Stephania Bell: Hakeem Nicks
It's the final week of the NFL regular season and, well, if you're still playing fantasy football, it's clearly the final week for that too. Championship games in Week 17 are always tricky since some NFL teams may opt to rest their starters. And even if their starters play, they may get pulled halfway through a game if there is no meaningful result associated with the outcome.
While teams may not reveal their respective strategies when it comes to how much playing time their starters will see, the injury reports may yield some clues as to who might be watching from the sidelines.
Players with the biggest question marks heading into Week 17:Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (forearm/hip): We haven't heard from the big tight end in a long time as he's been kept to limited practice and away from the media. However, on Wednesday Gronk spoke to reporters and made it clear that the decision as to his playing status remains a medical one. "When the doctors clear me, when the training staff clears me, when I'm medically ready to play and they let me play, I'm sure that's when I'll be out there," said Gronkowski, according to ESPN Boston. Gronkowski has been practicing for nearly two weeks and this Sunday marks the six-week milestone since he fractured his left forearm. He underwent surgery to implant hardware and stabilize the fracture a day later.
The earliest a player would typically be cleared to play following a fracture is around the four-week mark, with six weeks being more common. Still, there are individual differences in healing and individual circumstances to take into account. It is possible that Gronkowski, who will likely be listed as questionable this week -- just as he has been for the last two weeks -- could be activated Sunday. But for now his status remains uncertain.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (knee/foot): Bradshaw had his usual off day Wednesday but returned to limited practice Thursday, always a good sign for his weekend playing outlook. After injuring his knee in Week 14 and sitting out the following week, Bradshaw was active in Week 16 but was a limited contributor. Part of that may be a result of how the game unfolded; regardless, Bradshaw still touched the ball more than teammate David Wilson. With another week between him and the injury, Bradshaw should be in better form this week and as of now, his chances of suiting up look good.
Here's one you don't see every day on the injury report: arrhythmia. That's the descriptor next to Arian Foster's name. Foster left last week's game early with an irregular heartbeat, something he experienced in the past, but received medical clearance to return to work this week and has been a full practice participant. Teammate Owen Daniels was out Thursday with tightness in his hamstring, although coach Gary Kubiak said he expects him to play Sunday.
Last week, we noted that running back Adrian Peterson didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. Peterson openly acknowledged the rest was geared at getting him ready for Sunday. He has already declared his intention of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, so we already know he plans to be on the field -- a lot.
Titans running back Chris Johnson has not practiced this week after spraining his right ankle on Sunday. However, Johnson said that he will play this weekend, telling the Tennessean that he still wants to "go out there and fight." Fantasy owners would appreciate the effort.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been on the injury report for a few weeks due to an ailing hamstring, but his status seems to have taken a turn for the better. Nelson has been a full participant in practice this week and looks as if he could make a return Sunday. Fellow receiver Randall Cobb was limited last week because of a shoulder injury but played Sunday, only to sustain an ankle injury in the process. Cobb participated in limited practice Wednesday but then did not return to the practice field Thursday. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that this was part of the plan, according to coach Mike McCarthy. Cobb went through light work Wednesday then received treatment on the ankle Thursday and will test the ankle Friday for the medical staff to determine whether he can practice. This is one to keep an eye on as Cobb's status may come down to the weekend. Running back Alex Green has been a full participant throughout the week after missing Week 16 with a concussion. If he is active -- which it appears he will be if there is no setback -- there will be a timeshare situation for the Packers at running back.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks continues to be limited by his sore knee. Nicks was off Wednesday then did limited work Thursday; however, coach Tom Coughlin said Nicks did not do "a whole lot," according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Nicks has typically played despite being less than 100 percent healthy, but it sounds as if he might not be a lock to go this week. We should know more after Friday's practice.
Despite the fact Falcons receiver Roddy White has not practiced this week, it's hard to get too worked up about his playing status. After all, the week after the injury when his Sunday availability was most questionable, he played. It hardly seems likely that he would miss a game two weeks later due to the same injury. A more reasonable concern, however, would be White's potential playing time, given the Falcons have secured the top spot in their division. Tough call here for fantasy owners as the team is not likely to give away its plan in advance.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (finger) and running backs DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee) have been full participants in practice throughout the week. With their game against the Redskins not tipping off until Sunday night, fantasy owners can at least feel confident about the status of these three.
This week, the 49ers will be without receiver Mario Manningham, who suffered a brutal season-ending knee injury in Week 16. But will they also be without tight end Vernon Davis? He sustained a concussion last Sunday and did not practice Wednesday. However, Davis received an encouraging boost Thursday when he received medical clearance to resume non-contact activity and returned to limited on-field work, according to CSNBayArea.com. The final step before Sunday will be receiving clearance for contact. If Davis has no recurrence of symptoms after Friday's efforts, his chances of a Sunday return appear promising.
Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but according to the Ravens' official website, the diagnosis was a bruise. Though Boldin has been held to limited practice this week, it appears he will be healthy enough to play come Sunday.
Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis appeared on Thursday's injury report as a non-participant due to illness. There is no indication that this poses a threat to his Sunday status, but it will be worth noting whether he returns to practice on Friday. Meanwhile, teammate Mike Nugent has been sharing kicking responsibilities with Josh Brown while dealing with a calf injury. He returned to full practice Wednesday but did not practice Thursday; as a result, the team's kicker status for Sunday is still up in the air.
After putting in a limited practice on Wednesday, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (high ankle sprain) did not practice Thursday. Carolina coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that Stewart suffered a setback with his ankle, according to the Charlotte Observer. It has been a gloomy end to an unspectacular season for Stewart, who looks as if he will miss his fifth game in a row.
Running back Pierre Thomas, who appeared on the Saints injury report last week because of his knee, played Sunday and there was no immediate report of a setback. However, this week Thomas has yet to practice, raising some concern as to whether he'll be in the Sunday lineup. Teammate Chris Ivory, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, returned to full practice Wednesday and repeated the effort Thursday. After Friday, we should have a better idea as to who will be healthy enough to play Sunday.
Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has not played or even practiced since suffering a high ankle sprain three weeks ago. It seems unlikely his status will change this week; however, as has been the custom so far, the Lions are not ruling him out.
Week 16 did not go well for the Steelers. Not only did their season virtually come to an end, but they also lost tight end Heath Miller to a knee injury. Wide receiver Mike Wallace was also reported to have a hamstring injury following the game, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Wallace continues to be listed on the injury report because of a "hip" ailment and has not practiced this week. His status for Sunday remains iffy at best.
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was limited Wednesday because of a knee injury (he left practice early, according to the Philadelphia Daily News), then did not practice at all on Thursday. There is no reason to trot him out Sunday if the knee is a significant issue. Regardless, Maclin told the Daily News that he would return to practice Friday. Maclin's fantasy owners will have to take a wait-and-see approach this week.
New York jets tight end Dustin Keller is still not practicing and appears very unlikely to return this weekend. Quarterback Greg McElroy was already on the injury report for an abdominal injury, and had a concussion added next to his name on Thursday. He will not play Sunday; as a result, Mark Sanchez will reclaim the starting role.
Many a fantasy owner still playing for a title was dealt a big blow Wednesday afternoon when Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin was placed on injured reserve. The IR designation began to look like a real possibility after Harvin attempted one practice last week, struggled to run and was not seen again on the practice field the rest of the week. It was also recently revealed that he had sustained a more significant tear, not particularly surprising given Harvin's struggles to recover and his own description that he had sprained his ankle in three places.
Still, the recent description of the severity of his injury suggested he might not be able to return to form. As it turns out, Harvin wasn't able to return at all, but the assumption is that the IR decision was made with the interest of his long-term health in mind. Not only might Harvin have struggled to perform at anything close to the level he displayed early in the season, but he also may have risked compromising his ability to return to that level in the future.
This week, the decision was made to move him to IR, leading some to wonder what the primary reason was for the early termination of his season. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions placed Young on IR with a knee injury. However, when coach Jim Schwartz was asked whether the injury would require surgery, his response was telling: "Yeah, most likely," Schwartz said. "Yes, unless he doesn't show up for it." OK then. Until next year, perhaps.
As for Long, there is no doubt about what sent him to IR -- he tore his triceps and the recovery timetable exceeds the time remaining in the Dolphins' season. Long has dealt with significant injuries, including a torn biceps which ended his season late last year.
Already ruled out for Week 14
Running back Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts injured his ankle last Sunday and will not play this week. Vick Ballard will be the starter, which, given his use in recent weeks, should not come as a surprise. At least the Colts have done everyone a favor and given us this news well in advance of Sunday's game.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy remains out of practice as he recovers from a concussion. Don't expect to see him this weekend. However, do expect another hefty dose of Bryce Brown. Nick Foles is the Eagles' starting quarterback for the remainder of the season; Michael Vick has not yet returned to practice, but if and when he does, it will be in a backup role.
Concussions are also an issue for Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings and wide receiver Cecil Shorts. Both were injured in Week 13 and neither has returned to practice. It is not looking as if either will be available on Sunday.
Earlier this week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy hinted at a very low likelihood of seeing receiver Jordy Nelson in Week 14. Nelson aggravated his hamstring injury prior to last Sunday's game then was forced to exit early. He has not practiced this week and it's looking as if he will sit this game out. His teammate Greg Jennings said he felt "great" coming out of his return to action following abdominal surgery -- which makes sense, since Jennings is no longer mentioned on the injury report.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw continues to operate on a modified practice schedule, as in no practice at all this week. His workload picked up last week with the absence of Andre Brown (now on IR with a broken fibula), but Bradshaw seemed to respond just fine. He is expected to play Sunday in a similar capacity. His teammate, receiver Hakeem Nicks, has been far less consistent this season. Swelling in his knee due to an injury sustained in Week 2 compounded his recovery from foot surgery. In Week 12, the ailments appeared to be in the rearview mirror but Monday's game proved that was not the case. This week, Nicks practiced Wednesday (and wasn't even listed on the injury report) but developed swelling in his knee again and was forced to sit out Thursday practice, limited to riding a stationary bike on the sideline. It's hard to have confidence in Nicks this week, particularly for those fantasy owners competing in playoffs. Meanwhile, fellow Giants receiver Domenik Hixon has been practicing in full after missing last week with an ankle injury. He should be available for this week's matchup against the Saints.
Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was out of Sunday's game with an injured heel. He has spent the majority of the last two weeks in a walking boot. On Wednesday, Amendola did individual work on the side and was a limited participant Thursday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This is an encouraging development but it's hardly reassuring heading into a fantasy playoff weekend. It's worth seeing what his activity is like on Friday. Meanwhile, teammate Steven Jackson has been playing through a foot ailment and will continue to do so. Jackson was back in full practice Thursday after taking Wednesday off.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell suffered a turf toe injury and chipped a bone in the process, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. (This has the sounds of an avulsion injury, where a ligament injury pulls a small bone fragment with it.) The bottom line is that LaFell remains in a boot and not practicing, so he will not play this weekend. Teammate Jonathan Stewart (ankle) is not practicing and is not expected to play this weekend.
Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham has been hot in the red zone lately, scoring touchdowns in three of Cincinnati's last four games. However, there may be no scoring of any kind for him this week if he can't take the field. He was a limited participant in practice Wednesday due to a hamstring injury, but it was his complete absence from practice Thursday that should have fantasy owners concerned. Late-week downgrades are never a good thing, and when the injury involves a hamstring, they are more worrisome. There is still a chance that Gresham recovers, but fantasy owners should be making alternate plans.
Jets tight end Dustin Keller does not look as if he'll make it back this Sunday after injuring his ankle in Week 13. He has not been ruled out for the game but he has not practiced yet this week. It's been a tough year health-wise for Keller, who missed four games early in the season due to a hamstring injury.
Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez continues to be held to limited practice but certainly was not held to limited playing time last Sunday when he was on the field for every offensive play. Expect him to be ready to go on Monday night. Teammate Rob Gronkowski is still on the mend from his broken forearm and is likely to sit out another week. No, the Patriots have given an update regarding the healing progression of the bone (but who expected that to happen?). When Gronk appears in practice, it will be the sign he is nearing a return. Until then, it is silence as usual.
And on a final note
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin announced Thursday that Ben Roethlisberger will resume his starting role as quarterback for the Steelers. While the unusual nature of his shoulder injury led to some speculation that he might be done for the season, the facts of his case combined with his history of quick healing and pain tolerance suggested he would be able to return.
It is still a credit to Roethlisberger that he is in a position to return just four weeks after getting injured. He has demonstrated that he can make the necessary throws to perform effectively, but how he responds to absorbing contact is unknown. He is expected to wear some padding for protection, but the sternoclavicular joint and the first rib are impossible to completely stabilize. His best bet is to ensure he unloads the ball quickly enough to avoid taking sacks that drive his shoulder into the ground (which is how he was hurt in the first place).
After sustaining big injury losses to their vaunted defense in Week 6, the Ravens' mood was somber. That frown turned upside down when linebacker Terrell Suggs, on the physically unable to perform list to start the season following surgery to repair his right Achilles tendon, rejoined the team for practice this week. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Suggs expects to play Sunday when the Ravens visit the Texans. The biggest question will be whether a visibly heftier Suggs is in adequate "game" shape to take the field. Most athletes returning from this type of injury say it takes them a full year to regain the speed and explosiveness in their surgically repaired leg. It doesn't mean Suggs can't contribute right away -- even if that comes largely in the form of morale boosting initially -- but it does mean he's unlikely to look like the 2011 defensive player of the year out of the gate.
Here's who else we're keeping an eye on in Week 7.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (knee): Ponder has been working through knee discomfort associated with an inflamed bursa for the past couple of weeks. He continues to practice fully and should play again this Sunday.
Running BacksAdrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (ankle): Peterson's lack of activity during practice might seem worrisome but it sounds as if he and the team are taking a deliberately cautious approach in light of the next two games coming so close together. Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities reports Peterson plans to play Sunday despite not practicing Wednesday or Thursday. Coach Leslie Frazier echoed that statement, describing the rest as precautionary. Still, according to Pelissero, Peterson indicated his ankle is "hurting consistently," not enough to keep him from playing but perhaps enough to keep him from being as explosive as he'd like. It looks as if Peterson will play, and his best chances of being effective come from resting his ankle in the interim.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers (Achilles): Mendenhall has been downplaying his Achilles injury ever since it happened in Week 6's Thursday night game, insisting he was removed largely for precautionary reasons, primarily due to his recent return from ACL reconstructive surgery. Still, with Mendenhall not yet practicing this week, it's enough to make fantasy owners nervous. Isaac Redman also sustained an injury (ankle) in Week 6, and he too has yet to practice. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Steelers think Mendenhall is closer to playing than Redman, but it would feel much more plausible if we were to see him get some practice reps. While that could happen Friday, it's also possible the Steelers will opt to give him as much rest as possible in advance of Sunday since that might be the best medicine for a sore Achilles. The Steelers do not play until Sunday night, so unless there is some better evidence of Mendenhall's readiness following Friday practice, fantasy owners will need to have a backup plan.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (chest, rib): Richardson has maintained all along that he will be ready to play this weekend. So far he seems to be making good on that promise, participating in practice, although on a limited basis, both Wednesday and Thursday. Expect him to wear some protective padding, as is often the case following rib injuries, but it appears he will be on the field, barring a setback.
Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and Andre Brown (concussion), New York Giants: Uh-oh. When we see "foot" next to Bradshaw's name on the injury report, it starts dredging up memories of complications over the past two seasons. According to Kieran Darcy of ESPN New York, Bradshaw, who did not practice Wednesday and did only limited work Thursday, said this is not related to his prior stress fracture issues but that he had his foot stepped on in Week 6. Bradshaw also said he's "ready to go," suggesting his availability for Sunday is not in doubt. Meanwhile, Brown is on the mend from his concussion and practiced fully both days this week.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (foot): Owner Jerry Jones already said Murray will miss this week's game in Carolina due to his foot sprain, although he is not yet listed as "out" on the injury report. The expectation is that Felix Jones will get the start. Until Murray returns to practice, there is little to update.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (knee): Brown is still recovering from knee surgery and is not practicing yet. Vick Ballard is expected to start again.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans (toe): Tate continues to be limited by a sore toe, and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (foot): Garcon has not practiced this week. After hearing last week that the plan was for him to take the time to let the foot heal before returning, it certainly looks as if he will be out again this Sunday.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings still has not practiced this week. His focus has been on rehab and conditioning work, and last week coach Mike McCarthy said Jennings would not test his groin until late this week. We'll see what happens Friday but it's hard to feature Jennings returning in three days.
Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings (back, foot): After being forced to sit out in Week 6 because of weakness in his leg associated with a back injury, Simpson has made big improvements this week. He was a full participant in practice both Wednesday and Thursday, and while it is too soon to dismiss the injury as being totally behind him, his chances of playing Sunday are looking good.
Tight EndsRob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle), New England Patriots: Gronkowski continues to be limited in practice, which doesn't come as a big surprise. He has been playing through what is being termed a hip injury and has not been quite himself on the playing field. Hernandez seemed to get through his first game outing well and returned to limited practice Wednesday. He did not practice Thursday, however, which could be cause for concern or just some proactive rest on the part of the Patriots. Remember, Hernandez did not practice last Friday in advance of Sunday's game, either. That turned out just fine. Expect Gronkowski and Hernandez to both be active Sunday against the Jets.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (ankle): The last time we saw Graham, he was in a walking boot following an ankle injury in Week 5. Then the team had a bye week, and there were no updates to offer clues. It wasn't until Wednesday's practice that the first real evidence of how much the ankle is limiting Graham became apparent ... when he did not participate. On Thursday, Graham did make an appearance, practicing on a limited basis. The Saints sound as if they would like to have him available Sunday, even if he remains limited. "You always want to have your best players so we hope we are going to have him," Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The Saints have not offered specifics regarding Graham's ankle sprain (what type of sprain or what degree of severity) but it is worth noting that Graham did return to the Week 5 game after the injury. He appeared to be significantly limited for the remainder of the game but he did finish it out. In reviewing video of the injury, as Graham is tackled by Chargers defensive back Marcus Gilchrist, his foot is rotated outward relative to his lower leg. This is a common mechanism associated with a high ankle sprain but the team has not referred to it as such. While high ankle sprains are often associated with a prolonged recovery, it still comes down to how significant the actual tissue damage is. If there is instability and the injury is a high ankle sprain, caution is warranted so as not to lead to chronic degenerative changes in the joint. If the ankle is stable, the athlete can resume play more quickly. It will be worth monitoring how Graham's ankle responds to the Thursday work and whether he can repeat the effort Friday. If he can, it seems the Saints will lean toward having him available, even if his ankle has not fully recovered.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers (shoulder): Finley practiced on a limited basis both Wednesday and Thursday because of the same AC joint issue that bothered him last week. Given that he was active last week after not practicing early on, expect him to play again (and hopefully contribute) this week.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets (hamstring): Keller remains on the injury report this week, turning in limited practice Wednesday but bumping up to a full practice Thursday.
And on a final note ...
Six teams (Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego) are on bye this week, which means a lot of fantasy replacements are in order. These players will not appear on this week's official NFL injury reports.
The Ravens lost their inspirational leader and team captain, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, for the season because of a torn triceps. They also lost star cornerback Lardarius Webb to a torn left ACL. Webb tore his right ACL three years ago but successfully returned the following year and had developed into a premier player at his position. The combined loss of Webb and Lewis is difficult enough, but the Ravens also are dealing with a defensive injury up front. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suffered a sprained MCL on Sunday, but the good news is the Ravens expect to have him available in Week 7. He might be limited in terms of mobility, but his presence on the field will be key, considering the other absences the team is facing.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Best will not consider retirement yet and maintains a desire to return. The Lions are continuing to support Best, which was reflected later on in Mayhew's statement: "Jahvid will continue to work with our medical and training staffs with the hope that he ultimately will be cleared to return to the playing field." Given the length of time that has passed, however, since Best's most recent injury and his failure to progress beyond his current level of activity, it would appear his chances of returning to football are slim.
Naturally, there are other injury situations worth tracking. Here's who we're keeping an eye on heading into Week 7:
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (ribs): According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Kolb will be out this week and beyond because of a significant multiple-rib injury, along with a sprained sternoclavicular joint (the same joint Rams receiver Danny Amendola injured). There's no doubt about how painful this injury is. Just breathing is bound to be uncomfortable, and any additional movement makes matters worse. Fortunately for the Cardinals, John Skelton's (ankle) health was improving anyway. He stepped in Sunday after Kolb's injury and looked, well, as if he'd been absent for five weeks. This week Skelton will have the opportunity to get all the practice reps as the team prepares him for a Week 7 start.
Running backsDeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (foot): According to ESPN's Ed Werder, an MRI confirmed a left foot sprain for Murray, who was injured in the first half of Sunday's game. Murray is currently in a walking boot and on crutches, but Werder reports the Cowboys are saying he did not suffer a Lisfranc injury and will not need surgery. On Tuesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed Murray will miss the team's Week 7 game, as expected, but noted the team was relieved the injury was not more serious.
