With a matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers looming this weekend, the Buffalo Bills will be looking for any edge they can get. Here is the latest on a couple of their fantasy-relevant offensive players:
C.J. Spiller, RB, (ankle): It certainly looked as if Spiller's ankle was improved last week, given that he leapfrogged to over 100 yards rushing after putting up just 11 yards in his previous appearance two weeks earlier. Apparently that was no mirage, as Spiller has formally been removed from the Bills' injury report. The forced rest in Week 8 may have had dual benefits, allowing his ankle more extended physical rest as well as giving him a mental break from any feelings of frustration resulting from the injury and his inability to produce as a result. It's worth noting, however, that "improved," even "significantly improved," does not necessarily equate to a complete return to the prior level of function.
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reported Thursday, Spiller does not believe he is yet 100 percent. "[Sunday] it was still not where I wanted to be. We'll just continue to do the things we need to do," Spiller said. In other words, from a performance perspective, Spiller perhaps feels he is not quite himself, which is typical for athletes as they initially return from significant injury. That is not to say they have pain or are conscious of specific limitations, rather it's a general sense of not being as explosive or dynamic as their preinjury self, and it is largely a matter of getting additional reps for those elements to return. Given that coach Doug Marrone now views Spiller as "full go," those reps could come his way. At least his carries won't be limited by injury concerns; now it's a matter of whatever game plan the Bills unveil. Spiller is somewhat back in the good graces of our fantasy staff, as he was No. 12 in the aggregate rankings this week.
EJ Manuel, QB, (knee): We also know the game plan this week includes the return of Manuel at quarterback, a decision made official on Thursday. Manuel has been out since spraining the LCL in his right knee in Week 5, an injury originally loosely projected to keep him out four to eight weeks. The key here was allowing enough healing time to ensure stability, and minimize risk of a more severe injury -- not only to the original injury site of the lateral or outer knee but to the knee joint as a whole -- upon return. Chronic instability on the outer portion of the knee can threaten the longevity of a player's career, so there was no reason for the Bills to rush their first-round draft pick back.
Manuel returned to full practice Wednesday and repeated the effort Thursday, showing enough to the coaching staff both in terms of how he performed and how his knee responded to the stress of practice to make the decision easier. Backup Thad Lewis missed Week 9 with bruised ribs after filling in for Manuel the previous three weeks, but is also back in practice. He is expected to be available Sunday as Manuel's insurance. Unlike Spiller, though, Manuel has yet to earn our fantasy staff's trust, as he is ranked 25th among QBs for Week 10.