Stephania Bell: James Starks

Green Bay Packers injury update

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
3:43
PM ET
With the exception of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers have been rolling through their offensive playmakers with a string of injuries since the preseason.

First it was Jordy Nelson, who was sidelined by an arthroscopic knee procedure that kept his status in question until shortly before the season opener. Since then, tight end Jermichael Finley has suffered a concussion and a toe injury, and all three running backs -- Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Johnathan Franklin -- have sustained various injuries. Then, in Week 6, their other two top receivers – Randall Cobb and James Jones -- exited the game with knee injuries.

For the time being, Nelson, Finley, Lacy and Franklin are all healthy. Here’s a look at the injury status of Starks, Cobb and Jones.

James Starks, RB (knee): Starks has an undisclosed knee injury, but has been making steady progress. Last week, there were hints he could return in Week 7, but after not practicing through Thursday, that plan is on hold for a bit longer. Starks has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, leaving Franklin to back up Lacy.

Randall Cobb, WR (broken fibula): Last Sunday, Cobb took a blow to the front of his knee that could have resulted in myriad problems. The body part that ended up absorbing the damage was the fibula (the skinny bone located on the outside of the leg that runs from the knee to the ankle). Cobb’s fibula fracture, despite the obvious severity of breaking a bone, was better than a potentially season-ending multiligament tear, and the team placed him on the IR/designated for return. The soonest he will be eligible to return is Week 15.

James Jones, WR (knee): Jones suffered what the team has only referred to as a left knee injury, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it to be a PCL sprain. As with any ligamentous injury, the down time is linked to the severity of the damage. The fact that there is even a hint that Jones might be available as soon as one week following the injury suggests it was a relatively minor sprain. That said, the PCL can be tricky because it is responsible for helping control posterior translation -- the movement of the lower leg relative to the thigh in the backward direction. Even a minor injury can give the athlete a feeling of instability, or that the knee is slipping backward. Obviously that can translate to difficulty landing from a jump when making a catch, or changing direction while running a route. The ligament lies deep within the joint, and the athlete can feel the uncomfortable sensation strongly, even if the actual movement, or slipping, is subtle -- making this a problem not easily remedied by a brace.

On Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy indicated Friday would be the day the Packers learn more about Jones’ status. “He’s very positive about where he is, how he feels, but I think he’s gearing up for a possible test in his rehab schedule,” McCarthy said. As ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reports, Jones has a chance to play on Sunday, but it would not come as a surprise if he sits.
Danny Amendola and Rob GronkowskiAP Photo/Stephan SavoiaDanny Amendola (No. 80) and Rob Gronkowski (87) are nearing their return to the field.

Here are updates on more of the fantasy-relevant injury situations that I've been following ahead of Week 5 of the NFL season.

New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski, TE (back/forearm): It feels like a broken record when discussing the injury status of Gronkowski and Danny Amendola; both are practicing on a limited basis, and both will likely be listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game in Cincinnati. Another week of practice means another week of confidence for Gronkowski, which seems to be one of the primary issues for him in stepping back onto the playing field. From a practice perspective, he may still be limited on reps, but Gronkowski is participating in all forms of drills. Other than facing a true opponent -- which is a legitimately different experience from practicing with teammates -- there is little left for Gronkowski to test. But after nearly a full year of recovery from various surgeries, and the setbacks associated with some of those surgeries, who can blame him for wanting to feel extra confident that he is prepared to take the field again?

After sitting out last week’s game in Atlanta, it seems unlikely Gronkowski will opt to test his readiness in Cincinnati just one week later. But a Week 6 home game in New England against the New Orleans Saints just seems more likely. It has the makings of an exciting matchup, taking place in Foxborough, where Gronkowski will be surrounded by friends and family and undoubtedly welcomed with thunderous applause. More important, he will have just passed the 16-week mark since undergoing back surgery (the operation was June 18). Three months post-surgery is typically the soonest return for an athlete after this type of procedure; this is Gronkowski's second such operation (albeit at a different spinal level). Tacking on another month's worth of additional training and conditioning can have a profound impact on confidence level.

The extra time also allows the forearm more time to adapt to the workout stresses being placed on it, which in turn helps prepare it for the in-game loads it will encounter. Of course, no one can offer a foolproof guarantee that there is zero rate of reinjury, and the last time Gronkowski set foot on a playing field, he reinjured himself. Whatever hesitancy he may be experiencing is certainly justified. Look at it this way, fantasy owners: While he's out, readying himself for his NFL return, at least Gronkowski isn't adding any new injuries to the list.

Danny Amendola, WR (groin): Meanwhile, Gronkowski's teammate Amendola continues to make progress, but is no sure bet to return in Week 5 either. He remains on a limited practice schedule as he increases the level of demand on what is certainly a still-healing adductor tear. The hardest part about gauging Amendola's return is trying to determine when the risk-reward changes so the reward of him playing outweighs the risk of reinjury. If Amendola is still lacking power or mobility (particularly with hard breaks on routes or any sharp directional changes), he runs the risk of further injury. These things are always hard to measure in practice, but even more so if the athlete is not consistently working at full speed. By Amendola's account, the progress has been substantial, but the Patriots tend to be conservative with these soft tissue injuries and Amendola's history has to make them a bit more cautious than usual. If Amendola does manage to play in Week 5, it's hard to envision him playing at full speed for a full game.

Stevan Ridley (knee) and Brandon Bolden (knee), RBs: Also among the Patriots' MASH unit is running back Stevan Ridley. Ridley bruised the area above his knee in last week's game, and has not practiced. If he has been dealing with significant swelling, the rest will move him further toward the goal of being available Sunday than trying to practice. That said, Ridley should be on the field Friday to improve his chances of playing this week. Meanwhile, Brandon Bolden has been a regular on the injury report because of his knee and so far this week, he has been kept to limited practices. The fact that he has been a participant to some degree bodes well for his chances of suiting up this weekend, barring a setback.

Indianapolis Colts
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (neck): The news for Bradshaw is not good. He was held out of Sunday's game after suffering a neck injury in the Week 3 contest against the San Francisco 49ers, and the word from the Colts was that he was still being evaluated. The evaluative process continued into this week, as Bradshaw traveled to California for a consultation with noted spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins (who operated on both Peyton Manning and Rob Gronkowski). According to ESPN.com reports, Bradshaw is still undecided about surgery, but in the meantime, he has yet to practice since the injury. Last year, Bradshaw suffered a neck injury in Week 2 which caused tingling in his hands. He underwent a battery of tests and later revealed the injury to be a bulging disc.

"It's pretty much like an inflamed disc, and it's just sitting right on the spinal cord, I guess," Bradshaw told the Newark Star-Ledger at the time. After the symptoms subsided, Bradshaw was cleared to return to play but he knew then the symptoms could return at some point. The Colts have not indicated whether this current injury is related to the problem Bradshaw had last year, but it would certainly make sense, particularly given the chronic nature of disc injuries. These injuries can go through quiet phases, not provoking any symptoms, until there is an event which triggers a worsening of the injury and an inflammatory reaction. While Bradshaw considers his options, fantasy owners should consider whom they would choose to replace him for this week and, quite possibly, for the remainder of the season.

Oakland Raiders
Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Marcel Reece (knee), RBs: McFadden left Sunday's game in the first half with a right hamstring injury, and only returned to the sideline as an observer for the second half. Although the Raiders did not specify the severity of the injury, McFadden's absence from practice is telling. He is no stranger to lower extremity injuries and has missed numerous games throughout his career as a result. Although McFadden entered the season healthy, it seemed only a matter of time before another soft tissue injury cropped up. One month into the season, McFadden is contending with a hamstring ailment and looks to be in danger of missing at least Week 5, if not longer. The Raiders will play in an unusually late Sunday night game (the result of sharing a stadium with the Oakland Athletics, who will host a playoff game hours before), so fantasy owners should make alternate plans in advance.

