Stephania Bell: Hines Ward

The injury aftermath from Week 7

October, 25, 2011

Anyone who plays fantasy football knows the trauma inflicted across rosters in the mess that was Week 7. There are, oh, a gazillion injury situations in play, so without further ado:

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireTim Hightower had seemingly retaken the Redskins' top running back slot last Sunday before suffering his season-ending knee injury.
Two more fantasy running backs were lost for the season Sunday. Washington Redskins running back Tim Hightower was just getting past his shoulder injury, but it was his leg that failed him this time. Hightower suffered a torn ACL in a classic non-contact, deceleration manner, so we won't see him until next season.

It's hard to know whether we'll see Earnest Graham again after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' veteran back, filling in for the injured LeGarrette Blount, suffered a torn Achilles tendon. With surgery and a lengthy recovery ahead of him, Graham may be challenged to return. In the meantime the Bucs, who have said nothing about Blount's specific injury or his progress (other than terming it a sprained knee), may be turning to some outside help to shore up their backfield. However, the Bucs do have a bye this week, but it is too soon to know whether Blount, who has yet to practice, will be ready by Week 9.

Tight end Chris Cooley never really got it going this season as a result of his ongoing knee ailment. He then fractured his index finger, requiring surgery and a lengthy recovery. He will now have plenty of time to recover from both as the Redskins have placed him on injured reserve. Fred Davis has proven to be quite capable in his place so far this year.

Quick Hits

They're all going to be quick hits this week gang given the number of injury items. As details emerge throughout the week, we will expound on them.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesOnce again, Matthew Stafford is dealing with an injury.
• For all those who took the under at Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford staying healthy through the first half of the season (officially through this Sunday; the Lions then have a bye in Week 9), don't rush to cash in just yet. Although Stafford was seen limping off the field late in Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons game after a defender fell on his right ankle, head coach Jim Schwartz is simply calling him "day-to-day," leaving open the possibility he is available this week. Schwartz did not go into details regarding the results of Stafford's imaging tests. My interpretation: nothing catastrophic, but some variant of a soft tissue injury. The key, as always, will be whether he can effectively plant and throw and move to protect himself.

• There were a pair of hand injuries suffered Sunday that require surgery. Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss underwent surgery Monday to insert pins in his broken left hand. He is projected to miss five to seven weeks. That timetable could be updated in about a month as the bone healing is evaluated. Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee fractured his fourth metacarpal (the long bone in the hand that runs from the base of the fourth finger to the wrist) and is scheduled for surgery to repair it on Tuesday. While McGahee acknowledged he would miss Week 8, he expressed confidence he could return by Week 9. That sounds optimistic. Consider Redskins running back Ryan Torain, who underwent surgery for his metacarpal fracture in August but took three and a half weeks to return to practice, and four weeks before he played in a game. While all injuries are unique, it would not be surprising if McGahee's absence extends beyond the two weeks he projects. Even when he returns, he may require protective wear on the hand. OK, Knowshon Moreno, it's time to step up.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings also suffered a hand injury Sunday, but the results were not so dire. Jennings suffered a bruised right hand, one that caused him to temporarily experience numbness, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He had enough function in the hand to return to the game and later X-rays revealed no fracture. The Packers have a bye in Week 8, and it sounds like they expect Jennings for their Week 9 matchup with the San Diego Chargers.

Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden had only two carries Sunday before exiting with what coach Hue Jackson told reporters Monday is a midfoot sprain. McFadden was on crutches Monday to offload the foot, but the team seems to not be overly concerned. They have the luxury of a bye week to allow McFadden to rest the foot and plan to re-evaluate him Monday. The midfoot is key for transferring load from the back of the foot to the front during weightbearing and any injury there makes it difficult to walk, much less run, normally. A minor sprain can respond well to unloading (this is where the crutches come into play) along with therapeutic modalities to help ease any pain and inflammation. Keep in mind that McFadden did return to the sidelines, but given his history of toe and ankle injuries, the Raiders were more conservative in guarding him against further injury. Wise move. Hopefully he is able to return in Week 9.

[+] EnlargeBeanie Wells
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsBeanie Wells rushed for 42 yards before leaving with another injury.
Arizona Cardinals oft-injured running back Beanie Wells suffered a knee injury in Sunday's game that has left him with significant swelling but no particular diagnosis, at least not one the team is revealing. According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, Wells denied a bone bruise and head coach Ken Whisenhunt did not elaborate on the nature of the injury, only saying there was no major structural damage. There are plenty of means by which a joint can become irritated and the response to that irritation is swelling. This is the same knee Wells had surgery on last year for a torn meniscus. The bottom line is that there is no plan for surgery (since there is no "structure" to address) at this time but there is also no running on a swollen knee. The goal is to address the swelling first, then try to bring the athlete back toward full activity and hope the swelling does not return. How long will it take? No one knows for sure. So stay tuned and keep an eye on when Wells is able to return to practice. Start by preparing for a backup in Week 8.

• New Orleans had all their running backs healthy when they came into Week 7 (not counting Chris Ivory, on the Physically Unable to Perform list since the start of the season). But Mark Ingram left Sunday's game with a limp, suffering what the team has called a bruised heel. No further word from the Saints on what they expect, and there is no indication as to whether the bruise is on the back of his heel, near the Achilles attachment, or on the undersurface of the heel, making it hard to prognosticate. If Ingram is limited, Pierre Thomas could be setting up for a nice matchup against the St. Louis Rams. Meanwhile, Ivory could be nearing a return to practice but that has not yet been made official.

• Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a nasty looking ankle roll in Sunday's game. The awkward spill appeared to stress both his ankle and his knee, but after exiting for a brief period, Ryan was able to return and finish out the game. Ryan is no doubt pleased to have a bye week to allow the soreness to subside but is expected to start in Week 9. Teammate Julio Jones has missed two games with a strained hamstring, but if all goes well he could be back in Week 9.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin has been battling sore ribs since the preseason. Again he had issues with the ribs, which forced him to exit the game in the third quarter. Harvin is going to be further evaluated, but consider the Vikings had already agreed to scale back his playing time when his condition worsened. It's entirely possible he misses some time.

• Even the durable Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers is on the injury report this week after sustaining an ankle sprain Sunday. Ward often gets a day off from practice during the week (veteran, history of knee issues in the past) so it may be difficult to get a feel for his playing status until Friday.

• The San Diego running backs have to be thankful for one extra day before returning to competition. Ryan Mathews injured his thumb during the game against the New York Jets but was able to return to play. Mike Tolbert was seen grabbing his hamstring late in the game and was indeed listed on the postgame injury report, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, but neither player's injuries seemed to be a major cause for concern.

Raise your hand if you were one of the fantasy owners whose Sunday was ruined when Marshawn Lynch, declared active, was suddenly not playing because of back spasms that flared up during his pregame warmup. To make matters worse, it appears Lynch has been dealing with the issue for a while. According to the Seattle Seahawks' official website, coach Pete Carroll said Lynch's back is "not a new issue" but has been managed effectively to this point. As for Lynch's status this week Carroll said, "We'll have to be careful with him through the week and make sure that we do the right things. He is determined to play for sure in his mind, but we're really not going to know until we get to the end of the week." Or maybe not until Sunday after your rosters lock. Have a backup at the ready so you can pull the trigger if there's any shadow of a doubt heading into gametime.