The team has not specified where in the foot the sprain is or the severity of the injury, other than saying it appears to be nonoperative; that makes it difficult to project with any accuracy just how compromised Murray is. While the news of no immediate need for a procedure is encouraging, it's worth pointing out that last year around this time, fellow running back Darren McFadden suffered what was thought to be a mild foot sprain and ended up missing the remainder of the season. He initially was expected to miss only a week or two, but he never could get to the point of running well on the foot. That's not to say Murray is destined for the same fate, but the point is, foot injuries can be tricky and unpredictable. This is not the same leg Murray injured last season (he suffered a right ankle fracture and high ankle sprain late in 2011, which required surgery and ended his season prematurely).
For now, the team is calling Murray's status week to week, and fantasy owners should plan on a multiple-week absence. Murray, however, is telling teammates he plans to play in Week 8, according to Werder. Let's see him get back on the practice field first before we count on him returning so quickly.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (rib): Richardson left Sunday's game with what was later determined to be a right-side rib cartilage injury. The running back's status is day to day, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This is the type of injury that usually comes down to whether pain inhibits functionality or not. Richardson has a few days to rest it and see how it responds. While he seemed to express little doubt he'd be available, the team likely will take the wait-and-see approach. Fantasy owners might want to add Montario Hardesty to their rosters as insurance.
Mario Manningham, San Francisco 49ers (shoulder): Manningham was listed as a limited participant for the team's Monday practice -- which is an estimation since it was only a walk-through -- because of a shoulder issue. No details were offered by the team. The 49ers play Thursday night, so everything on the injury report becomes relevant, but there is no hint as of now that Manningham's game status is in jeopardy.
And a few more players we're keeping an eye on:
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints (ankle): Graham was seen wearing a walking boot after the Week 5 game, then the team headed into a bye. Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Monday that Saints coach Aaron Kromer would have no player updates until Wednesday practice. It's probably a good idea to secure a backup tight end, just in case.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins (foot): The Washington Times reported Garcon is dealing with a sprained capsule (the tissue that surrounds a joint) under his second toe, which is still painful for him when pushing off or trying to run full speed. After watching Garcon try to push through the pain only to have that pain increase, the team has encouraged him to take some time to let it heal. Just how much time that will be is unclear, but it sounds as if it will be at least a couple of weeks.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (knee/foot): Nicks managed to get through Sunday's game without a setback, although he wasn't quite himself. According to ESPN New York, Nicks says he knows the injury will continue to improve. If there are no immediate setbacks, it looks as if he will be available again this week.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has already been ruled out of Sunday's game because of a concussion. Brady Quinn will get the start against the Buccaneers.
Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson was placed on IR (designated for return) with a Lisfranc injury. It's a shame for Benson, whose opportunity arose when James Starks would not be able to start the season on time because of turf toe. Benson, who had been devastated when he found himself without a team as late as August, seemed to be making the most of his chance with the Packers, providing them with a viable option on the ground. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, injury cut his season short.
So does Starks attain the role originally believed to be his? Not necessarily. Starks is just getting back into the running back mix over the past two weeks and has not seen any game action. This week, the start will go to Alex Green. Whether he stays the starter will depend on how he and the other backs perform. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, coach Mike McCarthy said the first carry will go to Green, noting he is ahead of Starks at this moment. "But we have three halfbacks, and we'll utilize all three of them," he said. The ever-unpopular running back by committee will be in play in Green Bay, at least for this week.
Here's who else we're keeping an eye on in Week 6:
The bottom line is if Griffin has passed all his tests, including physical measures and neurocognitive testing results, there is no arbitrary amount of time to sit him in the hopes of preventing another injury. The most critical element of ensuring safe return to play -- as far as what is currently understood about these injuries -- is establishing complete resolution of all subjective (what the athlete complains of, which requires the athlete to be honest and forthcoming) and objective (things that can be observed or measured) findings at our disposal.
There is still much to learn when it comes to concussions, but as of now, the best approach is an individual one. There is no perfect grading system, no proven recovery timetable. Some athletes will recover from an injury within days; others will take months or longer. The severity of the injury is measured in hindsight, in the time it takes to recover, not in the moments after the injury occurs -- hence one of several reasons "mild" should be eliminated when describing a concussion immediately after it happens. One thing we have learned is if an athlete returns to action before full recovery and sustains a second injury, the consequences are potentially far greater in terms of symptoms and total recovery time. As this long-term risk is better understood, everyone becomes more responsible in managing these injuries.
The cautious approach is certainly warranted, but an arbitrary one is not.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (knee): Ponder is dealing with inflammation in the bursa sac in his knee, according to ESPN 1500 Twin Cities. Although it is undoubtedly causing him some discomfort, he maintains it is not limiting his play. Ponder has practiced fully this week, nothing suggests he is in any danger of missing time.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (finger): Smith has been practicing fully, making it seem as if the finger is of little concern. There appears to be little doubt he is planning on playing against the New York Giants. The question is whether the finger will be a factor in his performance.
LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip) and William Powell (head), Arizona Cardinals: With Beanie Wells on IR (designated for return) with a turf toe injury and Ryan Williams done for the season following shoulder surgery, Stephens-Howling and Powell are next in line for duty. Stephens-Howling has been dealing with a strained hip flexor for the past few weeks, and Powell suffered a concussion. Stephens-Howling was limited in practice Wednesday but was upgraded to full participation Thursday. Powell was a full participant both days. It's not definitive how this partnership will shake out in Arizona and may be in part a function of their collective health.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (knee): Despite not yet being listed as out this week, Brown should not be expected to play considering he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday. According to the Indianapolis Star, Brown injured his knee during last week's contest against the Packers. Interim coach Bruce Arians said the team expects him to miss two to three weeks, but it can take a bit longer to return following even a minor scope. The key immediately after surgery is to eliminate any swelling and regain muscular strength as quickly as possible. Returning too soon can put the knee at risk for further injury, particularly if muscular balance has not been adequately restored first. In the meantime, the Colts have indicated that Vick Ballard is expected to start in place of Brown.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans (toe): Tate's sprained toe still has him in limited practice mode. As of now, his status for Sunday is very questionable.
Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins (concussion): This is the second time he is listed on the injury report with a concussion. Thomas has not practiced and is not expected to play. Although Reggie Bush appeared on the report Thursday, there is no apparent threat to his Sunday status.
Andre Brown, New York Giants, (concussion): He hasn't practiced this week, and it doesn't appear he'll be ready to play Sunday.
Peyton Hillis (ankle) and Shaun Draughn (ankle), Kansas City Chiefs: Stop me if you've heard this before. Hillis is not practicing this week because of his sprained ankle and should not be counted on for Sunday. The addition here is Draughn. The good news is that Draughn was listed as a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday, and he appears to be healthy enough to go this week. The better news is that Jamaal Charles is nowhere near the injury report.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (knee): Although Green was limited Wednesday, his bump up to full practice Thursday suggests he is on track to play Sunday.
Percy Harvin (hamstring) and Jerome Simpson (back, foot), Minnesota Vikings: Uh-oh. Harvin was a Thursday addition to the practice report with a hamstring ailment. While there is no reason to panic yet, this certainly warrants close attention Friday.
As for Simpson, he experienced weakness and numbness in his leg before Sunday's game and, although he was cleared to play, could not perform effectively. The culprit? His lower back, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, although no specifics have been offered as to what structures are involved. While the team has maintained optimism, this is not typically the type of thing that resolves quickly. Simpson did not practice Wednesday but was able to do some light work Thursday. He has a ways to go before being game ready, which coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged Thursday. According to ESPN 1500 Twin Cities, Frazier said Simpson is still experiencing weakness. Even if Simpson is able to practice Friday, a decision on his status may not come before Sunday.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings is still not fully recovered from the groin injury, and he has made it clear he is not returning until he feels 100 percent. He has not practiced this week, and while he may attempt to do so Friday, there is little indication he is ready for game action. The Packers don't play until Sunday night, so this is a situation to avoid.
Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (hamstring): After the bye week, I would hope Austin's hamstring is in better shape. Despite being listed on the injury report, Austin participated in full practice Wednesday and Thursday. There is little doubt he will play.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, (hip): Thomas was limited Thursday because of a hip issue sustained during last week's game, according to The Denver Post. The ailment does not sound serious, and with the Broncos not playing until Monday night, this may have been a means of getting Thomas some additional rest.
Titus Young, Detroit Lions (knee): According to the Detroit Free Press, coach Jim Schwartz said the knee soreness that has been bothering Young for several weeks is affecting his ability to produce on the field, not just physically in the moment but in the form of lack of practice reps. Young did not practice Wednesday, which raises an eyebrow because the Lions are coming off a bye week. He did return to limited practice Thursday, and the expectation is he will continue to play through the injury. Just how much he can deliver in the aerial offense remains to be seen. The hope seems to be that he will grow into the role as his knee improves. That all sounds reasonable as long as there are no setbacks, but Young is clearly not out of the woods.
Stephen Hill (hamstring) and Jeremy Kerley (illness, finger), New York Jets: Hill was unable to play last week because of the hamstring injury, but things seem to be looking up. He turned in limited practice Wednesday and Thursday. Even coach Rex Ryan said he expects Hill to play this week. Let's see him get through a Friday workout first. Meanwhile, Kerley was limited Wednesday but returned to full practice Thursday. It appears he will be available Sunday.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots (hand): Edelman returned to limited practice for the first time Thursday. Wait to see what he does Friday.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers (shoulder): He hasn't practiced yet and won't until at least Friday, said coach Mike McCarthy.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions (knee): Pettigrew was listed as a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday, but according to The Detroit News, he was just getting some extra rest. It will be nice to see him go through a regular workout Friday, but there does not appear to be any serious injury.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets (hamstring): Keller's hamstring has been very problematic. He has not played since sustaining the injury in the first game of the season and has already endured one setback. After not practicing last week, Keller was able to function as a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday, so there is some progress. The last time Ryan said he expected Keller to play, he aggravated the hamstring in practice. If that doesn't happen again, Keller could see his first game action in more than a month.
On a final note, don't forget to adjust lineups for teams on a bye this week -- Chicago, New Orleans, Carolina and Jacksonville. They will not appear on the NFL official injury reports.
A fourth of the season has passed already and the injuries keep piling on. The New York Jets have been on the receiving end of two of the biggest blows, losing cornerback Darrelle Revis to a torn ACL in Week 3 and wide receiver Santonio Holmes this past Sunday to a Lisfranc injury. Holmes is expected to undergo surgery in the near future and faces a lengthy rehabilitation and recovery process. The good news for both Revis and Holmes is that they should make full recoveries.