Reece also left Sunday's game early with a non-specific knee injury (sprain) that warranted an MRI, but he returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, then followed it up with another limited practice Thursday. Apparently the injury is not as serious as it first appeared, and with McFadden likely out, Reece's availability as a complement to Rashad Jennings becomes more important.

Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy, (concussion) and Johnathan Franklin (foot), RBs: Lacy suffered a concussion on his first carry of Week 2, and was held out of the following game. The Packers had a bye in Week 4, giving Lacy some additional down time. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated prior to the Week 3 game that Lacy had made good progress, so it came as no surprise that he was back practicing with his teammates this week. In fact, Lacy has been a full participant and barring a setback, he'll play this Sunday.

With James Starks already ruled out, Franklin would figure to be next in line behind Lacy, but he is dealing with an injury of his own, a foot ailment suffered late in the Week 3 game where he replaced the injured Starks. Franklin was able to practice fully both Wednesday and Thursday and should be available for Sunday's contest against the Lions.

Jermichael Finley, TE (concussion): Finley suffered a concussion in Week 3, then provided some insight into just how sobering an experience that can be when he posted a video describing the event on his personal website. As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky pointed out, Finley's video was the first time that the media had heard from him following the injury. In his video, Finley talks about the play where the injury occurred, and the initial symptoms he experienced after regaining consciousness, which included visual disturbances and balance issues. Finley has made great improvements since the injury, as evidenced by his clearance to return to football activity after passing numerous tests. As Demovsky reports, Finley called the testing process a "long haul," but seems to appreciate the steps that are in place, perhaps as a result of his personal encounter with a head injury. "You have to do several things to get back, and you have to respect the league for doing it," Finley said. "It's much respect from me."

Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles, RB (toes): Charles popped up on the injury report with the body part listed as "toes," presumably because of the "extensive blisters" coach Andy Reid described after the Week 4 game. ESPN.com's Adam Teicher reports that Charles participated in the team walk-through Wednesday despite not formally practicing, a good sign for his likelihood of playing Sunday against the Titans. Charles was upgraded to limited practice Thursday, and appears to be on track for Week 5.
James StarksJeff Hanisch/US PresswireJames Starks will miss more time in Week 5.

Four teams -- the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins -- have a bye this week and are hopefully using the time to get healthy, or at least healthier. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers are returning from their bye week with a healthier Eddie Lacy for the Pack. One other injured RB hasn't quite healed up, however.

Already ruled out for Week 5

Packers running back James Starks needed more than the bye week to nurse his knee injury back to health. He has already been ruled out for this Sunday’s game against the Lions. Detroit will be without wide receiver Nate Burleson again this week and for several more to come. The Titans lost quarterback Jake Locker to a hip injury for several weeks, but fortunately for them it was not as severe as it could have been. Even within the last day the news has improved. Locker was initially projected to miss six to eight weeks, but ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Thursday that he is now expected to miss four to six weeks.

In the case of Chargers’ receiver Malcom Floyd, he has not only been ruled out for Week 5 but he is now done for the 2013 season. Floyd suffered a frightening neck injury in Week 2 and was carried off the field on a spine board. Although Floyd was released from the hospital after the game, traveled home with his teammates and has reportedly been making progress, the decision for his long-term health was made to spend the rest of this season recovering.

Big names off the injury report

Ravens running back Ray Rice was a question mark leading up to last Sunday’s game because of a strained hip flexor, which kept him out of action in Week 3. Rice played but only saw five carries for 17 yards, perhaps a function of how the Ravens simply didn’t run the ball more. At least he came out no worse for wear, despite being on the field for over 40 snaps. Rice does not appear on this week’s injury report and should be in good shape heading into Week 5. His teammate, Bernard Pierce, didn’t run much last week either and was reportedly dealing with a calf issue, per the Baltimore Sun. He does not however appear on the team’s injury report.

Lions running back Reggie Bush ran last Sunday like there were no issues with his knee whatsoever, rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown with a few receptions to boot. Now the Lions can only hope it stays that way. The week is starting off well with Bush not appearing anywhere on the team’s injury report. A healthy Bush will face the off-the-bye-week Packers this Sunday.

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a healthy hamstring once again and is free of the injury report designation. It would appear that his teammate, running back Rashard Mendenhall, is also off the report (at least as of Wednesday; Thursday’s report is not yet complete). Mendenhall has been plagued by various ailments, including a knee injury from the preseason and a toe injury in recent weeks. A healthy Mendenhall would be a nice change of pace.

Rams running back Daryl Richardson does not appear on this week’s injury report after spending several weeks there with a foot injury. Just how much his foot ailment was to blame for his lackluster running is unclear (he is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry), but the question is whether a healthier Richardson will even be the starter. There seems to be some mystery as to how this situation will play out, but ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner indicates Zac Stacy could now be in the mix.

Atlanta Falcons

Steven Jackson, RB, (hamstring): ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure reported last week that Jackson likely would be out through the Falcons’ Week 6 bye, and there has been nothing about this week’s practice that would suggest anything different. Jackson was present but without a helmet during the portion of practice open to the media Thursday and was officially listed as a nonparticipant. The Falcons play Monday night, so fantasy owners who haven’t already accounted for his absence should plan on doing so now.

Roddy White (ankle) and Julio Jones (knee), WR: Both receivers have been on the injury report since the first week of the season (White started the season on the injury report) yet both have played every game. Not surprisingly, both are expected to play again on Monday night when the Falcons host the New York Jets, but will things look any different than they have the last few weeks, particularly when it comes to White’s struggles with his ankle? Going back to Week 4, White actually played more and looked a little sharper than he had in the three previous outings. Perhaps time is, in fact, helping. White admitted last week to being limited offensively due to an inability to cut hard on his injured ankle, but he insisted he would continue to play until the bye in Week 6. Judging from the look of things, he should be in a better position to represent the other half of the Falcons’ dual wide receiver threat by Week 7, a threat which becomes all the more dangerous if opponents also need to account for Jackson in the backfield.

Jones has been on the injury report with a knee ailment but added a new injury to his left thigh in Week 4. While Jones doesn’t make it out to be serious, he told McClure it was “just like a little stinger.” It might not have been anything “drastic” according to Jones, but he acknowledged the medical staff tried to prevent him from returning to the game late in the fourth quarter after absorbing the blow. He returned anyway, producing more catches for the Falcons and more points for fantasy owners. Jones is a physical receiver who has shown multiple times he will routinely shrug off bumps and bruises. The hope is that White's improving health will help ease the load on Jones before he encounters an injury he can’t force his way through on the field. Both receivers were listed as limited participants in Thursday’s practice, as expected.

Chicago Bears

Brandon Marshall, WR (foot) and Martellus Bennett, TE (shoulder): Marshall was a nonparticipant in practice both Wednesday and Thursday due to a foot injury. On Wednesday, coach Marc Trestman expressed confidence that those who weren’t practicing, including Marshall, would be on the field Sunday, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Dickerson. Despite appearing with some regularity on the injury reports and a slate of surgical procedures in his past, Marshall rarely misses games (only five absences in his career) and has played in all 16 games the last two seasons. Still, with little in the way of detail and nothing in the way of visible activity, it warrants paying close attention to what Marshall does on Friday.

Meanwhile, Bennett let everyone know when he injured his shoulder in Week 2. He managed to score the game winner that week -- after the injury -- suggesting it would not threaten his playing time. So far, it hasn’t. Bennett has been given a lighter workload during the week but has consistently played on game day. This week appears no different, as he was limited Wednesday yet returned to full practice Thursday. Expect him to be ready when the Bears host the Saints.

New Orleans Saints

Mark Ingram, RB, (toe) and Lance Moore, WR, (hand): No news is not good news here. Neither player has participated in practice this week after missing the team’s Monday night game. Toe injuries can be slow to heal and problematic for a player at any position, but especially so for a running back. If Ingram isn’t working by now, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything at a game level in three days. Moore won’t reveal any specifics about his hand injury, but by telling ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett that he needed to wait for the “hand to heal properly” or he would “be in trouble,” he hinted at a minimum of another week off. Hands are fairly integral to the job demands of a receiver so it makes sense, but at this point it’s hard to predict when he might return.


