Week 9 is in the books! This feels like that time of year when the grueling toll of the season begins to make itself widely felt. A number of players left last week's games with new injuries, aggravations of prior injuries or some variation of a new injury superimposed on a not fully recovered injury. While a couple of those with new ailments look as if they might not miss any time (Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles and Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo), others seem likely to miss a week if not more (Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown, Minnesota Vikings WR Percy Harvin, and Oakland Raiders RBs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson).
In the meantime, many of the key running backs who have suffered foot injuries in recent weeks (DeMarco Murray Maurice Jones-Drew, Cedric Benson) continue their rehabilitation efforts but with no specific return date on the horizon. None of these backs is expected for this week (Benson and Jones-Drew are definitely out, and ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the Dallas Cowboys do not expect to have Murray this Sunday).
There are still plenty of folks we're keeping an eye on as we head into Week 10.
Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, RBs, Oakland Raiders (high ankle sprains): Both running backs left Sunday's game with similar injuries. McFadden was tackled during a run. On video, he appeared to rotate his foot outward relative to his lower leg, the hallmark mechanism for a high ankle sprain. Although there has been no word as to the severity of the injury, it may be to his benefit that his foot was not squarely planted in the ground when it happened. Still, with the known history of lower-extremity injuries McFadden has dealt with in his career, any additional incident raises concern. His teammate Goodson was also forced out of the game with a similar injury in the third quarter. (Goodson had been dealing with a turf toe injury throughout the week heading into Sunday's game.)
As of now, it would appear that Marcel Reece and Taiwan Jones will be responsible for the workload in the near future, but how much time McFadden and Goodson could miss -- if any -- is anyone's guess. The severity of their injuries will be as important as the injuries' location to determine how long they'll be out. As of yet, the Raiders have not revealed anything. Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times reports that McFadden has not yet been ruled out for Week 10. Of course, many a fantasy owner remembers when he was not ruled out in advance of multiple games last season, and thus might be suspicious. At this point, there's not enough information to suggest this injury is on the same order of severity as last year's, but it would make sense to plan on a backup nevertheless.
Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings (ankle): Harvin went into Week 9 with hamstring concerns -- and he appeared to be laboring during the game -- but he exited with a new, more significant injury. Harvin sprained his left ankle "in three different places," according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and is experiencing swelling and pain. Harvin was on crutches Monday to protect him from bearing weight on the injured limb, and while he wouldn't declare himself out for this week's game, he admitted his chances of playing are slim. The report that he sprained the ankle in three different places suggests that he has multiple injured ligaments, which explains the substantial pain and swelling, but also hints at greater instability. No specific grading of the injury was offered, but Harvin's appearance and description indicate this is more than a mild injury. Even though the MRI showed no fracture, the extent of soft tissue damage and associated instability can still project a multiweek absence. The Vikings do have a bye upcoming in Week 11 and it would be a big surprise if Harvin plays beforehand.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (neck): Charles was forced out of last Thursday night's game with what the Chiefs called a neck injury. Charles did tell the Kansas City Star he was tested for a possible concussion, so it will be worth monitoring how he responds to practice during the week. The Chiefs don't play until Monday night, which is good in that it gives Charles the benefit of an extra day, but it also means no official injury report is due from the team until Thursday. As of now, it does look favorable for Charles to suit up in Week 10.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys (back): Romo injured his back late in the Sunday night game and there were multiple reports of him walking "gingerly" afterward. On Monday, head coach Jason Garrett told reporters Romo was feeling much better. On Tuesday, ESPN's Ed Werder reported the Cowboys expect Romo to play in Week 10.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (knee): Brown was downgraded Saturday after experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired knee. He recovered to the point of being activated for Sunday's game, but the pain and swelling recurred, forcing Brown to the sideline early. With only four days until the Colts' next game, it would not be a surprise if he is out. There is also a chance he could rest for four days and still be active (though he did not practice Tuesday, also considered the "big" practice day for Thursday night games), but the bulk of the workload would still likely shift to Vick Ballard.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (ankle): Brown was the first to say he had suffered a high ankle sprain, and his assessment was later confirmed by coach Mike Tomlin, who called it "mild." Nonetheless, Brown is doubtful for Monday night's game against the Chiefs and was kind enough to share that tidbit early (Tomlin also said running back Jonathan Dwyer should return Monday) so that fantasy owners could make the proper adjustments. Well, perhaps that wasn't his reasoning, but it's still nice to get an early jump on fill-ins. In Pittsburgh, they know all about filling in at the running back position and now will get a taste of it at wide receiver. More Emmanuel Sanders, perhaps. As for how long the Steelers will be without Brown, that is not yet clear, but given that even Brown initially thought he might be able to play this week, it sounds like they anticipate a short absence.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers (hamstring/ankle): Nelson missed Week 8 because of a hamstring strain but was deemed healthy enough to go in Week 9 after testing the leg in a Friday workout. He never had a chance to make an impact as he went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game while trying to make a catch. The Packers fortunately have a bye this week and coach Mike McCarthy sounds confident Nelson will be ready by Week 11.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills (thigh): Johnson suffered a bruised thigh early in Sunday's game and tried to play through it but struggled. For those who might wonder why something as seemingly benign as a bruise should limit a high-level athlete, it's important to remember that a bruise involves bleeding. If there is bleeding into a contained area of soft tissue, like the thigh, it makes the tissue very tight and the athlete is unable to fully extend (lengthen) the involved muscle or fully contract it. And it hurts. The result is a shorter stride length, sometimes an apparent dragging of the leg, a loss of burst and power, and early fatigue. Johnson essentially said as much after the game, telling the Bills' official website, "I couldn't run down the passes or elevate when I needed to. It just wasn't working so I had to come out." The good news is that this should respond well to treatment and hopefully resolve quickly. Bills head coach Chan Gailey said he expects to have Johnson on the field in Week 10, even if he is not able to practice early in the week.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (knee): Johnson played despite not practicing all week with a sore knee and racked up his third-highest yardage total of the season. Given the team's success at managing his knee during the week and still garnering a favorable Sunday outcome, expect the pattern to continue. There has been no word as to what's ailing him but Johnson confirmed that it's likely to bother him throughout the season, telling MLive.com, "It's something that I expect to linger."
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams (shoulder): Amendola teased fantasy owners when he traveled to London with the team two weeks ago and was seen catching some balls in practice. Only three weeks removed from his sternoclavicular joint injury, however, he seemed an extremely long shot to play. Now his chances are looking up. With another two weeks under his belt, Amendola is confident he will be on the field to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
During last week's practice, Amendola told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch his range of motion and strength were back to normal. The other aspect that is harder to measure is the healing of the tissue around the joint itself. The hope is that it will be strong enough to withstand another hard fall on the shoulder or direct contact from a hard hit without displacing again. Sitting at the junction of the collarbone (clavicle) and the sternum (chest), it's not an area that lends itself to effective bracing or taping. While there are ways to offer some additional protection, the goal is to have it be healed to the point where the risk is low to negligible. Unfortunately, there is only so much that visual and manual testing can do and at some point the athlete has to test it by playing in a game. It looks as if that test could come this weekend and, if Amendola is able to pass it, things should be looking up for him for the remainder of the season.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots (ankle): Hernandez, who did not travel with the team to London, is coming off of two weeks' rest after the bye. On Tuesday he was absent from practice, as he was attending the birth of his child, but there should be updates later in the week.