Every other team is facing their own injury concerns as they try to field healthy squads from one Sunday to the next. Here's who else we're keeping an eye on in Week 5.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans, (toe): Tate's sprained toe has kept him out of practice so far this week, enough to raise some concern for his availability in Week 5. According to Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com, coach Gary Kubiak said Tate will also be held out Friday to give his toe additional rest. The team will allow him to test it Saturday but will also prepare Justin Forsett, "just in case." The Texans don't play until Monday night meaning fantasy owners should also make alternate plans, "just in case."
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears, (ankle): Forte has been held to limited practices this week but that's no surprise given the Monday game. He came through without a setback but is still in the process of recovering. He's expected to play this Sunday.
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins, (hip): The good news is we're not talking about Bush's knee. Unfortunately he is still on the injury report but Bush bumped up his practice level Thursday to full after being limited Wednesday. This does not seem to present a serious threat to his status for Sunday.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles, (knee): After last week's game coach Andy Reid indicated McCoy had "tweaked" his knee. It certainly doesn't appear serious since he has practiced fully every day this week.
Evan Royster, Washington Redskins, (knee): Royster remains on the injury report as a limited participant with his strained patellar tendon. Alfred Morris is the unquestioned leader here, the actual question is where Royster will mix in with recently acquired Ryan Grant.
Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs, (ankle): Hillis is still not practicing this week due to a sprained ankle and should not be counted on for Sunday.
Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco 49ers, (knee): Jacobs appears to be making good progress with his knee which he injured in the preseason. He participated in full practice Wednesday and looks as if he could be available this Sunday. It was Jacobs who told the 49ers official site," I want to get out there and really be a part of it." No word yet on whether he'll be given the green light.
Wide ReceiversHakeem Nicks, New York Giants, (foot/knee): Nicks continues to struggle with soreness in his surgically repaired foot and persistent swelling in his knee. The Giants have already ruled him out for Week 5, and at this point are offering no forecast as to when he might return. While the team attributes his absence to both body parts, there hasn't been anything to suggest he has gone backwards with his foot. His absence in Week 3 was not completely out of the realm of reasonable after only three days' rest following his first significant post-surgical game action. The following week, it was the issues with his knee which didn't allow him to test himself in practice. If his foot is still sore, which is not unexpected in light of his recently ramped up activity, there is no way the team would allow him to push it when he also has a swollen knee. If Nicks is compromised because of his knee it raises the possibility of creating a far more serious problem with his still recovering foot and simply makes for a bad combination. The worry will go up next week if we hear that his knee is still failing to progress. For now there is not much definitive information to go on and so Nicks' status remains in a holding pattern. Looking ahead to this Sunday, Ramses Barden is still recovering from a concussion sustained in Week 4, meaning the Giants are again lean at wide receiver. Domenik Hixon will presumably get the start in place of Nicks.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers, (groin): On Tuesday we talked about the possibility that Jennings would sit out to allow the groin to heal completely. It appears he is doing just that as he has already been ruled out for Week 5. For those who are wondering just how long Jennings can be expected to be sidelined, he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "We don't know what the timetable is." He's being truthful. As is the case with most soft tissue injuries, progression is made based on how the player feels. Typically that progression is advanced more slowly when a player has already suffered a setback like Jennings did in Week 4. Translation: Wait and see.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins, (foot): It does finally appear as if Garcon has turned a corner with regards to his ailing foot. It's not a full 180 degree turnaround just yet, perhaps it's more like a soft curve which is trending in the right direction. Garcon managed to get through last week's game -- his first since Week 1 -- without a setback and this week he has resumed full practice with the team. He told the Washington Post, "It's going to take some time to feel back like my old self, like it was in training camp," but added, "It's getting better every day." That is exactly what fantasy owners want to hear.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, (groin): Johnson was limited on Thursday but the Texans have been routinely resting him early in the week. Although they don't play until Monday night there seems to be little reason to doubt Johnson will suit up, so plan on using him as you normally would.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons, (hand): Jones appeared to be impaired by the laceration on his hand in Week 4, catching only one ball. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Eight targets and one catch is not a good percentage. Julio's hand is not 100 percent." For his part, Jones told the Falcons' official website that last week's performance had nothing to do with the hand and more to do with the defensive coverage he was facing. With regards to this week Jones said simply, "I'm ready to go." The good news is that regardless of whether his hand affected him or not, with another week there has been more time for the cut to heal. Jones was a full participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to be a full go this weekend.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans, (ankle): Britt did not play in Week 4 because of an ankle injury and it now looks as if he could miss another game. He has not practiced this week although he is doing some individual work on the side, including some running. According to the Tennessean, coach Mike Munchak said of Britt on Wednesday, "There's no doubt he's going to have to improve the next couple of days to help us on Sunday.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens, (ankle): Smith left last week's game appearing to favor his ankle but he's practiced fully every day this week and is on track to play.
Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints, (hamstring): Moore has been added to the Saints injury report with a hamstring strain and has not practiced so far this week. That makes his status iffy at best and the Saints don't play until Sunday night. It might be best to make an alternate plan.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, (hand): Edelman has still not practiced at all this week. Not encouraging for his chances for Sunday.
Tight Ends:Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle), New England Patriots: Gronkowski played last week despite the hip injury so he should play again this Sunday. He sat out Wednesday practice but was back on a limited basis Thursday. The more interesting tidbit is seeing the return of Aaron Hernandez to a limited practice on Thursday. Hernandez has been out since suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 2. This is very early in the return-to-activity phase so color me skeptical about any rumor he will return this Sunday. This is a great sign that he is making progress as expected but there is a long ways to go before returning to game action where there is easy risk of re-injury.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans, (shoulder): Cook remains limited in practice so far this week but it appears to be a proactive measure. After playing last Sunday, albeit in a limited role coming off his shoulder injury, the expectation is Cook will play again this week when the Titans visit the Vikings.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets, (hamstring): As if the Jets don't have enough injury issues, Keller continues to be sidelined with a hamstring strain. He has not practiced yet this week and with the Jets playing on Monday night, his uncertain status is risky.
And on a final note ...
Bills running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are both off the injury report this week.
Despite all their injury news at other positions, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is no longer on the injury report.
Welcome back, NFL referees! Tonight will mark their season debut in Baltimore as the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns. I have no doubt that they, like players who do not start the season on time because of contract disputes, have been maintaining their workout programs in order to be ready at the drop of a hat. But I wonder if they, like the players, will take some time to adapt to the speed of the game and will we potentially see an increased injury rate in the referees in-season this year? Something to keep an eye on.
Here's who else we're keeping an eye on in Week 4.
However they decide to label it, here's what we know: Stafford did not practice Wednesday but did return Thursday, a good sign that he is preparing to be available Sunday.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots (right shoulder): If you've missed seeing Brady's name on the injury report this year, well, he's back. And it's the same body part he was listed with when he went on that record streak of injury report appearances a few years running. He was limited at practice Wednesday but expect him to play, as always.
John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (ankle): Skelton began limited practices last Thursday and that's how he started off this week. Still recovering from a sprained ankle, he returned to limited practice again this week. Right now it looks as if Kevin Kolb will stay under center.
Tingling is a hallmark nerve symptom; when the tingling happens in both hands at the same time, it's a signal that the spinal cord is involved. The medical staff was understandably cautious when Bradshaw reported the symptoms and, after evaluating him, determined he could remain at the game, but could not return to play in the game. Bradshaw underwent a subsequent MRI, where the disc issue was detected. While disc injuries can be serious, they can also be fairly benign. It's not uncommon for bulging discs to be present and be completely asymptomatic. If there is an event that results in inflammation, it can become painful or provoke nerve tissue in the area (this is perhaps what Bradshaw was trying to explain when he referenced an "inflamed disc"). Often once the inflammation resolves, the symptoms do as well. It appears this was the case with Bradshaw.
Bradshaw has practiced fully both Wednesday and Thursday and is on track to resume his starting role Sunday against the Eagles. The Giants would not return him to play if he was at any significant risk, and his clearance to return indicates his neurological symptoms have resolved. The unknown aspect is whether these symptoms will return. There is no true predictability one way or another, however, it is not uncommon to have more than one episode once a disc injury is present. Those episodes can be weeks, months or even years apart. And in some cases, there is no recurrence.
Those who make their living at a computer are at as much, if not more, risk than professional football players for developing disc problems in their neck and back. So if everyone on a laptop is going to continue to work, Bradshaw can too. If Bradshaw's neck does turn into a recurring problem then his status may change, but until that time, he can be expected to play.
Jackson has made an impressive recovery of his own from a right lateral knee sprain. He returned to limited practice Wednesday but emerged seeming less than thrilled with the result. Jackson told the Buffalo News on Thursday, "I was a little sore ... a little swollen." It's not terribly surprising that Jackson's knee would respond that way to the increased activity; the question was whether he would have to scale it back further on the second day. Apparently not. There were no lingering effects into Thursday afternoon's practice and Jackson participated in most of it, according to the News. After practice, coach Chan Gailey told reporters, "I think if we make it through the next couple days and continue to improve I think [Jackson] will have the opportunity to play."
There is still plenty of time for things to change but it appears to be shaping up for Jackson to be available along with a healthy Tashard Choice, while Spiller likely rests another week.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (groin): Jackson did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but this week isn't so much about whether he'll play or not, it's about what can be expected. Last Sunday, Jackson gained only 29 yards rushing on 11 carries, most of which were very short gains with the exception of one run for 13 yards. Jackson acknowledged the injury affected him but also said he didn't suffer any setbacks. Until we see him running full speed, there will be some question as to whether the injury is truly behind him.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans (knee): Foster took in a light practice Wednesday but was back at it in full on Thursday. So far, so good.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (shoulder): McFadden's presence here is a reminder that sometimes players appear on injury reports with very minor ailments -- bumps and bruise from a game -- because they take fewer reps in practice to preserve their bodies. Of course we all understand why there is a slight panic for fantasy owners when it's McFadden's name that appears here. While Oakland's official Thursday injury report is not in at the time of this writing, a source tells me he is participating and is "fine."
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins (knee): On Tuesday we highlighted Bush's knee concerns, but the real question was whether we would see him in practice. After being held out Wednesday, Bush returned to limited practice Thursday and was running well. If he can put in another good effort Friday, it appears he will play Sunday.
Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos (rib): On Tuesday, we discussed what would determine whether McGahee could play this week, and his limited participation in practice Wednesday with a bump up to full participation Thursday shows he is on track.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (rib): Another running back, another rib injury. There isn't much concern here because McCoy practiced fully both Wednesday and Thursday.
Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions (groin): Leshoure was limited in practice because of a groin injury but keep in mind, he is coming into this season off major surgery (Achilles repair). There is no indication that his Sunday status is in jeopardy, but Friday's practice should yield better clues.
Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals (knee): With teammate Beanie Wells going on IR (designated for return, meaning he can return in Week 12), Williams has an opportunity to shine. He is listed on the report but put in full practice. His value is on the rise.
Evan Royster, Washington Redskins (knee): Royster strained his patellar tendon and has been held to limited practice so far this week. Roy Helu (turf toe) is now on IR, but Ryan Grant was just added to the mix so the Redskins can continue with a running back carousel.
Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs (ankle): Hillis has been in a walking boot since the game ended and has not practiced. It's not looking great for his chances to suit up this week. Teammate Jamaal Charles is not on the injury report this week, however. Kudos to Charles, who had an outstanding performance Sunday (233 rushing yards!) and showed some of the pre-injury speed on a 91-yard breakaway run. With Hillis possibly out and Charles showing improvement, he could be poised for a big week.
Wide ReceiversCalvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (ankle): Johnson has now been on the injury report each week but has never been at risk of not playing. Limited Wednesday, full practice Thursday, play Sunday.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (hip): Maclin's hip benefited from the rest in Week 3 and he claims he's much improved. Full practice both Wednesday and Thursday, and he is expected to play in the big matchup against the New York Giants on Sunday night.
The Redskins have maintained that Garcon can proceed based on how the foot feels, which tells us they're not overly concerned about the injury worsening. Still, pain exists to help prevent us from doing things that would lead to further injury, and depending on the location and quality of it, it is not necessarily something that can or should be overridden. With coach Mike Shanahan telling reporters Thursday that Garcon's foot is still sore and with Garcon continuing to be limited in practice (although he is making progress according to Shanahan), it appears he could miss another week.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (foot): I said it here Tuesday and I'll say it again: Expect Nicks to play in Week 4. He got the benefit of some extra rest for his sore foot last week, but returned to limited practice Thursday. He will be ready for Sunday night in Philadelphia.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (groin): Johnson practiced on a limited basis both days. There is reason to keep an eye on this, as Johnson suffered a groin injury in the preseason. But this has more the appearance of preserving a veteran star than anything else.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (hand): The Falcons announced that Jones suffered a laceration (cut) to his hand, which is why he left the game briefly Sunday. He has been limited in practice, likely to protect the hand and help it to heal. He is expected to play.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans (ankle): According to the Tennessean, Britt described his cascade of injury after injury as "very frustrating." Britt went on to say, "It's like something I can't get right, injury after injury. The last healthy season I had was my rookie year." This has been an overarching concern with Britt for the last few years. A very serious hamstring injury derailed his season two years ago. He headed into 2011 with his quad and hamstring nagging at him, then tore his ACL later that year. During his recovery following reconstructive knee surgery, he needed a follow-up scope and an additional scope on the opposite knee. The Titans articulated their concern when he made his debut in Week 2, saying they planned to limit his touches. A week later he has yet another injury. And, although it is considered relatively minor, he has yet to practice this week. He still hopes to play, but the injury concerns will not disappear when he returns.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings played in the Monday night game but we all know his performance is hardly the thing we'll remember. He did appear to be at less than full speed at times but managed to play in the game and emerge no worse for the wear. He's been limited in practice since but looks to be in line to play this weekend when the Packers host the Saints.
Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs (elbow): On Tuesday we commented on how painful McCluster's injury looked so no one would have been surprised if he was not in practice this week. But there he was on Wednesday, wearing a brace and participating only in non-contact drills but he was out there nonetheless. On Thursday, he put in another limited practice. He's surprised so far, maybe he will again on Sunday.
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots (hand): Edelman has not practiced since injuring his hand in Sunday night's game. There's not much to go on here, but two missed practices aren't encouraging for Sunday.
Tight EndsDustin Keller, New York Jets (hamstring): Keller has not played since Week 1 because of his injured hamstring but it looks as if things will change this Sunday. He has been practicing on a limited basis and according to ESPNewYork's Rich Cimini, coach Rex Ryan says he expects Keller to play.
Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans (shoulder): On Tuesday we said Cook would need to show he could perform well enough to play and he appears to be on his way. Cook got Wednesday off but returned to limited practice Thursday. If he can do so again Friday, there is a good chance he will return this week.
Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos (groin): The groin can't be bothering him too much since he was able to practice fully both Wednesday and Thursday. It looks as if he'll be available in Week 4.
Other notesNew Orleans Saints WR Marques Colston does not appear on the injury report this week. He has been bothered by a case of plantar fasciitis that seemed to have limited him over the last two weeks. He played in Week 3 but had only three receptions for 40 yards. Perhaps his move off the injury report is a sign things are improving.
Don't forget to adjust your lineups! This is the first week of team byes. Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts are off this week so they do not appear on the NFL official injury report.
Week 3 is in the books! What a week for injuries. Several players suffered season-ending injuries, including New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who tore his left ACL and is expected to undergo season-ending surgery within the next few weeks. The Dallas Cowboys lost defensive back Barry Church to a torn right Achilles tendon. And Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie, who was making his season debut after a delayed start because of concussion, suffered a season-ending patellar tendon rupture. Given Collie's extensive and serious injury history, his future in the NFL appears uncertain. As for the slate of other injuries, here's what we're looking at to start the week.
QuarterbacksMatthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (leg): Stafford told the Detroit Free Press after Sunday's game that he felt a pull in his hamstring or glute area and he just couldn't run at full power, hence his fourth-quarter exit. He also indicated this was something he'd felt earlier in the week during practice and then it flared up during the game. He was scheduled for an MRI on Monday, but there has been little in the way of specifics since. As is his routine, head coach Jim Schwartz offered nothing substantial, but he did tell reporters he would make a decision about Stafford's status by Friday.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans (ear): This might be a first, listing "ear" as the injured body part. Schaub took a vicious hit that knocked his helmet off, and he immediately grabbed the side of his head. The reason, it turned out, was the helmet took a piece of his left ear with it when it sailed off his head. Schaub, remarkably, missed only one play. He also visited the locker room in the third quarter for X-rays on his left shoulder (which obviously came back negative). Bruised but not broken, Schaub was back in practice Monday, according to the Texans' official website. Looks like it will be business as usual come Sunday.
The Bills have not formally declared the nature of Spiller's injury, referring to it only as his shoulder. During an appearance on "The Fred Jackson Show" in Buffalo on Monday night, Spiller said when asked what the injury was being called, "I'm not sure yet." Spiller noted that he had undergone several tests but, most importantly, commented on how much improvement there had been in just over 24 hours. "Actually, I'm very surprised the movement that we have in it," Spiller said. "I got the full range of motion, which is really weird when you have an injury like I do."
Spiller remained guarded about his availability for Week 4. "I definitely want to get out there, but we also want to be smart about it." According to the Buffalo News, head coach Chan Gailey said Spiller was unlikely to play but added the Bills were "not going to completely rule him out."
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins (knee): Bush left Sunday's game against the Jets in the first half with a left knee injury. He was seen limping slightly, then riding the stationary bike later. Bush, who has an injury history that includes a sprained PCL, a torn meniscus, a fractured fibula (the latter to his right leg) and several arthroscopic knee surgeries, underwent an MRI on Monday to assess the damage. The good news is that there was no major damage to report, and Bush has not yet been ruled out for Week 4. Until he gets through some practice reps, he is not a lock to play, but this is certainly more encouraging than initially thought. Unfortunately, there is a potential cumulative toll of these injuries on Bush's knee health over the long haul.
Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos (ribs): McGahee left Sunday's game against the Texans because of a rib injury. On Monday, the Denver Post reported McGahee's status as day-to-day according to head coach John Fox. Fox also indicated McGahee's injury involved the rib cartilage (which connects the ribs to the sternum). From a pain perspective, there isn't much difference. The ribs themselves can fracture, but the cartilage can also crack if the damage is significant enough. There are also numerous small muscles in the rib cage that can cause pain if bruised or torn. The problem with all of these injuries is they are often slow to completely heal, but the decision to play typically comes down to whether a player can perform in the presence of pain or not.
Wide ReceiversMiles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (rib): Austin left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter to get X-rays on his ribs. Clearly the results were negative since he returned to the game shortly thereafter and continued to add to his fantasy numbers. No one was talking about his hamstring or ribs after he posted more than 100 yards.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders (concussion/neck): The sight of any player lying motionless on the ground, then being spine boarded and transported to a hospital for evaluation, is frightening. The best news possible came the next day when it was announced that Heyward-Bey had been released from the hospital after suffering a neck strain and a concussion and that he is expected to make a full recovery. No fracture, no spinal cord injury. And no talk of football right now. As is the case with all athletes who sustain head injuries, Heyward Bey's progress will be monitored closely and his activity will be increased on a gradual basis.
Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs (elbow): McCluster landed awkwardly on an outstretched arm and his elbow appeared to buckle. He was in obvious pain and the medical staff tended to him briefly on the field before escorting him off. After the game, the Kansas City Star noted McCluster was in a sling, but the Chiefs have not offered a specific injury update since then. McCluster had been on the injury report the previous week with a shoulder injury. It would not be a surprise if he ends up missing at least this week.
Tight EndsJared Cook, Tennessee Titans (shoulder): Cook injured his shoulder late in the first half and it was reported by The Tennessean to be an AC sprain (see: C.J. Spiller note). Cook was in a sling following the game, but the Titans sound as if they expect him to be available in Week 4. Still, he'll need to show in practice that he can get his arm sufficiently elevated and absorb some contact through that side in order to play.
We're keeping an eye onAhmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (neck): Bradshaw missed Week 3 with a neck injury and the team offered no details as to the specifics, including how much time he might miss. After visiting with team doctors Monday, however, Bradshaw, who had just received clearance to return to practice, tweeted the following: "Great news! Thanks everyone for ur thoughts and prayers. But u dnt understand, I'm Ready to rock #bigblue #health." Bradshaw's level of activity in practice this week should offer clues as to his readiness to return to play. Of course, teammate Andre Brown filled in admirably during Bradshaw's absence and he won't disappear completely when Bradshaw returns.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears (ankle): According to the Chicago Tribune, coach Lovie Smith says "hopefully" Forte will return to practice this week. That's still quite a ways removed from returning to play. The Bears are also working out running back Ryan Grant on Tuesday, according to ESPN Chicago.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (hip): After sitting out Week 3 because of a hip injury, Maclin is expected to return to practice this week and be available Sunday.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (foot): Nicks missed the Thursday night game in Week 3 because of soreness in his surgically repaired foot. After the extra rest, he is expected to return in Week 4.