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:

Quarterbacks

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Toni L. Sandys/The Washington PostThere are plenty of questions to be asked before there's a definitive answer on Robert Griffin III's status for Sunday.
Robert Griffin, Washington Redskins (head): Griffin wins the "most discussed injury of the week" prize, as everyone has an opinion as to whether he could or should play Sunday. The only people who matter when it comes to making the actual decision have not yet weighed in, however, as Griffin has to progress through the remainder of the week first. He was cleared to return to light practice, which he did Wednesday and Thursday. For his part, Griffin has said he feels fine with no recurrence of symptoms.



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.

Running Backs

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireAdrian Peterson had stayed healthy since returning from a torn ACL but now has to deal with an ankle injury.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (ankle): We don't want to see Peterson listed here, not after everything he has done to get off the injury report, but we already knew he suffered a mild ankle sprain in Week 5. He (wisely) did not practice Wednesday but was out there on a limited basis Thursday.



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.

Wide Receivers

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks has not played since Week 2, but he may return this week.
Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) and Ramses Barden (concussion), New York Giants: Nicks didn't practice Wednesday but did some light work Thursday. This is the most we've seen of him in the past two weeks, so it's an encouraging sign. ESPN New York reports that after Thursday's outing Nicks said, "The defining moment will be tomorrow when I do a little bit more than individual [work] and see if I'm able to compete." Meanwhile, Barden put in full practices Wednesday and Thursday and looks to be ready to go in Week 6.

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.

Tight Ends

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireAaron Hernandez hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2.
Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle), New England Patriots: Both tight ends are again listed as limited participants on the injury report without much other information being offered. Gronkowski's ability to play each week suggests he will continue to do so again. Hernandez may still be on the early side of recovery. Since the Patriots travel to Seattle, perhaps a decision will become apparent early based on who makes the trip.

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.

Packers-Bears injury report

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
11:21
AM ET


Thursday night's matchup pits the Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears. There is one particularly key fantasy player in question and it looks as though he could be a game-time decision.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
AP Photo/David StlukaGreg Jennings had five catches for 34 yards before leaving last Sunday's game early.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers (groin [D]): Jennings left Sunday's game early with a groin injury and did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. The doubtful tag would normally represent a highly unlikely chance of Jennings suiting up, as would his inability to practice at all this week, but Jennings has not counted himself out. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Jennings wants to play and one source says his chances of doing so are "50/50." As a talented veteran, Jennings may indeed be given more latitude to play if he makes significant improvements before kickoff. The rehab staff put Jennings through a variety of drills Wednesday and as coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel afterward, "I'll get the evaluation and then, frankly, [Thursday] will be the deciding factor."

It seems the odds are against Jennings suiting up. There has been little recovery time between games. Even if he demonstrated improvement in individual drills, the test of real game action is always more demanding [e] and riskier. The potential for aggravating a groin injury and having it turn into a multi-week problem always exists when the athlete is operating at less than full health. And if he does play, what will his contribution be? Will he see fewer snaps in an effort to limit his exposure? Will he be able to shake defenders as easily if his mobility is compromised? One of the biggest challenges with a groin injury is losing power with straight running and losing sharp lateral mobility with directional change. Veterans like Jennings will often push to play despite being at less than 100 percent, but the body does not always cooperate. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, if Jennings does end up active, there will be uncertainty as to just how well he is able to perform.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers (toe [D]): This doubtful tag leaves far less doubt in its interpretation. Starks has been dealing with a turf toe injury since the preseason and just returned to limited practice Wednesday. It appears too early for him to be game ready, but with the extra time between now and the Packers' Week 3 contest, it's possible he could be in the mix then.

Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears (knee [P]): Before this season began, Urlacher, who sprained his left MCL and PCL late last season and underwent arthroscopic surgery in August, noted that he would likely have to "manage" his knee throughout the course of the year. The coaches are helping him to do just that as he was removed from Sunday's game early and was held out of practice through Tuesday. Urlacher returned to full practice Wednesday, however, and is expected to play tonight.

Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears (shin [Q]): Tillman left Sunday's game early after injuring his lower right leg and the team has not elaborated on the specifics. He did not practice early in the week but returned Wednesday for the team's pregame walk-through (officially listed as a limited participant). At questionable, his status for Thursday's game is up in the air. If he does not go, Kelvin Hayden is expected to assume his role.

Expect Brady, Romo, Big Ben to play

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
6:36
PM ET


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 Hits

Tom 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.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo sat out most of last week's game with a hand injury but appears to be in good shape for the season finale.
Tony Romo, QB, and Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Both players are on track to play Sunday night in the game against the New York Giants that will determine who lives to play another week. Jones benefited from the rest he got in Week 16 (he was removed from the game after just four carries) and has been practicing on a limited basis. Of course, the ultimate test for his hamstring will come in the demands of a full game, but his issue was only ever described as "tightness," never a true strain. Romo meanwhile has been working on getting the swelling down in his bruised right hand. The less swelling, the less there are any issues with functionality of the hand that would affect grip and, ultimately, ball control. Romo's presence in practice throughout the week indicates the team is fully expecting he will start.

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.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireIt'll be hard for either the Saints or fantasy owners to rely on Mark Ingram down the stretch.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: Uh-oh. Not good news here for the Saints. Ingram has missed the past three games with a turf toe injury but in the past week had appeared to be making some progress. Unfortunately, his return to light practice Wednesday resulted in a setback, one the New Orleans Times-Picayune suggests could keep him out of the playoffs. Wise fantasy owners probably already made the move to secure Chris Ivory, who is expected to play again this Sunday.

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.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy is the leading rusher in fantasy this season, but will he get to build on his stats?
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Finally, Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin are off the injury report, but McCoy gets added this week. McCoy hurt his ankle in Week 16 and was given Wednesday off. Eagles coach Andy Reid expressed optimism early in the week that McCoy would be fine, and his return to limited practice Thursday seemed to support that statement. McCoy is expected to play Sunday.

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.

How long will Adrian Peterson be out?

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
5:06
PM ET


Congratulations to all who took home the championship trophy in Week 16 and, frankly, to all who gutted out the season, regardless of how you ended up placing in your league(s). We appreciate those who play hard right up until the bitter end. Speaking of which, a number of fantasy leagues take their championship matches right through the bitter end, otherwise known as Week 17, seeking a challenge by playing in a week where teams may alter their rosters either because they have nothing to lose or everything to gain by fielding backups. If you're playing for glory this Sunday, then the injury news is of import, but be forewarned: The picture of who sits and who starts may be even cloudier with the playoffs looming next month.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Geoff Burke/US PresswireAdrian Peterson is obviously out for the rest of 2011, but his 2012 future is also very hazy.
One player we already know will not be present on Sunday has been a staple in virtually every fantasy football league for several years running. Unfortunately, the most dramatic -- and devastating -- injury of Week 16 was the one suffered by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who took a blow to his left knee that left him visibly in pain and on the ground. The video, difficult as it was to watch, showed Peterson's knee moving into an awkward combination of valgus (bowing inward) and rotation, finally coming to rest at an odd angle underneath the weight of his body. Even in the absence of any specific knowledge of anatomy, the visceral reaction viewers collectively experienced while watching a knee bend in ways that it shouldn't told us something had gone terribly wrong. Peterson officially has a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) along with some damage to both the medial and lateral meniscus. He is expected to undergo reconstructive surgery in the next week to 10 days. The true extent of the damage within the joint may not be fully appreciated until that surgery takes place. For now, the Vikings remain hopeful that Peterson will be ready to contribute early next season, but understandably the timeline must remain fluid to allow for the many unpredictable variables that accompany this type of injury and subsequent rehabilitation.