And then there were a number of players who never took the field in Week 7 but whose status is of interest for Week 8:

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Ray Carlin/Icon SMISam Bradford sat out Sunday's game against the Cowboys and may be back on the bench this week.
• St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is still in a walking boot and is no lock to play in Week 8. The team plans to reassess his status Wednesday.

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis was not able to play Sunday because of his strained hamstring, but he did get some running in Monday, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. There have been enough hamstring injuries around the league that everyone should know this is only one of many steps before returning to play. If Hillis is able to get back to full practice this week, then he should play Sunday.

• The Houston Texans could have wide receiver Andre Johnson back in the lineup Sunday if all goes well. Coach Gary Kubiak added clarity to the situation calling the return of Johnson "definitely a possibility" when speaking to reporters Monday. Johnson, who underwent a procedure on his torn hamstring tendon in early October, has been running but has not yet returned to practice. If he is able to do so early this week, it would bode well for his chances.

• The San Francisco 49ers could have wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the mix this Sunday. Edwards has been out recovering from meniscus surgery on his right knee. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said he expected Edwards to return to practice Tuesday.

• The New York Giants could get running back Brandon Jacobs alongside Ahmad Bradshaw this week. Jacobs, sporting a brace for protection, was able to practice Monday, indicating the swelling in his knee had subsided to the point he could participate. Now the challenge will be to see if the swelling remains down before he can be cleared to play.

We will continue to update these injuries and others as the week progresses.

Week 11 kicks off with another Thursday night game, and the effect of injury is obvious in the Miami Dolphins' starting lineup. This past Sunday, the Dolphins lost quarterback Chad Pennington, who started ahead of a benched Chad Henne, in the first offensive series to another season-ending shoulder injury. Henne then stepped into the game only to leave with a knee injury that had him on crutches afterward. While the Dolphins have left the door open for Henne to return, it doesn't appear that will be anytime soon ... and it certainly won't be tonight. Tyler Thigpen will be the starting quarterback as the Dolphins host the Chicago Bears.

Meanwhile, there also is some question as to who will be protecting Thigpen's blind side. Offensive tackle Jake Long injured his shoulder in Week 10, reportedly dislocating it and suffering significant tissue damage, including a torn labrum (the ring of cartilage that adds stability to the shoulder joint), in the process. Not only is this a painful injury, but it means Long's shoulder will be significantly less stable, and that instability will make it difficult to block effectively. An unstable shoulder will feel like it slips out of place, especially when weight is forced through the arm. Long is expected to try wearing a shoulder harness for support, which offers some stability but also, out of necessity, limits motion, making it tough for Long to use his arm as he normally would. He is listed as questionable, so it will come down to game time to see whether Long can function well enough to play.

This week marks the first non-bye week since Week 3, so theoretically there are more players available for last-minute fantasy pickups. Unfortunately, at this point in the season, there also are far more injuries of significance, so the pickings might be a little slimmer.

Here's who you might be concerned about heading toward the Week 11 showdowns:

Austin Collie
Geoff Burke/US PresswireAustin Collie's return to the lineup would help Peyton Manning's numbers.
Joseph Addai, RB; Mike Hart, RB; Austin Collie, WR; Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis Colts: The exciting news here is that Collie is back in the conversation. Regardless of his status for this Sunday, hearing he was back at the Colts' practice facility this week is good news indeed, especially after seeing him unconscious on the field in Week 9, then removed on a spine board and stretcher. At this time last week, Collie already had been ruled out. This week, Collie was able to put in some limited work Wednesday and he issued a statement expressing his thanks for all the well wishes following his injury. Collie, who practiced fully again Thursday, said, "Every day I feel like I am improving. And it was great to get back on the field in some capacity Wednesday." He also thanked the entire medical staff for its efforts. It still is one day at a time for Collie, but it appears possible he could return this Sunday.

Addai was said to be feeling better last week but was not in Wednesday practice. However, he did return to limited practice Thursday. Addai suffered a neck injury several weeks ago, which he described as leaving his arm feeling "dead," suggesting nerve involvement. Nerve tissue generally is slow to heal, as clearly has been the case for Addai. Hart, who injured his ankle in Week 9, has been essentially invisible since then and was still not at practice Wednesday. It appears Donald Brown could be in line for another start at running back this week.

Tamme, who was dealing with a back injury last week and reportedly was in major discomfort after Week 10, was not only a full participant in practice Wednesday, but he was not on the team's injury report. If he holds up well through the remainder of the week, he should be on the field Sunday when the Colts face the New England Patriots.

Reggie Bush, RB; Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints: Bush is expected to return at long last after missing all but the first two games of the season due to a broken fibula (the long skinny bone on the outer aspect of the lower leg). Fractures typically take about six weeks to heal, but regaining football shape, especially for an explosive, directional runner such as Bush, takes much longer, as he and his fantasy owners found out. The bye in Week 10 allowed Bush the extra time to build toward returning to practice in advance of this Sunday's game.

Thomas is not yet practicing with the team. The Saints continue to hold out hope he will recover enough from his ankle injury to contribute late in the season. Along those lines, coach Sean Payton issued the first positive words with regard to Thomas' recovery on Thursday, telling the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "I think we've turned a corner." Although Thomas is not doing team practice, he is working out on the field in pads, meaning he is putting his ankle through some of the necessary paces, just in the absence of traffic where it would be easier to aggravate it. While it doesn't appear that Thomas will bridge the gap to being ready for this week, it's starting to sound like he could be a late-season contributor for the Saints and for needy fantasy owners.

Ryan Mathews, RB; Malcom Floyd, WR; Legedu Naanee, WR; Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: We start with the good news in San Diego that Floyd's return is imminent. Floyd, who suffered a hamstring injury a few weeks ago, has been back at practice and has been running full speed since last week. Assuming there are no setbacks, Floyd is expected to play Sunday.

And then there is the not so good news. Rookie running back Mathews suffered a setback to his right ankle in Week 10, and it appears he might be forced to take some time off. Not a bad idea, given that Mathews has struggled intermittently since the initial injury to get his ankle back to full strength. Meanwhile, Naanee had not improved enough from his hamstring injury to rejoin his teammates in practice, although he did do some individual drills, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Gates, who recently assessed his chances of playing Monday night at 50-50, did not practice with the team Wednesday, not altogether surprising given his injury, a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. He has made some progress, though, as he has begun light running, a big step considering how much load that places on his injured arch. Gates admits being frustrated by this injury, which has sidelined him for the first time in his professional career, but he might not have much choice other than to wait for more healing.

Matt Schaub
Brett Davis/US PresswireMatt Schaub has three 20-point fantasy games this season but also five games with fewer than 10 points.
Matt Schaub, QB; Andre Johnson, WR; Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans: Schaub spent some time in the hospital this week, which undoubtedly caused some alarm among fantasy owners. Not to panic yet; it might not be as dire as you think. Schaub was being treated in the hospital for a "bursa sac issue" in his knee, according to coach Gary Kubiak. An inflamed bursa sac is known as bursitis, but one usually lands in the hospital when there is an infection. The idea is to treat the individual with IV antibiotics in the hope that the infection will resolve and no surgery will be required. (You might recall when Peyton Manning underwent surgery to address a bursa sac infection a couple of years ago.) Presumably Schaub was dealing with an early infection. He now has been discharged from the hospital and participated in light practice Thursday. Depending on how he feels and how well his knee is responding, Schaub is expected to be on the field for the Texans this week.

Johnson is expected to continue his routine of resting his sore ankle early in the week and playing Sunday. Daniels, who sat out last week after aggravating his hamstring injury, did not practice Wednesday.

