sunday. Expect the same again in Week 17.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers, knee (P): Gore has been on the injury report for multiple weeks because of his wrist, but this week it's a knee injury that is noted next to his name. It hasn't been enough to limit him in practice, and it certainly won't keep him out of the game when the division title is at stake.
Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints, hamstring (P): Ivory performed well while Darren Sproles was injured, but he suffered an injury of his own that caused him to miss three consecutive games. With Pierre Thomas out (and on IR, per nola.com) with a knee injury, Ivory's improved health comes at the right time. After practicing fully every day this week, Ivory appears ready to play alongside Mark Ingram and Sproles.
Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers, hamstring (Q): Brown's status has been all over the map (doubtful, then probable, now questionable). His hamstring is still not fully recovered, as evidenced by his sitting out Wednesday and Thursday practice and doing only limited work Friday. Not only is it likely Jackie Battle will get the bulk of the work for the Chargers but the game does not tip off until late Sunday. Risky.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers, ankle (Q): On Thursday, we noted that Stewart appeared in line to miss his fifth straight game after suffering a setback with his ankle. He has not practiced all week, and his "questionable" status has more the feel of a "doubtful" label.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, finger (P): Bryant has shown us enough not to doubt him for this game. This is the biggest game of the season for the Cowboys, and it's expected Bryant will be central to the plan.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, knee (Q): The past few weeks have yielded nothing new for Nicks; his knee is going to be problematic until the offseason. Nicks did very little in practice Thursday and a bit more Friday, but he still is not able to perform at full capacity. The good thing about this game is that it kicks off early, so fantasy owners will have fair warning as to his status. Unfortunately, if Nicks is active, it will be hard to anticipate just how productive he can be with the balky knee.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons, knee (Q): It's hard to imagine White doing anything other than suiting up this Sunday after he played through the knee injury when it was more problematic. The issue this week for fantasy owners is how long White can be expected to be on the field. The Falcons have secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and, although it would be nice for them to get yet another victory, it also would be nice for them to preserve the health of their starters. A likely scenario would be seeing the starters in the first half of Sunday's game; the question is whether a partial game will yield enough productivity for a fantasy championship game.
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens, shoulder (Q): Boldin suffered what the team called a bruised shoulder in Week 16 and was limited in practice throughout the week. The good news is he didn't miss a day of practice. The less good news is that his activity was not upgraded by Friday. Boldin's toughness is not an issue (remember the facial fractures he suffered a few years ago?), but whether the team opts to play him Sunday might not be revealed until pregame inactive reports.
Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks, knee (P): Despite still being listed here because of his knee, Rice's status is upgraded from last week. He was able to practice fully Thursday and Friday after taking Wednesday off, and he is expected to play Sunday.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins, foot (P): Garcon is going to play, just as he has for the past few weeks. He is not even skipping practice sessions at this point.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, knee/ankle (P): We're accustomed to seeing Johnson on the injury report throughout the week and on the field Sunday. This week appears to be no different as Johnson's only practice came in limited form Thursday. Still, with Johnson at "probable," the Lions plan on having him Sunday.
Wes Welker, ankle and Brandon Lloyd, knee, New England Patriots (Q): This feels redundant. The two receivers have been present here, listed as questionable, for multiple weeks. Both have played. Expect them both to play again this week.
Randall Cobb, ankle/knee (Q) and Jordy Nelson, hamstring (P), Green Bay Packers: Cobb's shoulder has improved, but the ankle injury he suffered last week threatens his status for Sunday. After limited work Wednesday, Cobb did not practice Thursday. On Friday, the medical staff put Cobb through some agility testing for his ankle, described nicely in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel by Tyler Dunne. Officially, Cobb was listed as a limited participant, and his "questionable" status indicates the team has not yet made a decision. The Packers play in a late game, so fantasy owners considering starting Cobb should have an alternate plan.
Meanwhile, teammate Nelson has made significant improvement with his hamstring. After a full week of practice, Nelson is expected to return Sunday for his first game in four weeks. Although there is no way to ensure a setback-free outing, the Packers certainly have been cautious with his return, and a full week of practice on back-to-back days is encouraging.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles, knee (P): Maclin said he would be back in practice Friday after sitting out Thursday, and indeed he was. In fact, he put in a full practice and, given that he is listed as probable, expect him to play.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins, back (P): Hartline played last week despite the "questionable" tag (although you might not know it because he accumulated only 12 yards on two catches). This week, there is more certainty about his playing status; there might not be any more certainty about his expected productivity.
