Stephania Bell: Roddy White
• Doug Martin, RB, knee (Q): Martin injured his knee in the first game of the season and sat out last Sunday’s contest. With the team’s third game coming only four days later, it’s not clear whether he is quite ready to return to action. There have been no details released as to the nature of Martin’s injury, but he was able to participate in practice on a limited basis this week. It should be noted Martin was able to practice, albeit in limited fashion, last Thursday and Friday, but he still ended up on the sideline.
According to ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas, coach Lovie Smith did little to clarify Martin’s status. If anything, he indicated his preference would be to share the workload in any given week, if everyone is healthy. Everyone includes most notably, Bobby Rainey, who got the Week 2 start in Martin’s absence, rushing for 144 yards on 22 carries and catching three passes.
“We want to play more than one running back, two, maybe three," Smith said, per Yasinskas. They may get their wish if Martin is able to go. It appears he has a decent chance of doing so, although how much work he would get is unclear.
• Julio Jones, WR, ankle, (P): Jones appeared on the Falcons’ injury report this week because of an ankle issue. This ailment appears to be relatively minor and never seemed to threaten Jones’ status for the week. More importantly, his recently surgically repaired foot appears to be doing just fine. Jones was able to fully participate each day in practice during the shortened week and, listed probable, is expected to play.
• Roddy White, WR, knee, (Q): White may not have practiced this week because of a hamstring ailment, but his teammates don’t seem too concerned about his availability for Thursday night. According to ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure, White said he was “good” after injuring his hamstring in last Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. After all, the injury wasn’t serious enough for him to miss any offensive snaps.
Given the shortened week leading up to Thursday’s game, the nonparticipation in practice may be more about managing a veteran in order to ensure his availability while hopefully guarding against a setback. Entering Week 2, White was on the injury report because of his left knee. He had the knee drained during the offseason, and coach Mike Smith indicated White’s in-season practice preparation would be tempered at times to preserve him for game day.
So far, White hasn’t been restricted in games, and it is presumed he will take the field tonight. But there is at least a little concern when it comes to even minor hamstring injuries, given their propensity for being easily aggravated. The hope is White will survive the night without a setback, then take advantage of the 10-day break before the Falcons face the Minnesota Vikings. Given the questionable tag, fantasy owners should verify White’s status before kickoff.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, (toe): Gonzalez injured a toe in his left foot in Week 10, and appeared to be in serious discomfort immediately afterward. He exited the game briefly, but managed to return, fighting through the pain but struggling on the field. Gonzalez, who was visibly limping in the locker room after the game, netted only 29 yards on three catches. It came as little surprise that he was held out of practice Wednesday, but when he remained out on Thursday, the questions after practice understandably turned to whether his status for Sunday was in jeopardy.
"I would never count Tony Gonzalez out," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Never."
Smith's reaction is understandable, perhaps, given that Gonzalez has not missed a game since 2006. In fact, he's missed only two in his entire career. File that under the category of "ridiculously healthy player," at any position. The Falcons have not revealed much related to the specifics of the future Hall of Famer's injury, but their official Twitter account reported that Smith "hopes to see him on the field [Friday]." Until Friday comes, there will be no indication as to whether Gonzalez might miss Sunday's game, but fantasy owners should at least prepare for that possibility.
Roddy White, (shoulder), and Harry Douglas (knee), WRs: Might the Falcons also be without their most consistent wide receiver on Sunday? With White missing more time this season than ever before in his NFL career, and Julio Jones out for the year since injuring his foot in Week 5, Douglas has taken on an expanded role. But Douglas was a no-show at practice Thursday, listed on the injury report with a knee issue after participating as usual on Wednesday. Given that the team has issued virtually no information on the topic, it's hard to know how serious the injury is. But if Douglas were to be forced out on Sunday, it makes sense the Falcons would lean on the now presumably healthy White.
Not so fast. White is back on the injury report this week, not because of his hamstring or ankle but because of his shoulder. He was listed as a limited participant both Wednesday and Thursday, but the fact he was at least there on consecutive days is a plus. The Falcons would understandably limit him in order to have him out there against the Buccaneers Sunday. Douglas is ranked No. 40 in Eric Karabell's Flex ranks this week, with White at No. 84.
