Welcome to the first round of fantasy playoffs! This is the point in the NFL season when team goals and fantasy owner goals might not mesh. Teams that are looking at postseason opportunities might exercise caution with players returning from injury. Players who suffer injuries in games might be removed more quickly with those postseason goals in mind. There’s not much one can do about things that happen during the game, but fantasy owners certainly want to avoid a roster lineup that includes an inactive.
As you set your fantasy roster, here’s what we know as of Saturday afternoon.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals, right elbow, (Q): Palmer’s throwing elbow was undoubtedly sore after the contact he absorbed in Week 13, but he did return to finish out the game. Still, he was limited daily in practice this week, very limited, in fact, in terms of actual throwing, while wearing a protective sleeve. It’s worth noting this is the same elbow Palmer injured years ago, suffering a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral (Tommy John) ligament. Palmer opted to treat the elbow conservatively, going the rehab route after surgery, but missed time with the injury.
Although he has proved he can still be an NFL quarterback, his elbow, given his history, is more vulnerable than most. The Cardinals sounded optimistic Palmer would be able to play by Sunday, but this does lead one to wonder whether he will struggle in that effort.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, ankle, (P): Manning’s right ankle still warrants a day off of practice early in the week (Wednesday), but his full participation Thursday and Friday confirms he will be ready to play.
Jason Campbell, Cleveland Browns, concussion, (P): Early in the week with Brandon Weeden and Campbell sidelined with concussions, the signing of Caleb Hanie hinted at yet another starting quarterback for the Browns this season. Campbell was cleared to return to practice by Thursday, though, and, by the end of the week, was cleared to play. Barring any recurrence of symptoms pregame, Campbell is expected to start Sunday.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, right shoulder, (P): The sight of Brady on the injury report because of a sore throwing shoulder is not unusual, nor is the fact he practiced fully each day anyway. Expect him to start against the Browns.
Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions, calf, (Q): As noted Thursday, Bush worked on the side doing ball control drills but was not a formal participant in practice after sitting out the day before with a calf injury. He did return for limited work Friday, but the "questionable" tag suggests the Lions do not want to commit to his availability before game day. Bush has had limited practice weeks on several occasions this year, usually to rest his knee. This is the first report of a calf injury, and it is not clear when Bush suffered it, thus making it a little trickier to predict just how much of a risk it is to affect his performance, presuming he plays.
Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders, concussion, (Q): Jennings suffered a concussion in the Raiders’ Thanksgiving Day game, and the hope was that the extra time between games would boost the odds of his return for Week 14. This is a reminder that concussions resolve on their own timetable. Jennings participated in practice on a limited basis Wednesday through Friday but was still listed as questionable in the Friday evening injury report. The plan, according to the San Jose Mercury News, was to allow Jennings to travel to New York with the team to evaluate him further.
Coach Dennis Allen said they would “see how he’s feeling” Saturday. Jennings would need final clearance to play and no recurrence of concussion symptoms. With Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart out, Taiwan Jones -- who got reps at running back this week in practice -- could see some playing time alongside Marcel Reece.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos, ankle, (P): There was great concern about Moreno’s status early in the week after he left the Week 12 game on crutches and in a walking boot. The bone bruise must have appeared more serious than it was because Moreno was back practicing late in the week and was on the field for the Broncos this past Sunday. This week, it’s easy to be more confident after a light workout Wednesday followed by full practice late in the week. At "probable," Moreno is expected to play.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, groin, (Q): Heading into this weekend, Peterson’s presence on the practice field was scarce, with him sitting out Wednesday and Thursday, then returning for limited work Friday. The concerning thing here is not so much the lean practice time but the downgrade of Peterson’s status this week from probable to questionable. The groin issue is not new, and Peterson acknowledged several weeks ago that it was limiting his explosiveness.
The next week, however, he looked like his vintage self, putting up 146 yards and a touchdown. Then, in Week 13, all he did was post more than 200 yards on the ground, leading us to ask, “What groin injury?” Holding him out of practice makes sense, but would the Vikings hold him out of a game? Peterson has expressed his competitive nature in wanting to be on the field to play for his team, and he was listed as questionable two weeks ago before that strong performance. Barring a setback it appears he will play.
