Many teams are fighting and clawing -- no, make that limping -- toward a spot in the fantasy playoffs. As such, all hands are needed on deck to make the final push to qualify. The byes are over, so every team is available, but will key fantasy scorers be able to contribute?
That, of course, is the question we would all like answered in advance. Since no team is actually going to fork over that information, we'll turn to the injury and practice reports to see how things are shaping up heading into Week 13.
Here's who we're keeping an eye on:
Matt Forte (ankle), Chicago Bears: Forte said that he expects to play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. Forte has been practicing on a limited basis this week and said he is "feeling good." Whether Forte's confidence translates into a full workload remains to be seen. When Forte injured his ankle earlier this season, he sat out one week but returned for the subsequent game and managed 13 carries. (For what it's worth, Michael Bush carried the ball 10 times the week Forte returned from injury.) If Forte can practice again Friday, his outlook for Sunday remains positive.
Darren McFadden (ankle), Oakland Raiders: McFadden is looking as if he will make his return to the playing field this weekend after missing three games with a high ankle sprain. He participated in practice on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, reportedly running well without hesitation. The larger question is what type of workload McFadden will be granted in his first game back. Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times reported that the Raiders plan to continue using fullback Marcel Reece at the halfback position to ease the workload for McFadden. Reece has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners during McFadden's absence, averaging 4.7 yards per carry while also notching a handful of receptions each week. Fantasy owners will face the dilemma of not knowing whether there will be a feature back or a timeshare in Week 13.
Percy Harvin (ankle), Minnesota Vikings: Harvin remains an example of just how difficult it can be for a skill-position player to return to full activity after a serious ankle sprain. Ankle sprains happen so routinely that they often automatically get lumped in the category of minor injuries. While many are mild enough that players (depending on the demands of their position) can avoid missing time, a more severe sprain can incapacitate a player for a longer period of time, especially if his position relies heavily on quick directional changes and rapid acceleration/deceleration. Harvin's initial comment that his ankle was sprained in three places hinted at a more severe injury -- as did the extensive swelling he experienced. He only began doing light work in practice Wednesday, and as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com noted, Harvin seemed to tolerate straight-line movement but appeared to struggle with route running, limping visibly. Apparently Pelissero wasn't the only one to notice, since Harvin did not participate in practice Thursday. Coach Leslie Frazier told reporters the team will see what Harvin can do Friday, "if he can do anything." As of now, fantasy owners should plan for the possibility that Harvin will be absent another week.
Antonio Brown (ankle), Pittsburgh Steelers: In Week 9, Brown suffered what head coach Mike Tomlin referred to as a mild high ankle sprain. Four weeks later, it appears Brown has recovered to the point of being able to play. He returned to limited practice last week but the Steelers have certainly had their share of injuries this season -- including players who returned from one injury only to suffer another -- and there was no need to take a chance on Brown. This week, he has again been practicing -- full practice both Wednesday and Thursday -- so we should expect to see him suit up for the game.
Despite improvement in his overall condition, it doesn't appear that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be ready to face the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. Roethlisberger has been out of his sling and began light throwing this week. However, he acknowledged that he has a ways to go to be game-ready, and the ultimate determination is functionality. In other words, can he throw the ball effectively enough to start? For most players, one would have to assume another week's absence. But since it's Roethlisberger, there's reason to wait to see how he does with one more day of practice. He's not going to be able to hide an inability to make certain throws, so the team should have a pretty good idea of what his status will be by tomorrow.
Is this the week we finally see DeMarco Murray? It's starting to look that way. Murray has been practicing on a limited basis this week, but his sprained left foot passed one big test by putting in back-to-back practices on Wednesday and Thursday. There has been a repeated mantra out of Dallas that Murray would not return to action until there was complete confidence that he was fully healthy, but it appears that confidence is building. According to the Dallas Morning News, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said of Murray, "I got great confidence in him and I'm hopeful that we'll see him Sunday." It would be nice to see Murray do a bit more on Friday to test his foot, but even then it's hard to know what mix of Murray and Felix Jones the Cowboys will employ on Sunday. Meanwhile, wide receiver Miles Austin was a limited practice participant on Wednesday and Thursday. If he can do the same Friday, his chances of being active Sunday night are favorable.
Here's something we never like to see: Two wide receivers were added to the injury report Thursday for the Jaguars. Cecil Shorts is listed with a hamstring injury and Justin Blackmon is listed with a groin ailment. No word yet as to the severity of their respective lower extremity issues, but the Friday practice watch begins in earnest.
Beanie Wells sure had a nice return to the field for the Cardinals last week; however, he once again appears on the injury report. Wells had been on the injured reserve/designated for return list because of turf toe. He declared himself healthy, though, and feeling the best he had in a year prior to returning in Week 12. This week, the Cardinals' lead running back is again on the report -- but because of his knee, something he's had issues with in the past. Whether he's just experiencing soreness as a result of returning to game action for the first time in months -- or if there is any real cause for concern -- is unclear. If Wells practices again Friday, take that as a sign he is in line to start again this week.
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman practiced on a limited basis both Wednesday and Thursday after being listed on the injury report with a concussion. No word as to the likelihood he plays Sunday but his activity early in the week is encouraging. However, we still have to assume final clearance protocols are in place.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was back in a walking boot to start the week. He hasn't practiced and remains in question for Sunday. On Tuesday, we noted that Amendola was active last week despite being listed as doubtful, though he contributed very little. As a result, it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar situation unfold Sunday for the Rams' divisional matchup against the 49ers. Coach Jeff Fisher already said it would take Amendola some time to get healthy, so it's not as if he'll be completely recovered from the heel injury by then. It's just a question of whether he can effectively contribute. While rest may be the best thing to advance his chances by Sunday, it makes it tough for fantasy owners to evaluate just how much -- or how little -- progress he has made.
Lions running back Mikel Leshoure missed Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury, making his fantasy owners understandably nervous. He returned to limited practice Thursday and as is their custom, the Lions have offered no detail as to the nature or severity of LeShoure's injury. Just take it as a good sign that he returned Thursday and expect to see him back Friday in advance of Sunday's game. If for some reason LeShoure does not practice Friday, then fantasy owners can be legitimately nervous.
Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander was in full practice Wednesday and wasn't even listed on Thursday's injury report after suffering what the team called a thigh injury on Sunday. It didn't seem severe, but given Alexander's history, particularly as relates to his knee, any injury is cause for concern. Alexander was also limited by a hamstring issue in the preseason. Fortunately, this looks to be just a minor issue and not threatening to Alexander's status for Week 13.
Not as encouraging is the status of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who continues to be sidelined as a result of his concussion. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Eagles said Vick has not yet returned to baseline on his neurocognitive (ImPACT) testing. Running back LeSean McCoy also remains sidelined. Expect Nick Foles at quarterback and Bryce Brown at running back this week.
Expect the Packers to have wide receiver Greg Jennings in the mix Sunday. Jennings continues to put in full practices and, as noted Tuesday, the team expects to have him on the field. The biggest question will be how Jennings will adapt to four quarters of football after being sidelined for the better part of two months.