Steven Jackson, RB, (toe): Then there is Jackson, who missed four games with a hamstring injury earlier this year. He appeared on Wednesday's injury report as a limited participant due to a toe injury. His ailment does not seem to be of the same severity as that of Gonzalez; Jackson upgraded to full practice on Thursday, and appears on track to play. The bigger concern -- to fantasy owners, at least -- might be whether this will influence the Falcons' stated goal of trying to get Jackson the ball more each game. An injured toe could certainly be a limiting factor, although it won't matter much if the Falcons have to continue to play catch-up through the air. If that's the case, they have to hope they have their trio of top pass-catchers -- Gonzalez, Douglas and White -- on the field, even if they're functioning at less than 100 percent.
It appears to be a “Welcome Back!” week for several key fantasy players who may be able to help owners bail out of some tough roster situations, given other injuries around the league and a four-team bye week.
At least one of the returning names comes as quite a surprise (we’re talking about you, Jay Cutler), given the original projection of at least a month’s absence. With perhaps the highest-profile signal caller in the league, Aaron Rodgers, going down with a broken left collarbone on Monday night, the value of a capable fantasy backup quarterback was highlighted. The return of both Cutler and EJ Manuel this week suddenly becomes even more important. They’re not the only players returning from injury, but the expectation (or at least the plan) is that the quarterbacks will play the entire game. Can the same be said of the others? Don’t count on it.
Here are a few of the names returning to game action:
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons (hamstring): It was White himself who told ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure he expects to return to action Sunday, the most definitive declaration he’s made about game status in a while. White has been out since injuring his left hamstring in Week 5. The Falcons had a bye the following week but it wasn’t nearly enough time for White’s hamstring, superimposed atop a high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason, to heal. In fact, White did not even return to practice until late last week and that was only on a limited basis.
This week he has practiced on back-to-back days, increasing his workload, an encouraging sign not only for the coaching staff but also for the player.
"You know, I wanted to get out there and have a full week of practice before I actually played in a game,” White said.
Does this ensure he won’t have any issues whatsoever when the Falcons take on the Seahawks? Of course not, but he finally appears to have gotten the rest his body needed to allow him to function as more than a decoy. This may be the healthiest White has been since the season officially got underway.
RBs Andre Brown (not on injury report), Brandon Jacobs (hamstring), David Wilson (neck) and Victor Cruz, WR (neck), New York Giants: Brown was assigned IR/Designated for Return status after fracturing his left fibula in the preseason. The Giants’ Week 9 bye forced an extra week of rest on him but it appears he is ready to make his season debut after being activated Thursday. Although Brown may have physically been able to beat the timetable required by IR designation, it’s hard to argue with the team’s decision to place him on the shorter-term IR given that he had fractured the same bone in the same leg just last year. That sent him to surgery and season-ending Injured Reserve. Brown has had some extra time to increase his conditioning and build up strength in his leg muscles and seems to be full of excitement as he approaches his return to the field.
"I haven't been able to sleep, because it's like Christmas," Brown said. As ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano notes, Brown may be limited to certain packages in his first outing but those are likely to come on third downs and at the goal line.
In the meantime, Jacobs is still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in his standout appearance for the Giants in Week 6, when he rushed for over 100 yards with two scores. He has not played since however and this week only returned to limited practices. It is not clear whether he will be available Sunday but with Brown back and Peyton Hillis functioning in the place of the injured Jacobs the last few weeks (and with Hillis perhaps in line for more work than Brown to start), it appears they may not be pressed to utilize Jacobs.
The Giants also placed fellow back Wilson on season-ending Injured Reserve this week. He injured his neck in Week 5, and it was later reported to be a herniated disc. The good news for Wilson is that after consultations with various specialists it does not appear he will need surgery, at least not at this time. Unfortunately, the time frame envisioned for his recovery extends beyond the time left in the season, hence the decision to shut him down.
Cruz suffered a neck injury in the Giants’ Week 8 game, so the bye could not have come at a better time. Cruz was held out of practice Wednesday but did return Thursday on a limited basis, although the Giants required him to don a red non-contact jersey. It makes sense. Just as players coming back from certain other injuries are re-introduced to practice without contact as a starting point, it allowed Cruz to participate and get a feel for doing football activity without the extra risk of absorbing hits. Coach Tom Coughlin told reporters afterward that they would evaluate his response to the day’s activity and if all went well, there would likely be no red jersey Friday. Assuming Cruz is able to ramp it up a notch Friday without incident, it appears he will be available come Sunday.
Mario Manningham, WR, San Francisco 49ers, (knee): Manningham is not actually on the injury report but he’s been considered an injured player since last season after undergoing multi-ligament reconstructive surgery in his knee. The 49ers removed Manningham from the PUP list, indicating there is a possibility he could play as soon as this week, although the team has not fully committed to that yet. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman referred to Manningham as “day-to-day,” per ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson. Still, Manningham has been a full participant in practice and quarterback Colin Kaepernick sounded like he was excited about the prospect of his availability.