Working in Peterson's favor are his youth (he is 26 years old with only five NFL seasons under his belt), his physical fitness and his work ethic. He has also shown resilience in responding to past injuries that were expected to either keep him down longer or potentially hint at future problems. While a junior in college at Oklahoma, Peterson broke his clavicle, which forced him to miss the last seven weeks of the season. He entered the NFL the following year with some concern about whether the collarbone would be a problem. It was not. In Peterson's first NFL season (2007), he did suffer a less common knee ligament sprain, a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury (incidentally, which was to his right knee). Not only was Peterson back on the field within three weeks, the knee healed well and did not prove to be a liability going forward. In fact, since that time, Peterson had missed only one game until suffering a left high ankle sprain just five weeks ago. Peterson returned in Week 15 after missing three games, but just one short week later, his world turned upside down with this latest injury.

Peterson will be challenged to return to form in 2012. There is no reason at this moment to believe he cannot be back to playing football next season. It is also reasonable, however, to allow for the possibility that it will take some time for him to show the explosiveness and aggressive style for which he is known. It's not just the physical recovery; there is the mental aspect of regaining confidence in a leg that has been severely damaged, believing it will hold up to the physical demands of the game, including, of course, the contact it will naturally be expected to absorb. Not only do the stats show that players typically perform better in the second year following reconstructive knee surgery, but athletes will often say it takes a year of playing on that leg until they get their "feel" back or until they believe they are playing like themselves again.



At this point, we simply wish Peterson well on his road to recovery and hope for positive updates along the way.

Quick hits


All the games for Week 17 will come your way Sunday, with the season ending that night with New York Giants hosting the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title.



[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
Brett Davis/US PresswireAndre Johnson wants to get some work in the regular-season finale to get him ready for the playoffs.
• There is a possibility, a probability even, that Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson will make an appearance Sunday. Johnson has missed three games while recovering from his second hamstring injury of the season and has made it clear he would like to see some regular-season action before entering the playoffs. Last Friday, following a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, coach Gary Kubiak told the Texans official website, "I'm hoping [Johnson] is back out there this week." Johnson did return to practice Monday and said, "We're just trying to see how this week goes, see if I can make it through the week, first of all, without any soreness or anything like that. ... I'll be doing a little rehab tomorrow and I'll go back at it on Wednesday." If Johnson has a good week of practice, expect him to see some time Sunday. How much time that will be is unclear, but hopefully we'll get a better hint later in the week.

• Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones was removed from Saturday's game as soon as the announcement came that the New York Giants had won (rendering the Cowboys' game essentially meaningless). The good news for Jones is that his hamstring held up for the four carries he managed, but the rest he got afterward probably served him better. Expect Jones to be ready to go this weekend.

• The bigger question for the Cowboys this week might be the status of quarterback Tony Romo, who hit his right (throwing) hand against Jason Babin's helmet Saturday, causing the hand to swell to roughly twice its normal size. Fortunately, tests were negative for any fracture and, presuming the swelling resolves enough to allow Romo to function effectively, he will indeed play Sunday night. Coach Jason Garrett, a former quarterback who innately understands the physical demands of the position, captured the issue perfectly when he spoke to reporters Monday. "I don't think it's that complicated," Garrett said. "Can you take a snap? Can you grip the ball? Can you throw it? What's the ball look like when you throw it? Can you hand off? Quarterbacks that have had injuries in the past, and really, it's a functional type thing. ... How accurate is he when he's throwing it? Does everything have to be perfect for him to throw it well? Because, as you know, that position is a spontaneous one and he's certainly a spontaneous quarterback. So we'll evaluate all those things as the week goes on." And that pretty well sums it up.

• It is unclear whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger under center Sunday or whether there will be another Charlie Batch sighting. Roethlisberger sat out Week 16 to rest his left ankle following a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 14. Roethlisberger played the Monday night game in Week 15 but struggled to step into his throws and was clearly limited in his mobility. There won't be any clues as to a decision until the Steelers can evaluate what Roethlisberger can do in practice.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore was questionable coming into Monday night's game because of a sore hamstring injured late last week in practice. He did end up playing but didn't last through the first half, as the injury forced him out in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether he will be well enough to play Sunday.

[+] EnlargeMcCoy
Debby Wong/US PresswireLeSean McCoy is the leading fantasy scorer among running backs this year, but will he be around in Week 17 to secure that honor?
• The Philadelphia Eagles saw LeSean McCoy leave Saturday's game for a period of time with an ankle injury. McCoy was able to return after X-rays were negative, but there seemed to be some discrepancy between McCoy's opinion as to whether he'd be available this week and coach Andy Reid's thought on the matter. For now, we'll go with Reid's interpretation, which is that McCoy has a "slight" ankle sprain and should be available Sunday.

Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith played Saturday and posted decent fantasy numbers, but at times looked to be struggling with his right ankle. The Lions signed running back Joique Bell on Monday, which certainly gives pause as to Smith's availability for this week. With the playoffs looming, it would seem the Lions would not want to risk Smith's health for when it is most needed. Fantasy owners may want to avail themselves of other options.

Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush injured his right leg late in Saturday's game, but the non-specific injury appears mild. As Bush told the Palm Beach Post, "I don't think it's serious. I mean, I'm walking." Good point. So far, there's no indication Bush will be forced to miss this week's game. Meanwhile teammate Anthony Fasano missed Week 16 due to a concussion. He will need to be medically cleared to return to practice before his game status can be evaluated.

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks suffered yet another setback with his injured right ankle. It's tough to imagine him playing this week when the Packers' biggest goal might be trying to maximize the health of their team going into the playoffs.



• And finally, if you were holding out any hope for the return of either Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler or running back Matt Forte, you can now let it go. The Bears officially ended their seasons Tuesday, and they can focus on getting healthy for next year.

Late Week 16 injury updates

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
8:24
PM ET


With the majority of NFL matchups taking place on Saturday, there is one fewer day for teams, coaches and, most importantly, fantasy owners to prepare! Never fear, championship contenders. We won't let something as small as a schedule change get in the way of bringing you all the latest information. With the NFL injury reports hot off the presses, here are the players whose status may have you concerned heading into this week's games.

Good luck in Week 16, everyone! May your players stay healthy and win for you.

Quarterbacks

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Frank Victores/US PresswireBen Roethlisberger likely will play against the Rams only in case of an emergency.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, ankle (Q): The Steelers have been preparing Charlie Batch all week to face the St. Louis Rams, with Roethlisberger active only in an emergency scenario. This is not a huge surprise, as Roethlisberger is coming off a short week following the Monday night game in which he was clearly limited. With the playoffs forthcoming, the extended rest can only help. It's too soon to say whether the Steelers plan to have him active or not in the final week of the regular season.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles, ribs, (P): Vick will probably be on this list through the end of the regular season as his rib injury continues to heal. There's no question, however, that Vick will be the quarterback for the Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, right shoulder, (P): Freeman is now at the point where he can play despite the shoulder soreness. He practiced fully this week and will start against the Carolina Panthers.

Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals, head, (Q): Kolb suffered a concussion in Week 14 and has still only returned to limited practice. It's expected that John Skelton will start again.

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, ankle, (D): Bradford has been struggling with his ankle, saying it feels as if it's "going backwards." Not good. Neither is a doubtful tag. With backup A.J. Feeley already ruled out, it appears recently signed Kellen Clemens will get the start.

Running Backs

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, ankle, (Q): Johnson sprained his ankle Sunday and has been gradually increasing his activity throughout the week in an effort to return. While Johnson escaped major structural injury, the ankle has still been sore and could affect his overall performance, particularly with lateral movement and cutting. Johnson returned to limited practice Thursday and Friday and is expected to play, but likely will not be at top form.



Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, foot, (P): Bradshaw is following the same pattern of limited work during the week and playing on Sunday. Expect him to play again this week.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
Douglas Jones/US PresswireThe oft-injured Felix Jones is once again a question mark for fantasy owners.
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys, hamstring, (Q): Jones hasn't done much ... and that's the worry. Although he has been doing some running on the side, he has not fully tested the hamstring. While the Cowboys hold out hope he'll be available, it's Sammy Morris who has taken all the first-team reps in practice. As another signal the Cowboys want insurance, they promoted running back Chauncey Washington from the practice squad, according to ESPNDallas.com. To complicate matters, this is a late game and the decision will not likely be announced until inactives are due. Even if Jones plays, there has to be some concern about what exactly one can expect in live game conditions.

Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders, shoulder, (Q): Bush has been on the injury report but it seems only logical he would be. After all, there are many other Raiders there to keep him company but, most importantly, he has been the workhorse of the backfield, enduring a physical toll. After he has been limited in practice each day, the questionable tag does raise some eyebrows. The signals out of Oakland all week have been that the Raiders expect to have Bush play, but it will be important to check pregame inactives.

Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos, hamstring, (P): McGahee has been bothered intermittently by the hamstring since hyperextending his knee but the probable tag tells us the Broncos plan to have him on the field. McGahee practiced in full every day, which should also help put fantasy owners' collective minds at ease.



Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions, ankle, (P): Smith's status is an upgrade over last week, indicating the team is feeling far more confident about his ankle. Smith's activity this week was a positive sign, as he was able to practice in full each day. While there's no way to be certain he can get through the game unscathed, this is certainly a better situation than last week.

Roy Helu, Washington Redskins, toe/knee, (Q): Helu downplayed his injuries, but according to The Washington Post, he felt much better after practice Thursday than he did earlier in the week. Despite the questionable tag, it appears Helu will play.



Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, ankle, (P): His ankle got tangled up during the Week 15 game, but Jones-Drew, one of the most durable and productive running backs this season, was never really in danger of missing the game. He was given fewer reps in practice but participated on a limited basis every day. Jones-Drew is expected to start against Tennessee.

Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals, knee, (Q): After he was listed as probable the past couple of weeks, it's a little concerning that Wells has been downgraded this week to questionable. He did practice daily, but on a limited basis; however, that has been the pattern for some time as the team has been attempting to manage his knee condition. The Arizona Republic reports that Wells is expected to play Saturday, despite the questionable tag.



James Starks, knee/ankle and Brandon Saine, concussion, Green Bay Packers, (P): Starks sat out last week's game to give his ankle some additional rest. It only made sense after Starks struggled for several weeks in a row. This week has gone much better for Starks, who was able to participate fully in practice each day. Saine missed Week 15 with a concussion but returned to limited practice Wednesday, then full practice Thursday and Friday. Both backs are expected to be available along with Ryan Grant. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, there is likely to be a shared workload in place.

Shonn Greene, New York Jets, rib/shoulder, (P): Greene has been on the injury report for a few weeks now and his latest injury (torn tendon in finger) isn't even listed. The probable tag indicates the Jets expect him to play.

Marion Barber, Chicago Bears, calf, (D): Barber is listed as doubtful, meaning there is little doubt that Kahlil Bell will be carrying the load for the Bears on Saturday.

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, toe, no designation yet: Ingram is still not practicing, and with the game on Monday night, fantasy owners should avoid him in their lineups.

Wide Receivers

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
Scott Rovak/US PresswireAfter missing part of last week's game with an injury, A.J. Green appears poised to carry a full load this week.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals, shoulder, (P): Knowing that Green comes into this game fresh off a Grade 3 shoulder separation, the probable tag is very encouraging. Green has maintained all along that he would be able to play this weekend, and now it appears all but certain that he will. He was catching passes as early as Tuesday, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, and returned to a full practice Friday. If Green lands hard on the recently injured shoulder, it certainly won't feel terrific and he may be challenged to reach directly overhead, but he managed to finish the game last week after suffering the injury. It's hard to imagine it being much worse Saturday.

Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills, groin, (P): Last Sunday Johnson appeared to aggravate the groin injury that has plagued him throughout the season and was removed from the game as a result. Johnson said he could have re-entered the game and expressed little doubt that he would be back in Week 16. He practiced on a limited basis daily and appears on track to play as usual. It's worth noting that Johnson has performed well this season despite the presence of injury.



Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys, shoulder (Q): Robinson was listed this way last week but we all know he played. Expect him to do the same again after practicing daily.

Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles, hamstring/shoulder (P): Maclin looked better last week than he did the week before and the probable tag tells us the Eagles are confident he'll be out there again. Maclin practiced fully each day and looks to be overcoming the injury.

Mario Manningham, New York Giants, knee, (D): Manningham has managed to play through his knee issue for the last two weeks but it appears he will miss this one. Swelling in the knee has returned, and he did not practice at all this week. Fantasy owners should make other plans.

Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans, ankle, (P): Washington has already shown he can play through the ankle injury, even coming in at far more questionable status. After practicing in full daily, Washington appears good to go against Jacksonville.

Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins, knee, (P): Marshall apparently had been dealing with some knee soreness but nothing so serious that he might have to miss this matchup against the New England Patriots. Marshall didn't practice Wednesday but returned to light work Thursday and full practice Friday. Expect him to play.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREA groin injury may keep out Vincent Jackson at the worst time for fantasy owners.
Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers, groin, (Q): Jackson did not practice at all this week because of the groin issue, making his Saturday status far less certain. Jackson has played through injuries before, but this time may be different. It seemed like a foregone conclusion earlier in the week that Jackson would go, but Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Jackson's groin has not responded as hoped to treatment during the week. Late game alert.

Wes Welker, knee and Deion Branch, groin, New England Patriots, (Q): Once again the Patriots have roughly half their roster at questionable after limited practice all week. Welker has been at this status for several weeks and has played without incident. Branch, however, missed last week and there is legitimate question as to whether he is ready to return. Branch says he's improving, but the team will make the final decision, just before game time.

Santonio Holmes, New York Jets, hip, (P): Holmes was an addition to the Thursday injury report after being limited in practice, but coach Rex Ryan said the Jets expected him to be ready by Saturday. The probable tag supports that, and fantasy owners can put him in their lineups.

Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders, foot, (P): Moore was able to make it back last week but didn't do too much. Another week of practice (full practices daily) should have him on track for more action.

OUT


This space is intended for a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.

Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens, knee: Boldin underwent knee surgery this week and will miss the remainder of the regular season.

Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers, knee: Jennings suffered a sprained MCL in Week 14 and is likely out for the remainder of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJake Ballard won't be able to take advantage of a Jets defense that struggled to stop fellow tight end Brent Celek last week.
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears, knee: Forte suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain, and the Bears still hope he will be able to return before the regular season is complete, but it is far from certain.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears, thumb: The Bears' starting quarterback remains out alongside their starting running back. Cutler is recovering from surgery to repair his broken right thumb.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders, foot: McFadden is still removed from practice but the team still holds out hope he can return at some point. It won't be this week.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders, foot: Ford has still not been able to practice this week as he recovers from a foot injury.

Jake Ballard, TE, New York Giants, knee: Ballard injured his PCL and, as expected, will miss this week.

Anthony Fasano, TE, Miami Dolphins, head: Fasano was diagnosed with a concussion Thursday, at which point it appeared obvious he would sit out this week. The team made it official Friday.

Be sure to check out Fantasy Football Now on Saturday this week, on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. ET and Fantasy Surround on ESPN.com starting at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!

Good news for Peterson; Big Ben murky

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
5:58
PM ET


The only players fantasy owners are wondering about heading into the Thursday night game are Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Michael Turner. Jones, who has strained both hamstrings this season, put on a nice display Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Limited practice for Jones on a short week did not likely come as a surprise to most, but seeing the word "back" next to his name on the injury report may have. While the Falcons have not said much about Jones with regards to this back ailment, it's not uncommon to have low back and hamstring issues simultaneously. The large sciatic nerve in the back of the thigh is formed from nerve roots in the lumbar (low back) region (which is why herniated disks in the back often result in leg pain when the sciatic nerve is affected). That is not to suggest by any stretch that is the case here, only that it is not unusual to have overlapping back and hamstring conditions. There is no reason to expect any limitations with Jones, but until he survives the remainder of the season incident-free, it's only natural to be a little nervous. Meanwhile Turner has also been on the injury report for several weeks because of his groin but has managed to play nonetheless. He is expected to do so again Thursday night.