Brett Favre, QB; Percy Harvin, WR; Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: By now, everyone knows Favre's ailments are too numerous to all be included on the Vikings' weekly injury report. By now, everyone also expects Favre to play, regardless of what's ailing him. After the Week 10 contest, Favre told ESPN's Ed Werder that he had concerns about the health of his right (throwing) shoulder and acknowledged having increased pain that might have affected his performance. Within a couple of days and amid some confusion as to whether this was a serious issue, Favre's own level of concern seemed to subside. After all, his is not a pristine shoulder, despite surgery last year to address a partially torn biceps tendon. It's going to be painful and problematic from time to time. No doubt Favre has recently increased the strain on his shoulder, whether as a function of compensating for the elbow pain he's been experiencing, the limitations in his ankle or both, and the pain is a natural secondary effect. The temporary solution will continue to be limited work early in the week with the goal of playing Sundays.

Harvin continues to play through pain and discomfort, even when his practice reps are limited during the week. Harvin put in limited reps Wednesday and is again expected to play this week.

Sidney Rice
AP Photo/Andy KingSidney Rice has to be activated by next Wednesday or he'll miss the rest of the season.
When Rice did not play this past Sunday after his practice activity during the week suggested he might, questions about whether he would play at all this season began to emerge. Rice addressed those questions Wednesday, saying that the sole issue for him is confidence in his surgical hip. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Rice wrote on his blog that the reason he did not play last Sunday was because he was "feeling significant discomfort Friday and Saturday." Rice also referred to undergoing a "very serious" procedure in August, although no one has specified what exactly Rice had done, making his timeline thus far hard to assess.

This reluctance to return before feeling fully healthy is not surprising and is a common issue for athletes coming off major surgery. It's an interesting quandary for an athlete in Rice's situation, and he already has said he does not want to return in a limited capacity. Rice knows what type of statistics he put up last season. He doesn't want to come back and be a lesser player after surgery or risk reinjury. And there's no denying his future is at stake. If Rice comes back a step slow or a bit hesitant because of lack of confidence in his leg or, worse yet, suffers even a minor setback, he potentially hurts the team now and himself down the road.

Even with those considerations, it's hard to imagine Rice not playing at all unless he truly believes he is not fully healthy. But the deadline for him to be activated in order to be eligible to play this season is next Wednesday. Whether he will meet that target is unclear.

DeAngelo Williams, RB; Jonathan Stewart, RB; Jimmy Clausen QB, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers lost Williams to injured reserve this week because of a foot injury. According to coach John Fox, Williams would have needed another couple of weeks to get healthy and the team needed the roster spot. No doubt, since the Panthers have dealt with a multitude of injuries, especially at the running back and quarterback position.

Stewart, who suffered a concussion in Week 9 that kept him out of the Week 10 lineup, has not practiced this week and is unlikely to play. It appears Mike Goodson will make another start. At the quarterback position, Clausen, starting for the injured Matt Moore, suffered a concussion in Week 10 and has not practiced. In what some considered a bit of a surprise move, Fox indicated that Brian St. Pierre, who has just one week of practice with the Panthers, will be the starter this week as opposed to rookie Tony Pike.

Vince Young, QB; Kerry Collins, QB, Tennessee Titans: Collins suffered a calf strain in Week 10 when he started in place of the less-than-100 percent-healthy Young. Collins is expected to miss several weeks, so the question becomes: Will Young be healthy enough to effectively lead the team this Sunday? Apparently, the answer is yes. Young, who has been trying to get past an ankle injury, was not on Wednesday's injury report, so expect him to be the starter in Week 11.

Tom Brady, QB, Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots: Brady had a foot sprain that caused him to miss practice one day last week. You knew it had to be bothering him because Brady rarely sits out. But it sure didn't look like it bothered him Sunday when he was tearing apart the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense. Assume that Brady will be at the helm when his team faces the Indianapolis Colts this week.

As for Taylor, he seems to be making gains in his recovery from toe injuries, as he increased his practice activity last week. Keep an eye on him, as he just might be available to help out in the next couple of weeks.

And elsewhere ...

• The Detroit Lions got wide receiver Calvin Johnson back in practice Thursday after a day of rest. Running back Jahvid Best skipped both Wednesday and Thursday practices, a reminder that his turf toe injuries are not completely behind him. Best likely will continue to play but has not shown his early-season form since the toe problems came about.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been in practice this week despite cracking a bone in his left (non-throwing) wrist. There seems to be little doubt that he will be running the offense Sunday.

Beanie Wells
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireBeanie Wells has just 34 fantasy points this season.
Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells returned to practice this week. Both Wells and coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the start of the week that they expected him to practice every day and play Sunday. But what can fantasy owners count on? Not much, based on the season so far. It isn't to say that Wells can't be productive; it's just that he hasn't been. His knee has been an issue since Week 1, and the resulting missed practice time has contributed to his limited productivity on game days. And there's no guarantee that the recurring swelling is behind him. Wells says he feels the best he has since surgery, which is great news, but will it last? Even if he's on the field, it's hard to have confidence in what Wells will bring until we actually see him deliver it.

Washington Redskins running back Ryan Torain has not practiced since his hamstring tightened up Monday night, preventing him from taking the field despite being active. It certainly does not look good for Sunday. Clinton Portis continues to be limited in practice with the groin injury. All signs are pointing to another Keiland Williams start.

New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith suffered a pectoral (chest) strain a week ago and missed this past Sunday's contest as a result. Reports have varied on the amount of time he's expected to miss, but he is not practicing yet and should not be in fantasy lineups this week.

Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy did not practice Wednesday due to a shoulder injury. He was back Thursday, however, a good sign for fantasy owners that he expects to play.

• On the concussion front, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward suffered one in Week 10, as did Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki. Ward was cleared to return to practice and participated fully Wednesday. Barring a setback, he should play this week. Moeaki did not practice Wednesday, and his status remains questionable.

Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini said early in the week that he was hopeful receiver Josh Cribbs could play Sunday despite dislocating four toes last week. Apparently Mangini has not had four toes dislocate simultaneously. And then tried to run. Fast. It sounded a bit optimistic at the time, and Cribbs has not been in practice this week. It's not looking great for his return as of now.

See you at Friday's injury chat (3-4 p.m. ET), and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 10 in the Saturday morning blog.

Dolphins QBs among Week 10 injuries

November, 16, 2010

This seems like as good a time as any to remind everyone that medicine is not black and white. Sometimes, even when a player is improving in his recovery from an injury, there can be last-minute setbacks. Exhibit A: Washington Redskins running back Ryan Torain, who was active (yes, active!) Monday night but did not play due to his hamstring tightening up during warm-ups. It was just late enough to burn every fantasy owner who expected him to play. (Remember, he was listed as questionable, and until a questionable player is actually playing, he remains just that.)

Other times, a player does not return within the projected timetable originally issued by medical personnel. Exhibit B: New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, initially projected to miss four to six weeks with a broken fibula (and you might recall Bush suggesting early on that he could beat that timeline). Bush, who is expected to return this Sunday, will be nine weeks post-injury if he plays in Week 11. While his fracture has healed, the issue has been his readiness to return to competition given the high physical demands of his position.