This week's Thursday night game has the New York Giants visiting the Carolina Panthers. The Giants will be without two key fantasy players, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Although the news, especially the surprise downgrade of Nicks, had fantasy owners less than thrilled, the Giants thoughtfully informed everyone of this status change Wednesday, leaving ample time for roster adjustments. There is, however, at least one player in this contest whose status will come down to just before game time.
This week, however, Stewart remains on the injury report but with a notable addition, his toe. (Even though it is not listed on the official NFL injury report, Rivera talked about Stewart's toe limiting him in addition to his ankle.) The addition is of slightly more concern given Stewart's extensive history of foot injuries dating back to his University of Oregon days. He has not yet practiced, this is a short week (translation: less total rest for an ailing foot), and Rivera declared him a game-time decision. Because Stewart hasn't practiced this week, it's difficult to gauge how much the toe would impact him in a game, if at all. (The ankle did not appear to limit him last week.)
In Week 1, Stewart was showing some improvement by Friday, was listed as a game-time decision and then did not play. It doesn't mean he won't suit up this time, but Rivera told the Charlotte Observer, "It's one of those things where if we're playing on Sunday, he's got a much, much better chance than he does if we're playing on Thursday." Fantasy owners should be prepared to make a late lineup switch.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, neck (out): As noted above, Bradshaw has been ruled out for this game after suffering a neck sprain in Sunday's game. In Tuesday's blog entry, I mentioned the vague terminology used to describe Bradshaw's condition, and the Giants have left it at that. They have not shared the results from Bradshaw's MRI taken Monday, and he has not practiced. Given that a "sprain" typically refers to ligament or joint capsule damage and that there are double-digit numbers of tiny joints within the neck area, a literal interpretation of the diagnosis makes it impossible to localize the injury. In reality, it is often difficult to specifically localize spine injuries, as a big hit or awkward movement of the neck can affect many different structures simultaneously, even if only to a minor degree. In the absence of anything more definitive, the only measure of progress will be Bradshaw's function, as in when he is allowed to begin practicing and how his activity increases. Whether that will take several days or more than a week is unclear at this point, and the Giants likely won't provide any additional information until next week.
In the days between the first and second game of the season, the Giants controlled Nicks' practice activity, clearly a wise move. Nicks broke loose in the second game to the tune of 199 yards and a score. He could be seen limping at one point but did return to the game. He later acknowledged being stepped on but downplayed the seriousness of the incident. Earlier in the week, although Nicks was listed as questionable, it appeared he would play, but lingering soreness Wednesday morning changed the minds of the decision-makers.
So how worried should fantasy owners be? Obviously, it would be preferable if Nicks felt fine and wasn't missing a game. Still, it's hardly time to panic. Nicks went from virtually two months of downtime during his recovery from surgery and missing virtually all of training camp and the preseason to playing in the season opener. His activity increased dramatically in the second week, likely contributing to some increased foot soreness. With the Week 3 game coming just five days later and Nicks experiencing pain, it would make sense to rest him now, giving his foot an additional 10 days to recover. The two-week downtime should help significantly. It would be a surprise to not see him in Week 4.
Domenik Hixon, New York Giants, concussion (out): Hixon suffered a concussion in Week 2 and will miss Thursday night's game. The combination of Hixon and Nicks being out this week gives Ramses Barden a chance to line up opposite Victor Cruz.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers, knee (P): Smith has had intermittent soreness in his right knee, and his status in Week 2 was less certain. This week, there is less doubt, but fewer numbers of practice reps will keep a player on the injury report (and given the short week, that comes as no surprise). Smith was held to limited practice Tuesday but was listed as a full participant Wednesday. With a probable designation, he is expected to play.
Week 2 is in the books. This week there was a new set of players added to the injury list as well as a few carryovers from Week 1. Here's what we're looking at to start the week.
On Tuesday, coach Tom Coughlin did not elaborate on Bradshaw's injury, other than to say he is holding out hope he can play Thursday.
With the Giants having only four days between games this week, Bradshaw's status is clearly in question. The Giants have been very effective in managing the practice time of some of their key players during the week (e.g., Hakeem Nicks this past week and Bradshaw much of the second half of last season) so they can play on Sunday. The issue this week is whether there will have been enough recovery between games to allow Bradshaw to safely participate.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams (groin): When Jackson was suddenly out of Sunday's game and the last thing anyone saw was him spiking a ball, there was a question as to whether there was a message being sent. Not so. Shortly after the game, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said during a Sirius XM radio interview that Jackson had injured his groin. That was later confirmed by coach Jeff Fisher, who noted Jackson had a strained groin, which was the reason for his absence. In fact, Fisher told reporters Jackson could have returned if Daryl Richardson, who replaced Jackson, had struggled. Clearly, Richardson held his own and Jackson did not return.
As to what to expect from Jackson this week, it is too soon to know. He has dealt with groin injuries in the past that have caused him to miss time. While this did not have the initial appearance of anything serious (after all, no one even saw it happen, and if hadn't sat out the remainder of the game, there would have been no question), it is often not until players test these ailments that we get an idea of how much an injury will limit them. Late-week practice should provide further clues but it might be wise to secure a backup (Richardson, perhaps?) just in case.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (knee): Charles was not involved much in the second half of Sunday's game, which prompted the question as to whether he was injured or just resting. It sounds like a little of both.
The Kansas City Star reports Charles had soreness in his surgically reconstructed knee and the thought was that it was better to rest him the remainder of the game rather than expose him to further risk. It does not appear to have been anything serious, and the early rest in Week 2 might prove helpful in protecting the health of his knee. It sounds as if the Chiefs are expecting him to return in Week 3.
Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers (foot): Dwyer was listed on last week's injury report because of his foot but was expected to play and did. Now the Beaver County Times reports Dwyer has a turf toe injury, which might explain his limited production in Week 2. After all, coach Mike Tomlin had indicated after the season opener that Dwyer had earned a bigger opportunity. With Rashard Mendenhall returning to pads in practice this week, the running back situation becomes more complex in Pittsburgh. It seems likely the Steelers will hold Mendenhall out until after their early bye week, though, to allow him some more time to adapt to the increased activity.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (knee): Jackson obviously did not play in Week 2 after suffering a sprained LCL in the season opener. After a week of rehabilitation and recovery, Jackson received some positive news. It appears he is going to be able to begin some light running in a brace this week, and, according to the Buffalo News, Jackson expects to return on the shorter end of his projected timetable. "The doc said that it's coming along, that at this rate it wouldn't be the full eight weeks," Jackson said. "Like I said before, I wanted to be back in four weeks, and he said that was a definite possibility and it will happen as long as we don't hit a snag anywhere."
Wide ReceiversJeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (hip): Maclin was questionable heading into Week 2 with a hip injury, was active for the game, then left early because of the same hip. Now he'll be a bigger question mark heading into Week 3. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, coach Andy Reid called Maclin "day-to-day." The Inquirer also noted that after the game, Maclin described this injury as more serious than the first. That doesn't bode well for him, considering Friday was his only day of practice last week. If he is unable to practice at all, he will be a big question mark.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (foot): Seeing Nicks limping during Sunday's game had some fantasy owners panicking, despite his stellar performance. It turns out Nicks had his foot stepped on during the game and he was understandably experiencing some additional soreness. Nicks has been playing in the presence of some residual soreness since undergoing foot surgery this summer, but Sunday he showed he was returning to football shape.
Although he was listed as a non-participant for Monday's practice, he is expected to play Thursday night.
The Patriots have not labeled the injury to Hernandez other than acknowledging it is his ankle, but the sight of him leaving the stadium on crutches and in a walking boot conveys the seriousness of it. Don't be surprised if Hernandez is out upward of a month. It is critical -- especially since he is so early in his career -- that his ankle heals completely before he returns to protect against long-term instability and degenerative changes. Expect the Patriots to take this one slowly to protect their big investment.
And we're keeping an eye onRyan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers (shoulder): After being cleared for contact last Thursday, Mathews knew his return date was approaching, but waiting another week might have been the best plan. Mathews was working diligently to stay in shape, but there's nothing quite like actual practice reps to prepare for a game. The prevailing feeling in San Diego is that he will make his season debut this coming weekend, assuming all goes well in practice this week.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers (ribs): Gates was a surprise inactive Sunday, especially given his return to the game the previous Monday night after the injury and his return to practice last Friday. That is what makes projecting his status for this week far more difficult. Here's hoping he's back in practice by late week so there are fewer questions heading into Sunday.
Greg Jennings, WR Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings was not able to play in Week 2 with a groin injury after only four days' rest. The Packers' next game, though, is Monday night, meaning Jennings will have had extra recovery time. And let's not forget, he wanted to try to give it a go in Week 2. We'll see how he fares in practice but expect to see him back in Week 3.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears (ankle): Coach Lovie Smith says it's not a high ankle sprain, so what are fantasy owners to do now? Worry less about what the team is calling it and more about what Forte is actually doing. Either type of sprain can be minor or severe; it's just that high ankle sprains tend to be more disabling across the board. But Forte was outside Monday, and as noted by ESPN Chicago, he was not wearing a brace or a boot and "trotted" off the field, something we wouldn't necessarily have expected just four days after injury. While Smith said not to expect Forte to necessarily return to practice immediately, he also said Forte had not yet been ruled out of anything. More guessing for fantasy owners, but it certainly looks as if Forte escaped a more serious injury. It still would be a surprise to see him this week; however, it's looking as if his recovery could be quicker than initially expected.
It's here! It's here! The excitement generated by the arrival of the first official NFL game of the season puts it on par with many a national holiday. Tonight's matchup between the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and one of their fiercest division rivals in the Dallas Cowboys is certainly buzz-worthy.
Nothing, of course, can compare to the launch of fantasy football rivalries worldwide. All the preparation, all the intense study, all the chatter, banter and braggadocio now comes down to the actual playing of games and the strategic setting of lineups. And what could be more threatening to an ideal lineup than injury concerns?
With those concerns in mind, here are the official injury report designations for Wednesday night's game, along with a few thoughts as to what it means for your fantasy teams.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys, (abdomen [D]): Witten might have the most talked about spleen in the history of sports. After suffering a laceration to his abdominal organ in his first preseason game, Witten was put on strict rest to allow the spleen to heal. After escaping the original threat of surgery, the biggest risk for Witten is possible reinjury. Returning too soon before the spleen has returned to normal would make it vulnerable to retearing, which could lead to serious internal bleeding. In the worst-case scenario, it could present a life-threatening situation. It is with those concerns in mind that the decision about Witten's return to football have been made.