DeAngelo Williams, thigh, Jonathan Stewart, ankle and Mike Tolbert, knee, Carolina Panthers, (P): Last week, it looked as if the entire Carolina backfield might be in jeopardy of missing the game. This week, it looks as if all will be available. Williams, with his quad contusion, was the only one of the three to sit out Week 12. He has made enough progress this week, including upgrading to full practice Friday, to be on track to play. Stewart was given time to rest his ankle Wednesday and Thursday but returned to full practice Friday. Tolbert never seemed a threat to sit this week, however, he got some light work Wednesday and Thursday before a full practice Friday. All three backs are listed as probable, and all are expected to play.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals, knee, (P): Ellington wanted to play last week despite having tweaked his knee in practice three days earlier but later admitted it was probably a good idea by the coaches for him to sit out. This week, he went from no practice Wednesday to limited Thursday, finishing with a full practice Friday. Listed as probable, he is expected to play.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets, ankle, (P): The Jets say they are the healthiest they’ve been in a while, and Ivory is one of the examples. Despite injuring his ankle a couple of weeks ago, Ivory was able to practice fully each day. He is expected to play Sunday when the Jets host the Raiders.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers, ankle, (P): The veteran running back routinely gets a light workout at least one day a week, and this week it was Wednesday. Full practices Thursday and Friday along with the probable tag prove Gore is expected to play against divisional foe Seattle.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots, wrist, (P): Vereen likely will be listed here the remainder of the season, but he continues to practice fully every day. He is expected to play.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, concussion, (P): The way the Thanksgiving hit looked, no one would have expected Bell to have one of the bigger practice weeks of all the players listed with concussions. Proof again that the severity of the hit does not necessarily equate with the seriousness of the injury. Bell practiced fully Wednesday through Friday and, as long as there are no pregame setbacks, will play Sunday against Miami.
Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hamstring, (Q): No one likes to see hamstring injuries for players who have to run to be effective, but here we are. Jackson had Wednesday off but practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. He is listed as questionable but is hoping to play. Coach Greg Schiano did not seem concerned early in the week, telling the Tampa Bay Times, "Vince had a little bit of a leg issue, I don't think it's real serious.”
On Friday, Schiano told reporters he was “cautiously optimistic” that Jackson would be available Sunday, not quite the endorsement fantasy owners would prefer heading into game time. It appears Jackson is likely to play unless there are issues in pregame warm-ups, however it is definitely worth verifying his status before kickoff.
Danny Amendola, groin, (P), New England Patriots: Amendola was a full participant in practice each day despite remaining on the injury report. He is expected to play.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, knee, (P): Johnson is kept to light work early in the week, then returns for an upgrade late. The "probable" tag is a reassuring sign that Detroit expects to have him on the field.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, shoulder, (P): Thomas hurt his shoulder early in last week’s game but played through it. After two limited practices, Thomas was a full participant Friday, moving well and catching passes overhead without any apparent discomfort. Expect him to play as usual.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals, groin, (P): This is not the first week Green has dealt with a soft tissue ailment, and he doesn’t intend to let it hold him back. Green was a full practice participant Thursday and Friday and, listed as probable, expects to play.
Santonio Holmes, foot/hamstring and Jeremy Kerley, elbow, New York Jets, (P): Holmes has been struggling with a hamstring issue that he aggravated last week. This explains his very brief appearance in Sunday’s game. Holmes is reportedly healthier this week and heads into the game against the Raiders as probable, although the Jets might still choose to be cautious in terms of how much they use him. Meanwhile, Kerley is recovering from his dislocated elbow and practiced fully each day this week. He still has soreness but rates himself at least 90 percent recovered, according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Jane McManus, and he plans to play.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts, shoulder, (P): Hilton has been a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday the past two weeks despite being on the injury report because of his shoulder. He is expected to play.
Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals, ankle, (P): Floyd has been on the injury report the past few weeks but still has put up amazing numbers. The injury this week, however, is not the same AC sprain he’s been dealing with of late; this is an ankle injury suffered in Week 13. Both Floyd and coach Bruce Arians indicated he is expected to play, though, and, more importantly, Floyd declared himself largely past the injury.
Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers, toe/chest, (Q): Royal was downgraded last Saturday to doubtful after originally being listed as questionable, so his status is worth keeping an eye on right up until game time. He did not practice all week, so there is little info to go on other than the fact that Royal has suited up several times this year after not practicing at all. Consider his status a potential game-time decision.
Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks, hip, (P): Tate’s appearance here doesn’t seem worrying because he practiced in full Thursday and Friday despite the short week. Expect him to play Sunday in San Francisco.
Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears, quadriceps, (P): Marshall went through a similar practice routine last week because of the quad yet played. One assumes he will do so again, given that he is listed as probable.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, back, (P): Bryant’s back again has him listed on the injury report, but he is not missing any practice. With Bryant a full participant Thursday and Friday, the expectation is he will be good to go for the big Monday night matchup against the Bears.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos, knee, (P): Last week’s inactive status for Thomas was a big surprise to fantasy owners after the team’s optimism about his health early in the week. Apparently, Thomas felt his knee stiffen up and became more apprehensive about playing on it Saturday evening and into Sunday morning.
The decision was made to exercise caution with the young star tight end, and it appears to have paid off. Thomas was more involved in practices this week, participating fully Thursday and Friday. With him listed as probable this week, his status appears much more certain.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, back/forearm/hamstring, (Q): Gronkowski also was listed as questionable last week but played anyway. We expect him to do the same again this Sunday.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans, concussion, (Q): Walker suffered a concussion early in the Titans’ Week 13 game. On Thursday, Walker participated in what was referred to as a “rigorous” workout away from the practice field, according to ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky, with the hope he might be cleared to return to practice Friday. Walker did not participate in Friday practice, however, making it appear unlikely he will play Sunday.
The Titans have not officially ruled him out, but, given that coach Mike Munchak said Thursday that Walker and (fellow tight end) Craig Stevens, who is also sidelined with a concussion, “would have to both be doing really well in our mind” to be active, it is not looking great. Stay tuned for any surprise updates, but fantasy owners should make alternate plans.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins, concussion, (Q): Reed has missed two games because of a concussion, and last week’s decision to hold him out came at the last minute. That late decision was made when Reed had recurrent headache symptoms. After not practicing Wednesday, Reed returned to limited work Thursday and Friday but still comes into Sunday’s game listed as questionable. Lesson learned from last week: Things can change up until kickoff. Thankfully for fantasy owners, this is an early game Sunday.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears, ankle: Cutler showed signs of progress by returning to practice this week, and, according to coach Marc Trestman, threw the ball “really, really well.” After nearly a month’s absence from the field, however, two days of practice is not enough to warrant a start. Cutler will continue to work his way back, but how long that will take is unclear at this point. In the meantime, Josh McCown will make another start.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers, collarbone: There were fairly significant hints that Rodgers would not play this week, the biggest coming Tuesday when he did not receive medical clearance to return. He is not sitting idle, however. In fact, Rodgers returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis, then came back -- in pads -- for more on Thursday.
Matt Flynn continued to garner first-team reps all week, though, another hint the team did not plan on having Rodgers available. Both he and the team insist there is no talk of shutting him down, well, at least not yet. The lingering primary concern centers on risk of reinjury. Whether that concern dissipates enough to allow Rodgers to return to play remains to be seen.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings, concussion: Ponder has not returned to practice since suffering a concussion and will sit out this week.
Darren McFadden, RB, ankle and Denarius Moore, WR, shoulder, Oakland Raiders: McFadden has anew injury he’s contending with now, and his return timetable is uncertain. The team ruled him and teammate Moore, who is dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, out early this week, and the two did not travel to New York.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks, hip: Harvin’s setback was a little more pronounced than the Seahawks initially let on, and the plan to bring him back to the field is, understandably, a cautious one. He has already been ruled out for this week, and the Seahawks are being mindful of his long-term health. Although the Seahawks have placed no timetable on his return, they have to be viewing their season as extending well into the playoffs. He might not return as a major contributor in time to help fantasy owners.