How do these things happen? Fantasy owners would prefer absolutes, definitive answers and zero risk. Let's tell the truth. The injured players and their teams would prefer that as well. But medicine is an imprecise science. And as much as it would be nice to provide guarantees and certainties when it comes to healing, that simply is not possible, whether it refers to a professional athlete or a weekend warrior. For one thing, individuals heal at different rates. Beyond that, timetables are estimates based on the average healing time associated with a particular injury. Timetables presume no setbacks and no complications, which, as we all know, are more likely to occur than not. And then there are the vagaries of injury classification. A "partial tear" can be 25 percent, 40 percent or 75 percent tissue damage, or anything else not considered a complete tear. The amount of damage likely will correlate to healing time, albeit in an imprecise way (refer to exhibits A and B above).

And so, as we continue in the gray zone of injuries, here's what we're hearing heading into Week 11 ...

Chad Henne
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireChad Henne had a busy week, as he was benched, returned to the Dolphins' lineup, then injured his knee.
• To date, the Miami Dolphins' injury reports have been among the leanest in the league. Not so any longer. The Dolphins lost two quarterbacks within the span of minutes this past Sunday, one of whom is done for the season. Chad Pennington injured his oft-operated-on shoulder and was done in the span of two plays. Chad Henne, who had been benched in favor of Pennington, stepped in only to suffer what appeared to be a serious injury to his left knee. Henne was on crutches after the game but has not been ruled out for any particular period of time. While the Dolphins have not offered details as to the nature of Henne's injury, coach Tony Sparano has left the door open for Henne. Needless to say, it does not appear likely he will be in any shape to play in this Thursday night's game. Expect Tyler Thigpen to get the start.

• The Tennessee Titans also have two banged up quarterbacks. Vince Young did not get the start Sunday, as his left ankle was still causing him some problems. Kerry Collins, who started in place of Young, was forced out early with a calf injury, and it now appears that will keep him out for several weeks. Young was thus forced into the game but was not at his best.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford consulted with Dr. James Andrews and will not be having surgery, at least not yet. Stafford will resume the rehab process he initiated after his shoulder separation at the start of the season. There is still a possibility surgery will become an option, but the team will try more conservative treatment first, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Undertaking surgery on a throwing athlete's shoulder is not a light consideration. Unless there is a clear-cut need for surgery, rehabilitation is often chosen as a first step. There's really no downside here. Any gains in range of motion and strength that Stafford makes will help him on the other side of surgery, if that becomes the plan. While it's not likely we will see him again this season, the Lions are not moving him to injured reserve, either.

San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews injured his right ankle in Week 2 and, despite his efforts to return, has struggled. After he aggravated the ankle injury in Week 10, there appears to be greater doubt about his availability for Week 11. At this point, it seems he would benefit from additional downtime to really allow his ankle to heal and avoid risking further problems. Mike Tolbert was back at Monday's practice and could be starting in Week 11. On the receiver front, Malcom Floyd returned to practice also and was running well. The Chargers expect to have him this Sunday. Not as encouraging news for Legedu Naanee, who did not practice Monday and remains limited by his hamstring. Tight end Antonio Gates did not practice Monday, either, not unexpected given the seriousness of his injury (torn plantar fascia). While Gates has indicated that he will do all he can to return for the Chargers' big Monday night contest, it bears repeating that this injury was exceptionally painful. Even Gates, who has played through significant pain in the past, told us this was unlike anything he'd ever experienced, to the point where he just couldn't function. It's too soon to count him out, but it's not too soon to seek insurance if he's on your team.

Ryan Torain
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireRyan Torain was on the active roster Monday night, but hamstring injuries kept him from playing.
• Running back Ryan Torain of the Washington Redskins was expected to start Monday but didn't. Tightness in his ailing hamstring during pregame warm-ups kept him off the field Monday night. Clearly the injury is not altogether behind him, and fantasy owners should consider that Keiland Williams might get the next Redskins start. Clinton Portis was never really under serious consideration for Monday night after midweek swelling in his injured groin, and he might not be ready for Week 11, either. He will need to get through a week of practice without setbacks and show he is at full speed before being eligible to return.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck came back from a concussion only to sustain a crack in a bone in his left wrist. The Seahawks have expressed optimism that Hasselbeck will be able to play through the injury to his non-throwing wrist, no doubt with some sort of protective wrap. It appears he will avoid missing more time.

• The Indianapolis Colts continue to deal with multiple injuries, many of which are to fantasy stars. Tight end Jacob Tamme had a back injury in Week 10 that caused him to miss Wednesday's practice. After full late-week practices, he was able to start. Despite a solid performance, Tamme struggled at times and, according to the Indianapolis Star, was having trouble walking after the game. Expect him to be limited in practice this week. Running back Joseph Addai sat out again in Week 10 but reportedly is making improvements. It is too early to know much about the status of Addai or teammate Mike Hart, who also missed Week 10 with an ankle injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was determined to have a concussion after Sunday night's game. Ward appears to be doing well and has indicated that he expects to play this week. He still needs to be fully cleared to return, but this is encouraging news.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen also suffered a concussion on a hit late in the game. As the week unfolds, we'll find out whether Clausen is able to go Sunday. We also should learn more about the running back situation. Both DeAngelo Williams (foot sprain) and Jonathan Stewart (concussion) were out in Week 10.

New York Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery pulled a groin muscle Sunday yet still made an amazing catch while hobbling on one leg. He limped off the field just afterward and underwent an MRI on Monday, revealing a slight tear. This will be a tough injury to recover from in a week.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs dislocated four toes Sunday. How does that happen? There are some thing I just can't answer, but I do know this: It could not have felt good. Amazingly, the Browns do hope he will play in Week 11.

• The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that wide receiver Donald Driver missed Monday practice for personal reasons. Coach Mike McCarthy will update Driver's status Wednesday. Tight end Andrew Quarless, meanwhile, says his shoulder feels better after the bye week. He could return this week if all continues well.

We will continue to update these injuries and others as the week progresses with much more to come Thursday.

My oh my, what a week of football! There were some crazy performances this holiday week. Unfortunately many of the players who had them may not have been in your active lineup ... or perhaps were not even on your fantasy roster. Devin Aromashodu? An injury to Chicago Bears receiver Johnny Knox opened the door to his star performance on Monday night. Greg Olsen? He hadn't scored more than one fantasy point in the last three weeks but delivered 10 -- most likely to your bench -- on Monday night. And what about Steven Jackson, who may have been in your Sunday lineup after he promised to "gut it out" the remainder of the season, but ended up inactive? (In defense of Jackson, his symptoms took a late turn for the worse, always a justifiable reason for a player's status to change, although that still may not appease fantasy owners.)

On the flip side, Jonathan Stewart had a phenomenal day and the Carolina Panthers tipped us off early that he likely would have the bigger role, even if DeAngelo Williams played (which he didn't). If you've been relying on Cadillac Williams as a flex play, he put up a healthy double-digit day while shouldering the load in the presence of an ailing Derrick Ward. And Tom Brady owners knew to start him Sunday even though he's been listed on the injury report with multiple ailments for several weeks. He delivered several touchdown passes to recently beleaguered teammate Randy Moss while delivering plenty of fantasy points to faithful owners.

If you're still alive after all the fantasy drama and are aiming for victory in Week 17, then you need to know who will be on the field for you come Sunday. While we can't anticipate all the various coaching strategies surrounding the do-you-or-don't-you rest the starters question, we can certainly pay attention to who's on the injury watch in this final week of the regular NFL season. Here's what we're looking at so far ...