The good news is that Witten appears to have suffered the least serious form of injury (Jerry Jones referred to Witten's laceration as a Grade 1) and that he seems to be healing well (Witten returned to practice Saturday, although he was limited to noncontact). Still, the doubtful tag strongly suggests Witten will sit out the opener. With an additional 11 days until the Cowboys' second game, it seems likely that his season debut will be postponed for at least a week.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (foot [Q]): Nicks suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in minicamp and immediately underwent surgery to repair it, giving him the best chance of being ready for the season opener. Despite being listed as questionable, Nicks is expected to play Wednesday night, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk.
Nicks has been working his way back from the surgery throughout the preseason, gradually increasing his activity and only joining the team in practice in mid-August. He did see game action, albeit very limited, in the team's preseason finale. Some soreness in the foot kept him out of practice for several days afterward, raising some eyebrows as to his game status. Nicks did return to a limited practice Tuesday, and for his part, he has insisted he will play.
Soreness post-surgery, especially as workload is ramping up, is not unusual. The bigger challenge for Nicks initially will be performing at game speed for an entire game after seeing only limited reps throughout the preseason. Nicks has certainly played and performed well through significant discomfort in the past. It may take a bit to get his football conditioning back to where he expects it to be, but the foot will not keep Nicks from seeing the field tonight.
Miles Austin (hamstring) and Dez Bryant (knee), WR, Dallas Cowboys, (P): Austin has been sidelined for much of the preseason, just as he was last year, by a balky hamstring. In 2011, Austin started the season on time but was injured again by Week 2. Ultimately, injuries to both hamstrings resulted in six missed games.
The big question headed into this season was how well his hamstrings would hold up, a question that got an unfavorable response when Austin felt the hamstring act up during practice in early August. That was enough for the Cowboys to decide to hold him out the rest of the preseason. Instead, Austin worked out on his own and under the watchful eye of the rehab staff until he returned to full practice late last week. He is expected to start Wednesday night and there will no doubt be fingers crossed that he makes it through the game unscathed. There is no doubt that Austin is productive when he's on the field; the concern is whether his legs will support him for a full season.
There is equal concern about whether Austin's teammate Dez Bryant can stay healthy. Bryant has dealt with ankle and thigh injuries over the past two seasons and this preseason did little to quiet the concerns. Bryant was limited by a sore hamstring early in camp. Midway through August, he suffered a separate injury during practice involving his right knee. Tests showed no apparent significant structural damage and the team termed Bryant's condition as patellar tendinitis, something not typically associated with an acute injury. In any event, he remained limited in practice until just last week. Bryant is expected to play Wednesday night, but the concern going forward is whether the knee will flare up again sooner rather than later.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (hand [P]): Bradshaw underwent another procedure on his ailing foot in the offseason, which he believes helped him turn the corner in what had become a chronic pain situation. After suffering a stress fracture in his foot near his surgically implanted screw during the season, Bradshaw underwent a procedure this spring that involved injection of a stem cell paste (utilizing his own cells drawn from bone marrow in his hip) into the foot. During my visit to Giants camp, Bradshaw told me he felt like he was running "free and easy," adding that it was the best he had felt in a long time. In fact, it was the first camp in which he had been able to run and practice every day without hesitation.
Then came the Giants' second preseason game and Bradshaw exited early, not because of a problem with his foot but because of an injury to his right hand, the result of a hit to another player's helmet. According to The (Newark) Star-Ledger, Bradshaw said afterward that he popped a cyst on the top of his hand, near his index finger. Nothing was broken and the injury was minor. Still, the Giants held Bradshaw out of the final two preseason games as a precaution.
Bradshaw is listed on the injury report because of his hand, not his foot, which is a good thing. He was a full participant in practice in the days leading up to this first game of the season. At probable, he is expected to play and there are no real concerns that this will impact his performance.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (wrist [P]): Murray's 2011 season ended early when he fractured his right ankle, but he bounced back after surgery to deliver a strong training camp and preseason performance. In the Cowboys' preseason finale, Murray banged his hand and thus is listed on the injury report. Murray did re-enter the game briefly and has practiced fully all week, so this is not a major concern. Expect Murray to be a full go for the season opener.
If you're still alive in your fantasy playoffs, your new year is getting off to a good start. With a full slate of games on New Year's Day, you have 32 teams that could help crown you champion. Or, you could have 32 teams that combine to sink your season by resting their star players, particularly those who are at less than 100 percent health (who is at 100 percent health at this stage anyway?), in advance of the real playoffs or because they have no hope for the playoffs. Whom can you count on? We are in search of that answer as the final games of the 2011 regular season approach. Here's what we're hearing midweek.
Quick HitsTom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: This is the biggest nonstory story of the week. Brady took a number of hits to his nonthrowing (left) shoulder last week, and Tom Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England reported that Brady underwent X-rays to rule out a shoulder separation. Apparently there were no significant findings, and after sitting out practice Wednesday (noninjury related, according to the Patriots), Brady was at least present for the portion of practice open to the media Thursday, although how much activity he did is unclear. It sounds as if the team is understandably conserving his stamina for Sunday, when the Patriots are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Brady has played through far worse, including, as many longtime fantasy players might remember, a sore throwing shoulder that had him on the injury report for record time. He will play Sunday, and while he perhaps would prefer not to take hard hits on his left shoulder, it should not affect his game.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger's high ankle sprain got an extra week of recovery when he sat out Week 16, and he now appears on track to play this Sunday. Roethlisberger was listed as a full participant in practice both Wednesday and Thursday, and acknowledges that while he still has pain in the ankle, he is improving. Expect Roethlisberger to play Sunday, barring a setback. Whether he will play the entire game is impossible to predict at this stage, and it might ultimately depend on how his ankle responds that day.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Johnson has missed three games since suffering his second hamstring injury of the season and made it clear he wanted to get back into a regular-season game before heading into the playoffs. It appears he will get his wish, as Johnson has practiced this week and coach Gary Kubiak indicated he is in line to play Sunday. It appears the Texans do not plan to use Johnson the entire game, as Kubiak suggested they would aim for 15 to 20 plays. Who can blame them after the spate of severe injuries their key players have endured this season? So while they will support Johnson getting some in-game work, they are not likely to take excessive risk. The question for fantasy owners is whether a limited appearance from Johnson will translate to significant point production.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins: After being a pregame scratch in Week 16 because of a painful toe, Helu has returned to limited practice this week. He says he expects to play, but the combination of his being less than 100 percent and a nice performance last week by Evan Royster makes this week's outlook unclear.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: Bradshaw has settled into a routine of not practicing early in the week but returning Friday and playing Sunday. It appears that could be the case again, and the Giants have everything to play for Sunday night.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: You probably are not in your fantasy championship if you were counting on McFadden to be back, since he now has gone 67 days without practicing. He is not headed to injured reserve, so there still is an opportunity if the Raiders make the playoffs. However, fantasy owners are left hoping for a full offseason recovery.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders: Ford now is back in practice on a limited basis. His participation on back-to-back days is encouraging, but it is not yet clear whether he will be in the lineup Sunday.
James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: Starks did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and his status for Sunday is looking grim. At this point, it's more important for the Packers to have him healthy for the playoffs, so do not plan on seeing him in Week 17.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jones-Drew had an ankle injury heading into last week's game and managed to play through it. He has not practiced yet this week, but there seems to be little doubt that this is just rest in advance of Sunday's game.
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: Bush has had a resurgence of his career in Miami and wants to finish the season strong. His absence from practice both Wednesday and Thursday is a bit worrisome, considering he downplayed last week's injury to his right knee. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Bush is walking without a limp, but a knee injury to a running back with a history of knee issues is still concerning. If Bush is not practicing Friday, fantasy owners should be making alternate plans.
Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, WRs, New York Giants: On Saturday, Nicks aggravated the hamstring he injured earlier this season, and it kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. He made it clear he plans to play, however. According to ESPN New York, Nicks said, "It is all or nothing. It is playoffs now." That's not to say he'll be completely past it. Nicks and teammate Manningham both present some risk in that neither is expected to be completely beyond his injuries by the time Sunday rolls around. Manningham's struggles with swelling in his knee have been ongoing, but he turned in some limited work Wednesday and Thursday. Coach Tom Coughlin seems encouraged that Manningham will be available for this critical matchup.
Kevin Smith, RB, and Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: Smith's ankle is still in recovery mode, but he has turned in full practices this week. As noted Tuesday, the Lions signed Joique Bell from the practice squad, so it is difficult to assess just how Sunday's lineup will shape up. Johnson is listed on the injury report with an Achilles injury and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. There has been no indication that there is anything major to be concerned about regarding his health but his status for Sunday is unclear. While the Lions have made it sound as if it will be business as usual, it's hard to imagine their starters not being removed early at the very least, as this game does not hold much value (they're playing to keep the 5-seed in the playoffs).
Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, RBs, San Diego Chargers: Not what fantasy owners want to see -- both Chargers running backs returned to the injury report. Mathews, again listed with a calf injury, sat out Wednesday but was back to limited practice Thursday, suggesting he'll be available Sunday. Tolbert, however, was out both Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury, and his status is less certain.
See you at the injury chat Friday at 11 a.m. ET, and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 17 in the Saturday morning blog.
Week 12 is in the books and with three games happening on Thanksgiving, at least the pain of the cumulative injuries was spread out over several days.
• On Thursday, the Detroit Lions lost Kevin Smith late in the first half to an ankle sprain. The injury was reported as a high ankle sprain, but after the game Smith said the injury was not that bad. He told the Detroit News that he was cutting when someone fell on his ankle but pointed out he had 10 days to recover before the Lions' next game. Still, there are no guarantees with this type of injury that Smith will be ready to return. If Smith is unable to play, Maurice Morris would once again be in line for the start. As for Jahvid Best, he was placed on IR and is done for the season.
• In the Thursday nightcap, the Baltimore Ravens were without the services of linebacker Ray Lewis, but it didn't stop the defense from halting the San Francisco 49ers' win streak. Lewis is still nursing a toe injury and may not be ready to return in Week 13.