Quick Hits

Not Practicing Thursday

Ben Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireIt appears fantasy owners may have to wait until Monday night to figure out whether to use Ben Roethlisberger in their lineups.
Here is a list of players who are worth monitoring based on the fact that they are not practicing as of Thursday afternoon:

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger's high ankle sprain sustained a week ago is no secret, but his status for Monday night remains murky. Roethlisberger is in a walking boot and may not practice at all before Monday's game. If anyone has defied all medical logic when it comes to returning from injury, it's Roethlisberger, but this one could prove to be a huge challenge. Roethlisberger need only look at Sam Bradford's struggles over a month removed from a similar injury. (Bradford now says he feels like he's "going backwards") Bradford had difficulty stepping into his throws and was clearly hampered with his mobility in Monday night's game. If Roethlisberger is similarly limited, is it worth playing him and risking a setback besides? That will be the question the Steelers will be considering as Monday approaches. This could come down to a game-time decision.

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Despite the fact the Texans are referring to Johnson as day-to-day with his latest hamstring injury, all the signals out of Texas suggest he will not return to action this week. Johnson has resumed some running but is not practicing with the team. After he sustained his second hamstring injury of the season (and with the Texans having earned a playoff berth), the team is bound to exercise caution.



[+] EnlargeGiants' Ahmad Bradshaw
Jim O'Connor/US PRESSWIREAhmad Bradshaw is still slowed down a bit but still looks like he will play this weekend.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: Last week Bradshaw did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but still suited up for Sunday. Of course, fantasy owners weren't expecting him to be benched for the first half of the game for violating team rules, but one has to imagine that won't happen twice in a row. Bradshaw should return to some form of practice Friday and play on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.



Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: We summed up the latest discourse regarding <a href="http://espn.go.com/fantasy/blog/_/name/bell_stephania/id/7350107/demarco-murray-greg-jennings-likely-done-year-ben-roethlisberger-darren-mcfadden-iffy-return"McFadden's midfoot injury Tuesday and nothing has really changed. He is not practicing and there is no timetable on his return. It's worth noting that Taiwan Jones also remains out with a hamstring injury. The Raiders have to be crossing their fingers on Michael Bush staying healthy.

Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders: Like his running back brethren, Ford has not yet returned to practice as he recovers from a foot injury.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: Starks attempted to work out Tuesday but according to the Green Bay Post-Gazette, his ankle did not respond well. Starks did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is not looking likely to play Sunday. Brandon Saine remains out of practice as well following a concussion sustained in Week 14. Ryan Grant is likely to get the bulk of the work.



Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: Ingram's turf toe kept him out of last week's game and he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. At this point, it appears Chris Ivory will make another appearance for the Saints alongside Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans: Washington was clearly in pain near the end of Sunday's game but he fought through it to deliver some nice playoff points for fantasy owners. Washington had been dealing with a sprained ankle, which kept him out of practice the entire week. According to the Titans' website, Washington had back spasms to go along with his balky ankle. It shouldn't come as any surprise then that Washington has not yet practiced to allow him some recovery time. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported Washington is expected to return to practice Friday. If Washington does play, it looks as if he might have Matt Hasselbeck to throw him the ball. Hasselbeck, who left last Sunday's game early after feeling a "pop" in his calf, returned to limited practice Thursday and the team is encouraged.

Practicing Thursday:

Here is a list of several key fantasy players who were back in the mix by Thursday.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Andy KingAdrian Peterson has missed three games so far with an ankle injury but may finally return in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson seems to have turned a corner with regards to his ankle health. He has been in practice both Wednesday and Thursday and, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave noted Peterson was cutting better, even answering in the affirmative when asked if he was confident Peterson would play. Last week, Peterson had initiated running but still exhibited a limp and struggled with cutting maneuvers. The Vikings wisely gave him an additional week off (he has now missed three games) and it appears the time has helped. Barring a setback, Peterson looks to be making his return in Week 15.

Michael Vick, QB, and Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick returned to action in Week 14, but his ribs are still sore. Since he is still on the mend, the Eagles did not have him practice Wednesday, but he returned to a full workout Thursday. The good news is the Eagles expect him to start; the not-so-good news is that the Eagles face the New York Jets this weekend. The Jets will have to account for Jeremy Maclin at the receiver position, as he is also expected to play despite not being able to finish last week's game. Maclin, who had missed the previous three games with both a hamstring strain and a shoulder separation, had only one catch in the game and was clearly at less than full strength. Maclin had a limited practice Wednesday followed by a full practice Thursday. As long as there are no setbacks between now and Sunday, Maclin will play. The big question for fantasy owners is whether he can deliver a full 60 minutes or whether the hamstring will act up again.

Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions: Smith made an early exit from the Week 13 game after aggravating his high ankle sprain and was not able to make it back for last Sunday's contest. This week, Smith has taken an encouraging step in returning to practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis. If all continues well, the Lions plan to have him on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how the workload shapes up since Smith will still not likely be at full health.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: Graham fought through back spasms last Sunday but still managed to be productive. More importantly, Graham returned to full practice Wednesday and has all but assured his fantasy owners that he will be back in Week 15.

See you at the injury chat Friday at 11 a.m. and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 15 in the Saturday morning blog!



Heading into the Thursday night game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are, thankfully, only a couple of fantasy question marks. For the Browns, running back Peyton Hillis appeared on this week's injury report with a hip strain. He is listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis this week, but the general sense in Cleveland is that he will play. Teammate Montario Hardesty returned in Week 13 to active status but never touched the ball. Hardesty was only in for a few snaps but claims the calf injury is behind him. After practicing fully earlier in the week, Hardesty is listed as probable and is expected to be available. If Hillis ends up not being able to go, Hardesty would get the start.

For the Steelers, there were a number of players listed on the injury report but all were able to practice. From a fantasy perspective, running back Rashard Mendenhall (back), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (thumb) and safety Troy Polamalu (knee) are all listed as Probable and all are expected to play.

Quick Hits

Not Practicing Thursday:

Here is a list of players who are worth monitoring based on the fact that they are not practicing as of Thursday afternoon:

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesAndre Johnson had barely returned to action when he hurt his other hamstring last week.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Johnson injured his non-surgical (left) hamstring in Week 13 and while the injury is reportedly mild, the Texans will not take any chances by rushing him back too soon. According to the Texans' website, coach Gary Kubiak said of Johnson, "The key here right now is that when we get him back, we need to make sure we get him back for the long haul." Not only is caution warranted to avoid risking a setback with this latest injury, but there is no reason to chance overloading Johnson's right side. He needs to be running uninhibited with even strides before taking the field. The Texans have said he will be a game-time decision but it appears likely he will rest this week.

Kevin Smith, RB, Detroit Lions: Smith returned in Week 13 just 10 days after suffering a high ankle sprain and it did not yield a good result. Smith struggled in his outing, then left the game after aggravating the ankle. Given the setback (and Smith's long history of injury issues), it appears Smith will not be participating this Sunday. Maurice Morris would get the start in his place.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: At this time last week, Bradshaw had not tested his foot in practice and seemed unlikely to play. Then Friday came, he had a solid practice and then played Sunday. While he did not post stellar numbers, most importantly Bradshaw emerged with his foot no worse for the wear. His absence from practice on Wednesday and Thursday of this week might have signaled concern, but the New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano reports that coach Tom Coughlin says he expects both Bradshaw and Jacobs (who has been out with a sore hamstring) to return to practice Friday. Both backs are in line to play Sunday night in a big divisional matchup in Dallas.



Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: In what now sounds like a broken record, McFadden is still not practicing with the team. Even Raiders coach Hue Jackson seemed at a loss for words on the subject Wednesday when he told reporters he has given up on guessing when any of his injured star players will return. Expect McFadden to be out again in Week 14, with Michael Bush continuing to carry the load.

Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders: See the note above on McFadden. Neither player has returned to practice and neither, at this point, can be expected to play Sunday.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: Starks aggravated his ankle injury yet again in Week 13 and this time it looks as if he will be forced to miss a game. Starks has not practiced this week but still has a shot to return to practice Friday, although that appears unlikely. If he does not practice Friday, it is expected he will sit Sunday.