Pierre Thomas
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireWith the Saints having clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC, it's possible that Pierre Thomas won't play in Week 17.
Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints: Thomas left Sunday's game before halftime with bruised ribs and was unable to return. Fortunately, X-rays proved to be negative for a fracture, but Thomas is no doubt experiencing lingering soreness and difficulty moving. The New Orleans Times-Picayune suggests that Thomas likely will be limited in practice this week and questionable heading into Sunday's game. Knowing a running back faces certain contact on the field, it would not be at all surprising if Thomas is on the sideline in Week 17. Fantasy owners might want to check out Lynell Hamilton if in need of an emergency running back.

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers: Williams sat out Week 16 because of a left ankle sprain, and Jonathan Stewart did his usual job of stepping it up in his absence. The question becomes whether Williams will be available in Week 17. According to the Charlotte Observer, coach John Fox has said "he has reason to believe there's a chance" that Williams plays Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Fox tends to hold the door open for Williams until late in the week to give him an opportunity to get healthy. It remains to be seen just how much Williams will be able to do on that ankle, but if he has not returned to practice by Thursday, it would put his status further in doubt. Stewart should be expected to get his usual Wednesday off but then increase his work. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on Panthers practice reports late in the week to see how things are shaping up.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: Jackson was a surprise inactive in Week 16 but we later found out there was good reason for him to rest. Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he began experiencing some new symptoms, including pain radiating down his leg, along with difficulty loosening up his back before the game. Jackson confirmed the widely reported herniated disk injury and added that he hopes to play in Week 17. Pain radiating into the leg signifies that there is nerve involvement to accompany the disk injury, a more serious situation than pain localized to the back area. The hope is that the leg pain will resolve through the week and that Jackson will be able to return, but as fantasy owners saw last week, that could come down to game time. Expect Jackson to try to play, but have an alternate plan handy.

Julius Jones, RB, Seattle Seahawks: Jones aggravated a rib injury and sustained an ankle injury in Sunday's game, according to The Seattle Times, making it seem all the more likely that Justin Forsett will indeed see the majority of the work in Week 17. Jones and Forsett were just about even in Week 16 in terms of touches, but Forsett managed slightly more productivity with those carries. Forsett may well be trying to impress with 2010 in mind, which could be a nice bonus for fantasy owners.

Other quick hits:

Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams left in the third quarter of Sunday's contest with a right shoulder injury. There have been no specifics as to the nature of the injury but Williams told reporters after the game that he would be "fine." Keep an eye on his practice activity this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward aggravated his hamstring injury late in the game. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, coach Mike Tomlin summed up Ward's condition by saying "He's just beat up." Hard to argue with that. Whether Ward will be able to return for Sunday's game is not yet known.

Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon has been ruled out for Week 17. It's not necessarily a surprise, but it's nice of the Colts to provide fantasy owners with some official advance notice.

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner has the potential to return to practice Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Fantasy owners should not be lured into thinking that he will be a good fantasy option this week, even if he manages to suit up for Sunday.

See you at the final Sunday pregame chat (10:00-10:30 a.m.) and check for the latest injury updates affecting Week 17 in the Saturday morning blog!

The Cincinnati Bengals practiced with heavy hearts today after learning of the death of teammate Chris Henry, who had been placed on injured reserve in November after suffering a left forearm fracture. Our thoughts are with Henry's family and the Bengals at this difficult time.

As challenging as it can be to forge ahead through difficult circumstances such as this, it is what humans do. The Bengals will do just that when they take the field Sunday. In terms of game preparation, the Bengals are otherwise fortunate in that they do not have an extensive injury report, and their key players are healthy. Some other teams around the league are dealing with lengthy injury reports, however, and face the potential absence of several key players as they approach the playoffs.

So who will be on the field for your fantasy playoff roster heading into Week 15? Here's what we're hearing so far this week ...


Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan suffered a turf-toe injury in Week 12 that has sidelined him the past two weeks. Ryan did not practice Wednesday, which was not a surprise. But his return to practice Thursday was a surprise. Although the extent of his practice work is unclear, the fact that Ryan was present at least raises the possibility that he'll play Sunday. Stay tuned.

Vince Young, Tennessee Titans: I outlined Young's latest injury setback Tuesday. By Wednesday, Young was strongly suggesting to reporters that he would be back on the field with the team in Week 15, telling the Nashville Tennessean that his hamstring was feeling "way better," and adding, "I definitely want to play. I am taking it easy just to be on the safe side." Taking it easy refers to the fact that Young didn't practice Wednesday. Since rest is the best medicine for hamstring injuries, this is not a big surprise. Expect Young to try to increase his activity late in the week in preparation for this week's game. He likely won't be 100 percent healthy, meaning his ability to make big plays on the run could be affected, but it sounds as if the Titans expect him to perform.

Tom Brady
Elsa/Getty Images Tom Brady is battling three injuries, but they shouldn't keep him from playing this week.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Brady caught our attention last week when he missed practice for the first time all season. Brady was (and still is) nursing three injuries: He has ongoing issues with his throwing shoulder (which was aggravated in the preseason); he recently injured the ring finger on his throwing hand (which, though noticeably bruised, did not appear to affect his accuracy in Week 14); and, most significantly perhaps, he suffered a rib injury, which might be affecting his performance to some degree.

Rib injuries for quarterbacks are not easy to play through. Just ask Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb or Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, both of whom have missed time this year because of broken ribs. The location of the rib injury, though, might have much to do with why Brady is able to persevere. A lower left-sided rib injury such as the one McNabb suffered is particularly problematic for a thrower because of the attachment there of the large abdominal oblique muscles. Contraction of those muscles, which are responsible for trunk rotation, can pull at the injured rib, aggravating it with each effort. Although all rib injuries are painful, a same-sided rib injury for Brady (on the right side for a right-handed thrower) could allow him to function a bit better.

Of course, this takes nothing away from his toughness. Brady's successful rehabilitation and return from a challenging knee injury has already proved his mettle. For the record, let's be clear that his knee is not one of his injury concerns at this point. He has already demonstrated that the knee issue is well behind him. In fact, Brady's leg strength is one of the variables likely helping him endure his current upper-body injuries. Brady will continue to play with these injuries and, after resting Wednesday, was back in practice Thursday to prepare for Week 15. Fantasy owners should expect Brady on the field Sunday to face the Bills.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Sanchez missed Week 14 after suffering a posterior cruciate ligament injury the week before. Sanchez returned to limited practice on Wednesday, and he worked with the first team on Thursday, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Although Sanchez has not officially been named the Week 15 starter, all signs are currently pointing in that direction. Coach Rex Ryan said that Sanchez "looked good" and "moved well" and that the team will see how his knee responds to the workout. The Jets likely will announce their starter decision Friday. It is worth noting that Sanchez likely will have braces on both knees, which could slow him a bit. But as long as he can escape defenders, it looks as if he will play.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford is not expected to play in Week 15 as he continues to nurse a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder. Coach Jim Schwartz indicated that Stafford is "still a ways away," according to the Detroit News. Although Stafford says surgery is not currently an option, it normally takes several weeks before scar tissue can settle in and provide stability to the AC joint after this type of injury. Given that Stafford has already had one setback, it sounds as if the Lions are being more cautious now. And why not? Stafford is a long-term player for a franchise that is not headed into the postseason this year. Expect Daunte Culpepper to start again. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson's value might take a hit here, not only because of the switch at quarterback but also because Johnson is again facing injury issues of his own.