• Sunday was supposed to be a happy day for the Houston Texans as they saw the return of wide receiver Andre Johnson after six games missed due to a hamstring injury. Johnson managed to get through the game just fine (albeit a little tired, per head coach Gary Kubiak) but the Texans lost their second quarterback in two games when Matt Leinart, replacing injured starter Matt Schaub, suffered a fractured clavicle. The Texans confirmed that Leinart will undergo season-ending surgery. This is not Leinart's first experience with a broken collarbone. In October 2007, Leinart, then with the Arizona Cardinals, broke his left clavicle and was placed on injured reserve. For now, the Texans' starting quarterback is T.J. Yates, with newly acquired Jake Delhomme and Kellen Clemens as backups.
There were a number of players who sat out Week 12 and fantasy owners are hoping to get them back soon with fantasy playoffs approaching. Will they be back in Week 13?
• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was optimistic last week that he would play but fantasy owners who have seen the impact of high ankle sprains knew better. Peterson never really tested the ankle last week and was not ready for action. He may not be ready this week, either. While he's reportedly improving, until he takes the practice field, there's no independent way to judge how close he is to game action. Fantasy owners should prepare for the possibility of another week without Peterson.
• The Philadelphia Eagles play Thursday night and it won't likely be enough time to get two key players back. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, whose already ailing hamstring tightened up in practice last week, is trying to work his way back from two injuries. He did not practice Tuesday, the big prep day for a Thursday game, and is not expected to be available. Vince Young led the Tuesday practice for the quarterback position, indicating Michael Vick will almost assuredly miss another week because of his broken ribs. With 10 days between this game and the next one, both players have a chance to be ready for Week 14. A good sign for Vick is that, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadephia Inquirer, he was throwing some balls to receivers on the side. No word on how uncomfortable -- or accurate -- he was.
• The Oakland Raiders have their share of walking wounded, many of interest to playoff-bound fantasy owners. Running back Darren McFadden has now missed four games since suffering a midfoot sprain in Week 7. Largely invisible over the past few weeks as he received treatment on the foot, McFadden was out of the boot and walking around the team facility early this week. He was also seen working out on the side during team practice. While those are the most encouraging signs thus far for McFadden, there is still quite a bit more for him to do to return to action. The Raiders certainly have the luxury of ensuring McFadden's gradual progress, given how well Michael Bush has been playing in his place. Even when McFadden returns, which appears as if it won't be before Week 14, the team is likely to ease him back into action alongside Bush.
• Receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford both missed Week 12 with foot injuries. Moore was a bit of a surprise addition to last week's injury report when he showed up with a walking boot on his right foot after apparently injuring it in Week 11. Ford has been out for two weeks now, and while he claims his injury is different than McFadden's, it is similarly slow to progress. According to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, Ford expects to return to practice Thursday but does not hold out much hope for playing Sunday. It looks like another week of drought for fantasy owners when it comes to some key Raiders.
• Finally, Seattle Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice suffered a concussion Sunday, his second of the season. With the Seahawks playing Thursday, the expectation is that Rice will not be available.
See you on Thursday as the practice updates start to shape up the game plans for Week 13.
Let the games begin! There are no bye teams this week, so there will be a full complement of games. The only fantasy roster substitutions will be because of injury, of which there are plenty, unfortunately. Tonight also marks the first of the Thursday night games, which will run through all but the final week of the regular season. The Oakland Raiders face the San Diego Chargers in a division matchup with plenty of key fantasy players in the mix. Be sure to set those lineups early!
The Raiders will be without running back Darren McFadden, who has yet to resume running since suffering a midfoot sprain in Week 7. According to the Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Raiders will leave him behind on this trip in the hopes of having him in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings. McFadden is still in a walking boot, so he is not close to returning. In the meantime, Michael Bush starts in his place.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski returned in Week 9 after missing a game with a hamstring injury and kicked a 48-yard field goal. Although there was no word on his status immediately after that game, Janikowski did not practice at all this week. He is listed as questionable, but given that he is the only kicker on the roster headed into Thursday night's game, the plan is clearly for him to play. Still, as if there isn't enough evidence by now, the hamstring is unpredictable. The Raiders have to hope that Janikowski will not suffer any in-game setbacks.
On a positive note, the Chargers will be getting running back Ryan Mathews back after he missed Sunday's game with a groin injury. Mathews, currently listed as probable, was able to return to full practice Tuesday, the heaviest workday for teams playing Thursday.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been contending with a hamstring injury for a number of weeks but has managed to play despite not being at full health. However, on Sunday, Jackson turned in one of his strongest performances of the season and seemed to emerge no worse for the wear. He is expected to play after practicing in full all week and is no longer listed on the injury report.
Meanwhile, tight end Antonio Gates has an all too familiar plantar fascia problem that has plagued him since last season. Recently, however, Gates has been able to play and practice on a fairly consistent basis, albeit in a controlled manner. It appears Gates will play in Thursday night's game, his fourth straight game after missing three weeks earlier in the season.
• It's admittedly fatiguing reporting repeatedly on the status of Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, because it seems the story is unchanged. Johnson continues to do some work on his own, primarily running and individual workouts with the rehab staff, but so far, persistent soreness has prevented him from taking that next step and returning to the lineup. Johnson has not practiced, but on Thursday, coach Gary Kubiak said Johnson is "doing extremely well," according to Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com. He suggests if Johnson is able to practice Friday, he could be a game-time decision. It's worth noting that this has also been the case in previous weeks, but he hasn't played.
The Texans have maintained they would not automatically rest Johnson through the bye in Week 11, but the timing is hard to ignore. It has been clear since the date of the procedure that the goal of surgery was to have Johnson avoid dealing with a nagging, chronic injury. It makes sense, then, that he would not return prematurely following the procedure and risk a setback that would yield the same result. While Johnson has looked good running, he has not yet felt like himself. Until he does, he will not return, and again this week, the decision likely will be in Johnson's hands.
• New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram returned to limited practice Wednesday, his first since suffering a heel bruise in Week 7. Ingram followed up Wednesday's effort with a Thursday practice, a good sign that he is healing, but perhaps not enough to convince us that he's ready for games. It remains to be seen what he does on Friday but at this point, Ingram's status still appears questionable. Teammate Lance Moore was not in practice Thursday because of a tight hamstring, so keep an eye on what he is able to do Friday.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has a known stress fracture in his foot and has not practiced this week. The criterion for his return revolves around when he can resume running without pain. Until we see him doing just that, it is hard to see him taking to the field.
• The 49ers have an injury concern impacting one of their own key players. Running back Frank Gore sustained an ankle injury in Week 9 and has been limited in practice this week. Gore finished Sunday's game and is expected to suit up again. But Gore was seen favoring his ankle in practice, according to CSN Bay Area, and if it is still bothering him Sunday, Kendall Hunter might see some additional work.
• Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones did some increased work Monday to test his recovering left ankle. Jones has not practiced since. His return to rehab instead of the practice field suggests he will sit out his fourth consecutive game.
• Just as receiver Plaxico Burress seems to be getting in a rhythm with his quarterback, his back starts to act up. Last week, Burress entered the game questionable because of back spasms but managed to endure. This week, Burress has not practiced because of his back, but at his age and coming off extended time away from football, he may be awarded a little more recovery time. Stay tuned to see whether he returns to Friday practice.
See you at the injury chat Friday at 11 a.m. and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 10 in the Saturday morning blog!
Setbacks with hamstrings. That was the theme of Week 9, and it just might turn out to be the theme of the season. Consider the number of fantasy players whose seasons have already been significantly affected by hamstring injuries; names such as Miles Austin, Peyton Hillis, Andre Johnson and Daniel Thomas come to mind. Oh, wait! We're stealing the thunder of our Tuesday injury report, so here we go.
Likewise, the Oakland Raiders will be playing Thursday night, making all the more critical the status of running back Darren McFadden, who has been ruled out, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Heading into Sunday's contest, coach Hue Jackson had intimated that McFadden could be kept out of Week 9 with the Week 10 game coming just four days later. In other words, many expected McFadden to be ready to go Thursday. On Monday, we learned McFadden still had not tested his injured right foot running, casting doubt on his ability to be ready by Thursday. McFadden is just two weeks removed from the injury, and as noted in an earlier blog post, the midfoot is critical for transferring weight and injuries to the area can be tricky. Given McFadden's history of prior foot injuries, ensuring he is healthy enough to advance his activity is key to avoiding lingering problems. It appears Michael Bush will be in line for another start with Taiwan Jones as his backup.
Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis has had his share of challenges this season. Things did not get any easier when Hillis suffered a major setback in Friday practice, aggravating his hamstring injury on a running play. A subsequent MRI suggested the injury had increased in severity, and Hillis was expected to miss an additional two to four weeks, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Naturally, he sat out Sunday's game and already has been declared out for Week 10. Coach Pat Shurmur told reporters the team "has not discussed" placing Hillis on injured reserve. Meanwhile, teammate Montario Hardesty also has been declared out for Week 10 as he recovers from his calf injury. The struggling Chris Ogbonnaya remains the likely starter.
• The wait for Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson to return might go on a bit longer. Although Johnson worked out Monday, coach Gary Kubiak was unsure whether Johnson would practice Wednesday. The mantra remains the same: Johnson will not return until he feels 100 percent. Whether that is this week or after the team's Week 11 bye has not yet been determined.
• San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore sprained his left ankle in the second quarter of Sunday's game but continued to play. Although he appeared to be in serious discomfort after the game, subsequent X-rays came back negative, and both Gore and coach Jim Harbaugh have said he will be fine. Harbaugh told the Sacramento Bee, "He's feeling like Frank." Ah, just what Gore fantasy owners and 49ers fans want to hear. It sounds as if he is prepared for their big matchup Sunday against the New York Giants.
• But will the Giants have all their weapons on the field? Right now wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and running back Ahmad Bradshaw, both of whom sat out in Week 9 with injuries, have a chance to play Sunday. Nicks (hamstring) and Bradshaw (foot) were to be re-evaluated Tuesday, and whether they can return to practice later in the week should hint at their availability.
• The Indianapolis Colts really haven't had much in the way of positives this season. Now they might have suffered another big loss in tight end Dallas Clark, who sustained what the team referred to as a lower leg injury. He is expected to be out "more than a week," according to coach Jim Caldwell. Note the vague injury information from the Colts, which is standard. Even their hint of more than a week suggests seriousness on the part of the team.
• ESPN.com reports Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best is expected to miss Week 10. He is scheduled to meet with doctors and undergo further tests in what continues to be an ongoing recovery from the concussion he suffered in Week 6.
• The Buffalo Bills have lost their kicker, Rian Lindell, for an extended period with a serious shoulder injury. They have signed Dave Rayner, who filled in for Sebastian Janikowski for a week earlier this season, to take over for the near future.
We will continue to update these injuries and others as the week progresses.