Willis McGahee, RB, Denver Broncos: McGahee did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but has told reporters he plans to play. He was listed on the injury report because of his knee, but there has been no news of anything new and significant. Recently, McGahee has dealt with a strained hamstring (the result of hyperextending his knee) along with hand surgery to address a fractured metacarpal (long bone of the hand). He has been remarkably resilient, missing only one game and has performed well since suffering those injuries, including rushing for more than 100 yards rushing last week. The rest during the week may go a long way towards helping him perform on Sundays. Barring a surprise, McGahee is expected to face the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: Ingram has a case of turf toe (injury to the ligaments anchoring the big toe at the ball of the foot), which has kept him off the practice field this week. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Ingram's toe injury appears to be mild, but Ingram says he will let what's in the best interest of the team take precedence. "If I feel like I can bring my best to the table, I'm gonna go," Ingram said. "If I can't, I'll sit if that's what's best for the team. But I always wanna try to go." The Saints are in a much better position with the overall health of their running backs now compared to the same time last year. Chris Ivory hasn't been active recently only because he's the fourth guy in a stable of healthy backs. If Ingram does not go -- and at this point it would not be surprising if the Saints rested him with the playoffs looming -- then Ivory will likely take his place.

Practicing Thursday:

Here is a list of several key fantasy players who were back in the mix by Thursday.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Nell RedmondAdrian Peterson has missed the past two weeks with an ankle injury.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson has now been out of commission for two games since suffering a left high-ankle sprain and the question now is whether he will miss his third game Sunday. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Peterson rated himself at 70 percent health early in the week, yet is eager to show he can play. As much as fantasy owners would love to have him available for their playoffs, most would agree his long-term health is the primary concern, and it only makes sense the Vikings would see it the same way. Peterson said he would know after testing the ankle running and cutting whether he would be able to play. The first step in that direction came Thursday when he returned to doing individual drills in practice, including making some cuts. How Peterson's ankle responds to the increased activity will be critical and whether he can put in back-to-back practice workouts may prove the determining factor. The progress is encouraging, but the decision to play has not been made as of yet.

Michael Vick, QB and Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Vick has missed three games with two broken ribs but can now throw the football without cringing. Vick graduated from throwing the football Monday to returning to full practice, and he plans to start Sunday. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Vick insists he plans to alter his style to slide more and avoid some contact, but that is no guarantee of avoiding a setback. After all, this latest rib injury happened in the pocket when Vick was hit as he threw the ball. Vick's fantasy value has come largely in the form of supplementing his throwing yards with plays made on his feet, so it will be interesting to see how this new strategy shakes out. The first step is getting him back under center, though, and it appears that will happen in Week 14. Meanwhile, teammate Maclin may join Vick on Sunday if he continues to feel as he did Thursday. Maclin has now put in back-to-back practices, an important step after last week's practice attempt resulted in a setback with his hamstring. The concern naturally will be if Maclin has not tested the leg at full speed whether he can survive a game situation without the threat of re-injury.



[+] EnlargeTBD
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMiles Austin last appeared in a game on Nov. 6 against the Seahawks.
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys: After missing four games with his second hamstring injury of the season, Austin now appears on track to rejoin his team. Austin returned to route running last week, but given his health challenges thus far, the team was not going to force him back into service too soon. Not to mention, teammate Laurent Robinson has been filling in more than ably in his absence. However, Robinson has a mild shoulder separation, which he suffered but played through last week. He has not practiced yet this week but maintains he will play on Sunday. This week Austin returned to practice on a limited basis and, barring a setback, he is expected to return. The Cowboys tentatively expect to have both receivers available Sunday night but how the workload will be divided is unclear.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: Manningham sounded discouraged about the status of his knee last week, even hinting at a possible early end to his season. Well, things are looking up in Week 14, as Manningham has been able to practice on a limited basis for two days. While he is no lock to play Sunday night, coach Tom Coughlin sounded encouraged saying Manningham looked "good, sharp, quick," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. Stay tuned, but it looks as if Manningham has a chance to be on the field against the Dallas Cowboys. Manningham's knee will likely not be fully healthy again this season and he may yet need surgery once the season is over, but the key question has been whether the swelling would be manageable enough to allow him to continue.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Freeman sat out the Week 13 contest after injuring his shoulder late in the game one week earlier. Freeman reportedly suffered no major injury other than bruising in the shoulder, but acknowledged that it was extremely painful even at rest. The rest appears to have paid off, however, as Freeman's pain eased up, his range of motion has improved and he returned to limited practice this week. On Wednesday, Freeman only did light throwing with backup Josh Johnson handling most of the reps with the first team. On Thursday, the Tampa Tribune reported Freeman was back "making all the throws" in practice, a somewhat stronger indication that he is likely to start Sunday.

See you at the injury chat Friday at 10 a.m. and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 14 in Saturday's blog!



If you're fortunate enough to be left standing in your fantasy league after another injury-filled Sunday, you may be limping your way into the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
Brett Davis/US PresswireThis is not a sight fantasy owners wanted to see from Andre Johnson again.
Exhibit A: One of my fantasy teams finally had its original ensemble back together ... for a week. Then Sunday came, and two of the players who had helped successfully launch my fantasy season were injured again. Running back Peyton Hillis and wide receiver Andre Johnson left their respective games with injuries. While neither was an aggravation of their original ailments, they do seem to be somehow connected, if only by the running theme of steady misfortune. Hillis turned in a decent performance, providing both rushing and receiving yards, but was absent late in the game. Hillis was seen lying on the treatment table, appearing to have his leg worked on by members of the Cleveland Browns' medical staff. On Monday, the Browns indicated Hillis had a "left hip strain" and was considered day-to-day. The diagnosis is vague, making it difficult to interpret just how serious this is, but with Hillis just coming off an extended injury absence, there has to be concern. The Browns play on Thursday night, casting further doubt on Hillis' availability.

As for Johnson, he was due for a big game with newly anointed quarterback T.J. Yates (filling in for the injured Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, both now on injured reserve) looking to get the ball to the All-Pro receiver. Johnson was actually converging on 100 yards receiving when a familiar -- and scary -- sight unfolded. In the third quarter, Johnson pulled up while running a deep route, then went to the ground in pain. Eventually he hopped off the field, keeping his left foot in the air, and he was tended to on the sideline. As it turns out, the injury was to his other (nonsurgical) leg, which is a relief from the standpoint that there is no setback to the right side. On the other hand, Johnson has joined the ranks of fellow wide receivers Julio Jones and Miles Austin in suffering bilateral hamstring injuries within the same season. The Houston Chronicle reports the Texans believe that this latest injury to Johnson is far less severe than the previous one. Coach Gary Kubiak is calling Johnson day-to-day, but the sense is he will be out for at least Week 14.

Despite the aforementioned injury catastrophes, my team will indeed limp into the playoffs and hope to benefit from waiver-wire pickups suggested by my colleagues at ESPN.com. Hopefully you will do the same.

And then this happened ...

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThere's still some hope that Matt Forte could return by the end of the regular season.
• As significant as the injuries to the two above players seemed at the time, at least in my world, there was perhaps no more devastating and surprising blow than the one dealt to the Chicago Bears when running back Matt Forte hurt his knee. Forte was upended by a tackle, which at first glance appeared to deliver the most force to his left knee area. It was Forte's right knee, however, that sustained the injury, a Grade 2 MCL (medial collateral ligament) sprain. The MCL reinforces the inner aspect of the knee joint, and an injury here particularly compromises lateral mobility, making cutting and directional changes difficult.



Not all Grade 2, or moderate, sprains are equal and can represent a range of damage (from roughly 30 percent to 70 percent tearing of the ligament), hence the variability of the timetable. The more damage, the greater instability results at the knee and the longer it takes to heal. Presuming all other structures remain intact (and the confirmation after Forte's MRI was that the ACL was not torn), an isolated tear of the MCL presents a better prognosis than a more complex tear involving other ligaments, the meniscus or the fibrous tissue of the joint capsule itself. Forte could miss as little as two weeks or upward of a month. It's worth noting that Forte suffered a mild MCL sprain in his left knee in 2009 and played through the injury but struggled on the field. The Bears are optimistic that Forte will return before the regular season is over, but his progress over the next week to 10 days will give better clues.