Running backs

Michael Turner, Falcons: Turner did not practice Wednesday, which seems to be par for the course of late. Turner's right ankle has kept him out of action since Week 12, when he suffered a setback, although he has not been fantasy productive since Week 10. In the past week, Turner has maintained that he has been making progress, and to that end, he did return to practice Thursday. Although it's unknown at this time just how much Turner actually participated, this is clearly a good sign in terms of his recovery. Fantasy owners should not get too excited just yet; there is still no definitive indication that Turner will be ready to play in Week 15. Naturally, what Turner does in practice toward the end of the week will dictate our level of confidence in him if he does return.

Brian Westbrook, Eagles: The good news is that Westbrook has been able to progress his activity as he recovers from his second concussion, including returning to practice with the scout team last week. The not-so-good news is that Westbrook still has not met the targets that would allow him to receive medical clearance to return to play. Coach Andy Reid told the Philadelphia Daily News that Westbrook is, "better, but not all the way completely cleared. We're still doing [testing] as his exercise increases. They'll keep testing him until they're comfortable with where he's at." Reid reminded everyone that despite eagerness on the part of Westbrook and the team to have him back, the Eagles will continue to do what's in the best interest of the athlete, which is as it should be. It sounds as if Westbrook will not be available in Week 15.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers: After Stewart suffered an injury to his toe in Week 14, his routine nonparticipation in Wednesday practice raised a bit more concern. That concern was alleviated, though, with the news that Stewart was a full participant in Thursday's practice. It will be important to see how Stewart responds to Thursday's activity before determining his Sunday availability, but the situation is looking good so far.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Jackson has been pressing through a back injury for the past few weeks, and it has now been revealed to be a herniated disk, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The diagnosis does not change anything, though; much of what determines whether Jackson can play is simply how his back feels.

In the case of a herniated disk, as long as the symptoms remain localized to Jackson's low back, there is not necessarily a huge level of concern. Many people are quite functional despite the presence of disk problems, although when the disk is inflamed, the pain itself can be debilitating. The concern grows, however, if the disk is causing associated neurological problems, such as numbness or weakness in the leg. This was the case last season for the aforementioned Matt Hasselbeck, who was having weakness in his leg as the result of a herniated disk in his back. Hasselbeck's season came to an early end, but he recovered nicely in the offseason and, after undergoing a rigorous rehabilitation and conditioning program, has been able to return strong this year.

This week likely will be a repeat of the past few weeks, with Jackson's availability to be determined at game time.

Wide receivers

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald's owners can breathe a bit easier now that tests have revealed that Fitzgerald did not suffer a season-threatening injury Monday night. He did sustain a bone bruise, though, along with a mildly sprained medial collateral ligament. Bone bruises, which often occur in conjunction with major ligament injuries, can be painful, and Fitzgerald clearly is experiencing some discomfort. Nonetheless, he was back in practice Wednesday on a limited basis, and the Cardinals were sure to keep him from overdoing it. As coach Ken Whisenhunt told the Arizona Republic, "We're going to be as conservative as we can early in the week with hopes that he will be able to do more on Friday and obviously play on Sunday." For his part, Fitzgerald insists he will play Sunday, but the Cardinals will monitor his progress throughout the week before making their final decision.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Johnson didn't practice Thursday, causing the red flags surrounding his knee injury to reappear. Although there have not been many details provided, there must be some concern about Johnson's Sunday availability, given this midweek downgrade. Fantasy owners should have a backup plan in place.

Percy Harvin
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesPercy Harvin has been evaluated closely this week.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are understandably getting a bit nervous about the status of their star rookie receiver, who missed Week 14 because of ongoing issues with migraine headaches. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Harvin is continuing to be medically evaluated related to the migraines to ensure that the headaches do not represent another more serious underlying issue. As the Star-Tribune outlines, one of the concerns is that although Harvin has been dealing with headaches since childhood, the frequency of their occurrence seems to be increasing. Although migraines are often unpredictable in nature, many patients learn to identify (and therefore avoid, to the extent possible) the triggers that can set them off. When the triggers are hard to identify, the problem becomes even more challenging. The hope is that the expert consultation will help here.

Although Harvin participated in elements of Wednesday's walkthrough, he became ill and did not take part in practice. Any plan for his return to physical activity is unclear, and this appears to be a day-to-day issue. Harvin's fantasy owners should make alternate plans for this weekend because his status appears to be in jeopardy.

Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward is still recovering from a hamstring strain and did not take part in team practice Wednesday. Ward usually has Wednesdays off anyway, so this is not a major development. Ward played last Thursday despite clearly not being able to run at full speed. Nonetheless, Ward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he is "getting better every day," and the team expects him back on the field Sunday. He might not be completely recovered, but he should look better than he did last week.

Jeremy Maclin, Eagles: Just as DeSean Jackson was returning to the field for the Eagles after an injury, Maclin exited the field with an injury of his own. Actually, Maclin suffered a setback of a left foot injury he was already nursing when he partially tore the plantar fascia.

Originally coach Andy Reid suggested that Maclin would miss one or two weeks, but on Wednesday, Reid refrained from ruling Maclin out for this week's contest against the San Francisco 49ers. The Philly News reports that Maclin, despite missing practice Wednesday, was not seen in his protective boot in the locker room. Although that's an encouraging sign, it's a far cry from running, planting and pivoting. It's hard to envision Maclin's suiting up this week. Teammate Kevin Curtis might well be back on the field to add depth to the receiver corps; a return from Curtis would mark his first appearance since Week 2. Curtis has been on the mend from knee surgery, and although he has been practicing on a limited basis, he likely isn't ready to take on a full load. Thus, Maclin and Curtis should not be in fantasy lineups in Week 15.

Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars: Sims-Walker is listed as probable and is expected to play Thursday night against the Colts, but don't expect him to be at full health just yet. Remember, Sims-Walker was downgraded midway through last week because of a left calf injury that eventually kept him out of Thursday and Friday practice. Despite being listed as doubtful, he managed to persuade the team in pregame warm-ups that he was capable of playing, but he did not post great numbers. Sims-Walker has been playing despite a knee ailment that was then complicated by the calf strain and has not been especially productive of late. Although the news that Sims-Walker is expected to play this week is encouraging, it would not be surprising if he is not yet 100 percent. Fantasy owners should temper expectations as a result.

Tight ends

Brent Celek, Eagles: Despite a drop here and there in the past two weeks because of an ongoing thumb injury, Celek has consistently put up fantasy points each week. But now Celek is also dealing with a back issue that kept him out of Wednesday practice. Apparently, the back began bothering him before Sunday. According to the Philly News, coach Andy Reid said, "They worked on him and were able to get him ready for the game." True, Celek was ready, and again he put points on the board, but he was seen walking gingerly after the game and is still dealing with stiffness. Nonetheless, Reid says that Celek "should be ready to go this weekend," so barring a downturn, fantasy owners can plan on his availability.

Be sure to check back Saturday for post-Friday NFL injury report updates on all your fantasy players heading into the weekend.

Also, see you at the injury chats (Tuesday 11 a.m.-noon ET, Friday 11 a.m.-noon and Sunday pregame (10-10:30 a.m.). And check out Fantasy Football Now on Sundays at from 11:30 a.m. ET to kickoff for last-minute inactives, rankings and more!
This week we've seen several players moved to injured reserve status as a result of lingering symptoms from a significant injury. In Tampa Bay, kick returner Clifton Smith's season ended after two concussions, and in Indianapolis, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi has been shut down as the result of a shoulder injury. Perhaps most notably for fantasy owners, two prominent running backs have had to end their seasons early: Clinton Portis was placed on IR as a result of persistent concussion symptoms, and the Houston Texans' Steve Slaton is finished for the season because of a neck injury that led to numbness in his right hand.