Braylon Edwards, New York Jets, hamstring (Q): Edwards was listed as questionable last week because of the hamstring issue but played anyway. He doesn't look 100 percent healthy, but he likely will be on the field again this week.
Donnie Avery, Indianapolis Colts, shoulder (Q): Hmmm. Avery went from full practice Wednesday to limited Thursday to no practice at all Friday. A steady decline across the week is not encouraging, nor is his "questionable" status. The good news is that the Colts play in an early game Sunday, so fantasy owners will know before all matchups whether he will play.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans, rib (Q): Wright was limited Wednesday but put in full practices Thursday and Friday, suggesting he is not as questionable as the tag would have fantasy owners believe. Expect Wright to play.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers, toe (P): Even if LaFell is not 100 percent healthy with the toe, he has shown he is at the point that he is going to play. He practiced in full each day and is expected to be on the field to face the Saints.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers, concussion (Q): Davis suffered a concussion Sunday but was able to return to limited (non-contact) practice Thursday and again Friday. Ultimately, Davis needs to be cleared for contact before he can play, but if he is, he will suit up for the team's season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. Attention, fantasy owners: This is a late game, so have a backup plan in place.
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens, knee (P): Pitta was a full participant in practice throughout the week despite a sore knee, and the "probable" tag indicates the Ravens expect him to play.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, wrist/finger (P): Graham has been dealing with a nagging wrist injury, then added a dislocated finger to the mix Sunday (during the game, it was easy to see the finger out of position as Graham, in obvious pain, went to the sideline to get it addressed). He is still practicing fully and is expected to play again this weekend.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, hamstring/neck (P): There was some concern about Daniels' status after he sat out Thursday's practice session, but the "probable" tag tells us there shouldn't be. Daniels returned to a limited practice Thursday and plans to play Sunday. The bigger question will be how long the Texans plan to keep their starters in play, especially the ones nursing ailments.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions, ankle (D): After not playing or practicing for nearly three weeks, Pettigrew turned up as a limited participant Friday. One limited practice does not make a player game-ready, and the "doubtful" tag indicates he once again is more likely to sit than start.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets, ankle (D): Keller is still not practicing, and it's surprising the Jets haven't officially ruled him out, although the "doubtful" tag leaves little, well, doubt.
Aaron Hernandez, ankle and Rob Gronkowski, forearm, New England Patriots (Q): Hernandez will continue to play, just as he has in recent weeks. The bigger question surrounds Gronkowski, who has yet to return since fracturing his forearm six weeks ago. On Thursday, I noted why the six-week time frame was important, and Gronkowski acknowledged he was waiting on medical clearance. According to Tom Curran of Comcast Sports New England, Gronkowski is expected to play in at least a limited role. Yes, expect to see Gronkowski back on the field at long last.
This space is intended for a list of key players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns (ankle): Richardson did not practice at all this week after spraining his ankle Sunday. After playing through a variety of ailments this fall (he came into the season fresh off arthroscopic knee surgery and suffered a rib cartilage injury early in the season), it makes sense for Richardson not to push his health any further in Week 17. He'll have a chance to get everything healthy before next season.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints (knee): Thank you, Saints, for ruling Thomas out early once it became apparent the knee would prevent him from playing. In fact, according to nola.com, the Saints have moved Thomas to injured reserve. Thomas did not practice all week, and the decision to rest him was perhaps easier with Chris Ivory improving from his hamstring injury.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (foot): Jones-Drew was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery Friday on his long-ailing foot. Jones-Drew suffered a midfoot sprain in October and was never able to return, despite his best efforts. According to ESPN.com, coach Mike Mularkey said the Jaguars hoped Jones-Drew's foot would heal without surgery, noting, "We all felt like he had a chance to play all the way up until this week, and really we were hoping he could." Alas, he could not. The Jaguars hope to have him ready by late May or early June.
Mario Manningham, WR, San Francisco 49ers (knee): Manningham suffered a serious knee injury Sunday, and the team placed him on IR this week.
Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (hip): By midweek, it seemed unlikely Wallace would play when he was not able to practice because of the injury. Confirmation came Friday. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will be the starting wideouts in Week 17.
Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, QB, Cleveland Browns (shoulder): A pair of injured shoulders will sideline Weeden and McCoy this week as they join RB Trent Richardson as onlookers Sunday. Starting at QB for Cleveland? Thaddeus Lewis.
Davone Bess, WR, Miami Dolphins (back): Bess has missed the past two weeks because of a back injury and will now miss a third straight game.
Be sure to check out "Fantasy Football Now" at 11 a.m. this Sunday on ESPN2 for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!