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks was on the injury report heading into Week 13. Starks was injured in Week 11 with sprains to his right knee and ankle. Despite the short week heading into the Thanksgiving Day game, Starks was able to suit up and managed to get through the game, albeit with a sore ankle. After a 10-day respite between games, it appeared Starks was in better shape when the Packers traveled to play the New York Giants. But it was not meant to be. Starks was injured in the second quarter and did not return. After three straight weeks of problems with the ankle, it stands to reason that Starks will have to scale his activity back. Consider him highly questionable for Week 14.

Quick hits

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireMichael Vick has missed three games since injuring his ribs against the Cardinals last month.
• The Philadelphia Eagles see signs of hope that quarterback Michael Vick will return in Week 14. Vick resumed throwing Monday and told reporters he expects to play Sunday. He has not fully recovered from the two broken ribs he sustained in Week 10, as the bones are still healing, but the key to his return is whether he can be effective enough both throwing the ball and running with it. If Vick can practice every day this week and gradually ramp up his activity, it's conceivable he could rejoin his team this weekend.



• Teammate Jeremy Maclin would like to be on the field with Vick and says he hopes to return to practice this week. Maclin, who is dealing with a shoulder sprain and a strained hamstring, suffered a setback with the hamstring the last time he tried to practice. According to the Eagles' website, Maclin said the hamstring is the limiting factor. "There's ways around the shoulder," Maclin said. "We just have to make sure the hamstring's right." Wednesday will be a big day at the Eagles' practice facility.

• The Minnesota Vikings would like to have Adrian Peterson on the field in Week 14, but we've heard optimism early in the week before, only to find out late in the week it was premature. Peterson did make some progress last week, doing some light jogging and increasing his overall activity. His ankle was not ready for agility and cutting maneuvers, however, and Peterson was not yet able to practice. While coach Leslie Frazier called Peterson "very close" to returning, Peterson's activity this week will go a lot further in convincing us one way or the other.

• The Detroit Lions thought Kevin Smith had made enough progress in 10 days after his ankle injury to return him to the field. Unfortunately, it took only two-plus quarters of football to find out otherwise. Smith aggravated his ankle injury Sunday night when he went down without contact (never a good sign) and was struggling with his mobility prior to that moment. It appears unlikely that he would be ready to test it again by Sunday.

• Things are not looking good for running back Darren McFadden. Despite all the positive-speak initially from coach Hue Jackson, his latest remarks have a different tone, suggesting progress is not being made as expected. McFadden has already missed more than a month because of a midfoot sprain, and his absence is expected to continue.



Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times reported that Jackson does not expect McFadden to miss the rest of the season. Well, neither did we. In fact, it had not been a real thought until Jackson introduced it as a possibility. Jackson also noted that there was no timetable for McFadden's return. Those two comments cause concern as to what the real status of McFadden and his foot is going forward. After the initial MRI, Jackson said there was no major structural damage and hinted at a speedy recovery. While the structure of the midfoot is complex, and pain or inflammation in the area, even in the absence of major disruption to the anatomy, can be severely limiting, the slow progress of McFadden after such early optimism is frustrating. At this point it is difficult to have confidence in McFadden's status, especially as long as he is absent from the practice field.



How far the mighty have fallen. So many draft day stars have been taken down by injury, costing fantasy owners anywhere from one or two games (Arian Foster, who has since recovered beautifully) to an entire season (Jamaal Charles, so much potential, so sad). Perhaps the worst status is that of fantasy limbo where owners continue the hand-wringing over whether a player will or won't return in any given week (Peyton Hillis headed for a sixth straight absence, Jahvid Best headed for his fifth).



[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Andy KingAdrian Peterson scored his 12th touchdown of the season Sunday before suffering an ankle injury.
Add Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to the list of stars who have suffered an injury that will lead to missed time (Grade 1 high ankle sprain). While Peterson has not officially been ruled out, the nature of the injury is such that no one expects him to suit up. He is in a walking boot and may test the ankle Friday, but it would be hard to imagine him being game ready by Sunday.

Earlier this year there was optimism that St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford would play the week following a high ankle sprain; he missed two games. Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones returned last week after missing four weeks with his high ankle sprain. While no two injuries are identical, the concern over proper healing of a high ankle sprain to prevent future problems and the demands of the running back position suggest Peterson will miss this week and perhaps longer.

The Buffalo Bills saw their star running back Fred Jackson go down with a calf bruise. Jackson was reportedly very sore Monday and is being called day-to-day by the team. Any bleeding in the calf is compounded by the tight muscle compartments in the area, making it difficult to eliminate swelling. It would not be surprising if Jackson is out in Week 12.

The Chicago Bears suffered perhaps the most devastating loss when they discovered quarterback Jay Cutler broke his right thumb, an injury that will require surgery. While the Bears are still leaving the door open for Cutler to return this season, the likelihood of that happening is small. Between waiting for the bone to heal, restoring range of motion and strength sufficient to both grip the ball and guide the ball when throwing, the timetable normally extends beyond six weeks. Although the Bears will wait and see how Cutler's progress evolves, from a fantasy perspective there is no reason to wait. Time, as they say, to move on.

With the altered holiday schedule resulting in three Thursday NFL games, we focus on those injury concerns here:

Green Bay at Detroit

Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best will not play Thursday. He is still recovering from symptoms following a concussion and has not yet practiced. He has been making strides, appearing at the team facility and watching some practice, but has steps to clear before returning to a game situation. Kevin Smith had a sensational game last Sunday and is expected to get plenty of work again Thursday.

• Wide receiver Calvin Johnson gave everyone a scare when he didn't practice Tuesday, the most significant practice heading into a Thursday game. Apparently he was getting some additional rest for his ankle, but Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press reported via Twitter that Johnson says he will, in fact, play.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireJames Starks had been emerging as the Packers' primary running back but he could be limited for Thursday's game.
• The Green Bay Packers had two major fantasy player injury concerns coming out of Week 11. Receiver Greg Jennings had a bruised knee but was back in practice Tuesday and "running just fine," according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Head coach Mike McCarthy has already indicated Jennings will play Thursday. Running back James Starks came out of Sunday's game with two injuries, sprains to both his right knee and ankle. Starks was in practice Tuesday as well but the Journal-Sentinel described him as appearing "cautious." The decision for Starks will come down to gametime, but there is a decent chance he does not play.

Miami at Dallas

• The Dallas Cowboys will likely be without wide receiver Miles Austin again Thursday. He has not yet returned to practice following his hamstring injury and cannot be expected to be running full speed in two days. Sitting out this week gives him another week and a half of rest. His chances of returning in Week 13 seem much better.

• Running back Felix Jones returned from his high ankle sprain and seemed to survive Week 11 without incident. Of course he didn't carry a full load, probably wise given that he was coming off a month away from the game. With DeMarco Murray playing as well as he has, the ratio of carries is likely to stay as it is, at least for the time being.

San Francisco at Baltimore

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore started last Sunday and had no reported problems with his knee or ankle following the game. According to CSNBayArea.com, Gore came out of the game once the 49ers were up 23-0, probably a smart move knowing the next game was four days and a coast-to-coast plane trip away. Expect Gore to start again Thursday night.

• Although receivers Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards have been limited in practice for multiple weeks, they have been playing on gameday and are expected to do so again Thursday.

• The Baltimore Ravens were without the services Sunday of linebacker and team leader Ray Lewis, who sat out the game with a toe injury. According to the Carroll County Times, Lewis says he is getting treatment and doing all he can "to prepare to play on Thursday." He says he is making some progress but there may not be enough time to make the progress he needs to play in a game. A decision on him may not come down until pregame Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 12 in the Saturday blog!

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