Both running backs consulted with specialists this week to help them make the season-ending decisions. Slaton visited with a spine specialist in Texas, and although coach Gary Kubiak told reporters that no surgery is imminent, the rusher was advised to rest to allow the injury to heal.

It is worth noting that Slaton had been removed as the starter after having trouble holding on to the ball. Perhaps there was more to his ball-control issues than a mental barrier. After all, numbness in any part of the hand would challenge a player's awareness and feel of the ball, something so innate that it would be difficult to compensate for. Numbness also is often accompanied by weakness when a nerve is compromised. Although that's not always the case, it's certainly possible that weakness in some of the small muscles of the hand could have impacted Slaton's ability to grip the ball effectively. Obviously there was concern about the potential seriousness of the condition and the recent downturn in his symptoms. Removing him from contact was the wise thing to do.

Clinton Portis
James Lang/US PresswireCould fantasy owners have seen the last of Clinton Portis?
Portis was experiencing persistent visual disturbances associated with the concussion he sustained in Week 9. He returned to Pittsburgh to consult with concussion experts and told The Washington Post that the lingering visual issues meant he was not cleared for any football activity. Portis is hopeful to return in 2010, assuming he fully recovers, but the somber nature of his injury and the symptoms he is dealing with were clear when he told the Post thoughtfully, "I look back today, I feel like I've had a great career."

Two other players who might be on fantasy rosters have not been placed on season-ending injured reserve, but they won't play in Week 14. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been ruled out after aggravating his separated left (nonthrowing) shoulder Sunday. The concern is not necessarily that he couldn't be effective, but rather that continued pile-driving into the turf on that injured shoulder ultimately could prevent it from healing as it should. Daunte Culpepper is preparing for his Sunday start in Stafford's stead.

Another rookie quarterback who will watch from the sideline this weekend is Mark Sanchez, who suffered a sprain of his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in Week 13 when he took a direct fall on his shin, shearing the lower leg (tibia) backward on his thighbone (femur). Apparently Sanchez's sliding lessons didn't quite pay off, much to the dismay of Jets coach Rex Ryan. The sprain was reported as a minor one, but there is still pain, swelling and instability, which would make movement challenging.

In addition to rehabilitating the right knee, Sanchez will need to wear a brace on it to help provide stability. This will accompany the brace he already wears on his left knee to provide patellar (kneecap) support, something he has worn since suffering a patellar dislocation while at USC. If a player feels slowed by the presence of one brace, two make him feel as if he's standing still. The addition of a brace, although important for protection, certainly won't make the inclination to slide any easier. Sanchez will benefit from some additional time to rest his knee and regain his strength, which he will need to better evade the pass rush, at least if he intends to remain upright.

So who will be on the field for your fantasy playoff matchups heading into Week 14? Here's what we're hearing:


Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan hyperextended his toe in Week 12 and sat out Week 13 as a result. After his consultation with Dr. Robert Anderson resulted in a return to Atlanta for rehabilitation (as in, no surgery was required immediately), it became a question of how quickly he could heal and how soon he could return. Ryan did some private workouts with the Falcons' training staff Wednesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the team will evaluate his response to that effort. This likely will be a day-to-day evaluation, and the Falcons won't necessarily tip their hand before late in the week.

Keep in mind that just because Ryan does not need surgery, at least not yet, it does not minimize the nature of the injury. This is Ryan's right big toe, which he uses to plant his right foot, which in turn provides him leverage to throw deep balls. He also must pivot on that toe when rolling right to hand off or move out of the pocket. The toe can be protected to some degree with tape, and he can use an insert in his shoe to control toe motion, but the injury still impacts his ability to use the toe normally. Beyond the concern of managing the toe, the team must be evaluating whether Ryan can move well enough to protect himself from taking hits that could result in a completely different injury. The fact that the Falcons also are dealing with injuries on the offensive line further clouds the picture. Ryan's return will be a balance of pain control and functionality, and it remains to be seen whether that can happen by this weekend.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: Hasselbeck sat out Wednesday's practice because of a sore shoulder, but there is no reason to think he will miss Sunday's game. Expect Hasselbeck to be ready to face the Texans.

Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers: Delhomme did not practice Wednesday and is still recovering from a broken finger in his throwing hand. Until he can grip the ball adequately and throw effectively, he will remain on the sideline. Expect Matt Moore to start again this weekend.

Running backs

Michael Turner
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThere's hope that Michael Turner will return this week, but it might be better for him if he doesn't.
Michael Turner, Falcons: Turner did not practice Wednesday as he continues to nurse an ailing right ankle. Coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he was "hopeful" that Turner would be able to practice Thursday. It's hard to imagine Turner will be ready to return in Week 14 given that he suffered a setback less than two weeks ago to an ankle that had not fully healed.

There have been reports that this latest injury is more of a lateral ankle sprain (the most common), while the initial injury was the more serious high-ankle version. Although you could spin it positively that Turner did not specifically suffer another direct injury to the top of the ankle, the negative spin is that a second injury to the outer aspect of the joint renders the ankle less stable overall.

Because Turner is not so much a lateral, shifty runner but rather a strong, bulldozing straight-ahead type, the lateral ankle sprain as a stand-alone injury might not be terribly limiting. The high-ankle sprain, however, is stressed with all motion, especially forward movement. Combine that with the size and power of Turner's lower body and the load that the joint must bear with running and driving him forward, and decreased stability becomes especially problematic. Failure of the joint to heal adequately (as in returning to play too soon) could result in longer-term consequences for Turner's ankle. Given his talent and relative youth (after all, his backup years in San Diego preserved his football age), such an outcome would be a shame. As much as the Falcons and his fantasy owners would like to have him on the field, it would not be surprising if there is a more conservative approach in place now.

Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles: Westbrook returned to limited practice this week for the first time since suffering his second concussion of the season in Week 10. Westbrook clearly is conflicted about wanting to return to play while anxious about the possible long-term consequences. As Westbrook told reporters, "I don't think I'm scared to play the game of football," but he added that what concerns him are "things that are happening now inside the game of football ... that can really affect my life as far down the road [when I'm] 30, 40, 50 years old." Westbrook is speaking to the questions many players will have as they face recovery from these types of head injuries. This is exactly the reason that returning to play after a head injury is being guarded more stringently around the NFL.

As far as Westbrook's status, it's unlikely he will be active for Week 14, as the team is taking great care to move slowly and gradually with regard to increasing his workload. If all continues well, however, and Westbrook continues to gain confidence about his condition, it does look as if he could make a return this season.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: Williams sat out Sunday's game because of an ankle sprain but was back in practice Wednesday. It certainly appears he will be ready to go for Sunday's matchup against the New England Patriots. Teammate Jonathan Stewart took Wednesday off, as has been the running back's pattern. He, too, is expected to play Sunday.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Jackson did not practice Wednesday, which isn't surprising considering he hasn't practiced at all during the past two weeks. Jackson still has managed to play through a sore back every week, however, despite not being at his best. It sounds as if the team is continuing with the plan of allowing Jackson to rest during the week with the goal of having him available on Sunday. We will update his status Saturday.

Wide receivers

Hines Ward
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesYou know Hines Ward's mind is willing to play, but is his body?
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward is under close watch because his game is Thursday night. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 13, and although the strain has been reported as minor, the short week does not bode well for him playing. Consider the variables involved: A minor muscle strain can turn into a more significant injury if there is further damage to the tissue before it has had a chance to heal; the weather in Cleveland is expected to be frigid (19 degrees, along with a chance for snow and some gusty winds), and that is just not kind to muscles; and, well, the opponent is the Cleveland Browns. Sure, the Steelers have had their share of challenges what with losing repeatedly in the fourth quarter and all, but they should be able to handle this one with or without Ward. As further evidence that the Steelers have made contingency plans, they signed wide receiver Tyler Grisham from the practice squad.

Ward did return to limited practice Wednesday, and the team has officially listed him as questionable. He might be given the opportunity to warm up before the game and test the leg, but given the arguments for resting him this week, it's hard to imagine he'll play. He might be one of the toughest players in the league, but he is dealing with one of the most unpredictable and problematic injuries for anyone who depends on speed. Even if he does manage to suit up, expect it to be for only a limited window.

DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Jackson suffered a concussion in Week 12, and just as he indicated that he expected to sit out in Week 13 (which he did), he is now saying he expects to play Sunday. Jackson did return to practice Wednesday, and presuming no setbacks, he looks on target to return this week.

Be sure to check back on Saturday for post-Friday NFL injury report updates on all your fantasy players heading into the weekend.

See you at the injury chats (Tuesday and Friday 11 a.m.-noon, and Sunday pregame 10-10:30 a.m.). And check out Fantasy Football Now on Sundays at from 11:30 a.m. ET to kickoff for last-minute inactives, rankings and more!

Ward not looking good for Thursday

December, 8, 2009

It's playoff time! At least that's the case in the fantasy football world in which we live. It's do or die every week, so every lineup spot is ultracritical. Injuries become even trickier to navigate now as some teams (read: Indianapolis Colts) are not shy about resting some of their nicked-up stars. Worse yet for your fantasy prospects, sometimes teams rest their stars just so they don't get added to the injury report.

What is a fantasy owner to do? Well, it's important to start with the actual injuries that might affect your players in Week 14. With that in mind, here's what we're following as we head into the playoffs this weekend...

Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward has a hamstring strain that is looking more and more as if it will keep him from playing Thursday night. Ward certainly has proved that he will play through pain, but he can't play if he can't run. Although the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has reported Ward's strain as mild, the short week allows for only four days of healing time, not typically enough to recover from even a minor strain. As coach Mike Tomlin told the Tribune-Review, those conditions are "not favorable" for Ward. It sounds as if the Steelers are planning for rookie Mike Wallace to start opposite Santonio Holmes if Ward cannot go.

Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Turner sat out Week 13, as many expected he would. He is nursing a recently aggravated right high-ankle sprain and, after he skipped practice all of last week, no one really expected him in the lineup this past Sunday. But what about in Week 14? On Monday, Turner offered this insightful comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I'm better." Fantasy owners have two questions: Will Turner play? And, perhaps more importantly, will Turner be effective if he does go? Right now, Turner's status is very murky. Although coach Mike Smith hasn't ruled him out, Turner has done very little to provide any evidence that he will be ready to go. Let's face it, Turner's ankle is unlikely to be fully healed by Sunday. The issue will be whether he can do enough in practice to make a convincing case for putting him back out on the field (and putting him in your fantasy lineups) Sunday. By the time Friday rolls around, we should have more clues.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Jackson was also an absentee player in Week 13 as he recovered from a concussion suffered the previous week. Jackson does not want fans and fantasy owners to be in suspense, though. He announced on ESPN 950 on Monday that he plans to play Sunday against the New York Giants. That's great. The only catch is that he can't actually clear himself to play. That would be the job of the medical staff with whom Jackson is scheduled to meet Tuesday. If the medical folks clear him to return to practice, he will practice again Wednesday. If he can practice successfully without a return of symptoms, he will be closer to playing this weekend. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that coach Andy Reid says he expects DeSean back this week "unless there is a setback here." It does look encouraging so far, but if the past few weeks have taught us anything, it's that recovery from head injuries -- perhaps more than any other -- is truly day-to-day.

Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans: Schaub certainly demonstrated his willingness to play through pain when he came back into the game Sunday after injuring his shoulder in the first quarter. Reports indicate that Schaub dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder, but according to the Texans' official Web site, coach Gary Kubiak said the medical staff was able to "get it back in and he wanted to come back out and play."

Bear in mind that this is the same shoulder Schaub injured (dislocated) in the 2007 season. Not only did that injury force an early end to his season but he subsequently underwent surgery to repair damaged tissue in the area. A second injury of this nature is of more concern with respect to long-term stability, but it might not present any greater risk in terms of his return. It's also possible that Schaub actually suffered only a partial dislocation, which would make it more likely that he could successfully return. To that end, Kubiak has already said that Schaub has a "good chance" of playing this Sunday, but naturally this week's practice will shed more light on his status.

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: Sanchez is doing his best to recover from his recent PCL sprain of his right knee. Although the rookie has yet to return to practice, coach Rex Ryan remains optimistic that Sanchez could still play Sunday. Naturally, he would wear a brace, which would mean Sanchez would have a brace on each knee; he has been wearing a supportive brace on his left knee since suffering a patellar (kneecap) dislocation in college. Braces have never been known for speeding a player up or enhancing his mobility, but it could mean the difference in allowing Sanchez to suit up for Sunday's contest. If he couldn't slide before, he most certainly will be challenged in that department now. The Jets will have to decide whether a limping Sanchez is better than a healthy Kellen Clemens. Fantasy owners should simply make alternate plans.

Other quick hits

&#8226 Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was active Sunday night after a week of uncertainty based on lingering effects of a concussion. Warner certainly didn't look compromised as he and his team dismantled the mighty Minnesota Vikings one play at a time. Although his head was fine, Warner did emerge from the game with a sore right hip. According to the Cardinals' official Web site, the team is calling it a hip pointer and reports that Warner was much improved already by Monday. It is also worth noting that this is not the hip Warner had surgery on in the offseason. With an extra day for recovery this week (the Cardinals face the 49ers on Monday night), the team sounds optimistic that Warner will be ready to go.

&#8226 Eagles running back Brian Westbrook continues to progress from his second concussion. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Westbrook could return to team practice Wednesday if he continues to feel well. Coach Reid told the Inquirer that the team has increased Westbrook's workouts and he has not experienced further headaches. Westbrook will still require medical clearance to return to play even if he does well in practice. It seems unlikely that he would make his return in Week 14.

&#8226 According to the Houston Chronicle, Texans running back Steve Slaton is expected to meet with spine surgeon Dr. Drew Dossett on Tuesday regarding his current neck condition. Slaton has been experiencing numbness in his right thumb and did not play in Week 13. Although a visit to a surgeon by no means indicates that surgery is imminent, it does underline the seriousness of Slaton's condition. Fantasy owners should not be counting on his return in Week 14.

&#8226 Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a setback to his previously injured left shoulder when he was driven into the turf Sunday. Stafford originally separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder two weeks ago. Coach Jim Schwartz is not sharing his thoughts as to who is likely to start for the Lions this week, but did indicate that the determining factor will be whether Stafford can be effective despite the injury. It would not be surprising if Stafford were rested this week.

&#8226 Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis met with concussion specialists in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and the team has since decided to place him on injured reserve, ending his season.

See you at the injury chats (Tuesday 11 a.m.-noon, Friday 11 a.m.-noon and Sunday pregame 10-10:30 a.m.), and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 14 in the Saturday morning blog!