“Mario, he’s a receiver that’s easy to throw to,” Kaepernick said. “So it’s not going to take much time for him to get back up to speed.”
This may be true but, as we’ve seen with other players coming back from major knee surgeries, it often does take some adjustment to ramp up to the speed of the game. Fantasy owners should temper expectations for Manningham’s early outings, but it will be interesting to see how he factors in as a receiving option as he regains his form.
Problems for premier RBs
On a less encouraging note, it appears Texans running back Arian Foster could be in danger of missing Sunday’s game. Foster left with a back injury in the first series of the Week 9 game and has not yet practiced. Instead he has been spending time with the medical staff as they sort through the nature of his injury. Foster’s teammate and fellow back Ben Tate continues to work on a limited basis with his rib injury and is expected to play.
Meanwhile, it appears the window of opportunity for a return for Buccaneers’ running back Doug Martin is closing. Although Martin has made progress in both the pain level and range of motion of his injured shoulder, it appears the team is re-evaluating the risks versus the benefits of his trying to return this season. The risks appear to be winning.
It was never a question of whether Martin would need surgery but whether he would be able to resume play and contribute this year and undergo surgery in the offseason. The team is expected to make a decision before Monday night’s game against the Dolphins according to the Tampa Bay Times and is reportedly leaning toward a move to injured reserve. Even if his season does come to a close, Martin’s time has not been wasted. Improved range of motion and less pain heading into surgery can help him on the other side and he should have plenty of opportunity to recover prior to next year’s camp activities.
And quickly ...
Bengals’ running back Giovani Bernard (ribs) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday. It appears he will be ready to play come Sunday ... Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant has had some recurring issues with tightness in his back but the condition does not appear worrisome for the Cowboys. While it has the potential to act up at any time, the plan is clearly for Bryant to play Sunday night in New Orleans ... When the Saints host the Cowboys, it’s possible they could be without receiver Marques Colston for a second week. Colston sat out Week 9 because of his knee and has only practiced on a limited basis so far. It’s worth noting he has done more this week than last but clearly is not past the issue which sidelined him ... Colston's teammate, tight end Jimmy Graham, returned to practice Thursday after a Wednesday off and running back Darren Sproles, who left last week’s game with a concussion, was a full participant as of Wednesday. Both are expected to play.
The Falcons have been battered by injuries this season and could really use some positive news heading into their Week 8 meeting with the Arizona Cardinals. Signs seem to be pointing to at least one key offensive starter getting back in the action.
Steven Jackson, RB (hamstring): Last week coming off the bye, Jackson had still not been cleared to practice. In fact, his first day of practice was Wednesday of this week and that was limited. Yet the plan is for Jackson to return to action Sunday.
It’s interesting that we’ve heard he would not return until he was 100 percent, a rationale that’s hard to dispute given the high rate of recurrence for these injuries and his aforementioned risk factors. But what is 100 percent? We can’t prove that an athlete has fully recovered by a particular imaging test. There might be no lingering evidence of any tearing of the muscle or even any inflammation, but that doesn’t guarantee the muscle is capable of maximum performance. Nor can we prove that an athlete has fully recovered by a particular on-field test. He can run hard, stop, backpedal, change direction, sprint, sprint again and do well with all of those things. That still doesn’t ensure there are no setbacks when he is asked to perform in a game situation with the extra intensity of an adrenaline surge or the endurance demanded to last four quarters of football.
In Jackson’s case, a few days of limited practice don’t seem especially reassuring when it comes to his readiness to return. On the one hand, the downtime has helped keep his body fresh. On the other, his leg won’t truly be tested until he is in that game situation. In other words, Sunday, on the field, everyone -- including Jackson -- will find out just how far along his recovery is.
Roddy White, WR (hamstring/ankle): Now that White has missed a game for the first time in his career, perhaps it makes the decision to miss another somewhat easier. His ailing hamstring is no doubt making it difficult to argue for a return. White is still not practicing and there is no indication as of yet just when he might resume that activity. It was clear his presence was not especially helpful in the early part of the year when the high ankle sprain hampered his mobility. Perhaps that experience is the best motivator for White to stay off the field until he feels he can at least run and cut without limitation. This appears to be a week-to-week situation.
Roddy White, WR, (hamstring/ankle): This appears to be shaping up as the week White is forced to miss the first game of his professional career. Some might argue that it should have come sooner; in retrospect, even White acknowledged the high ankle sprain has been more problematic than he expected. Nonetheless, he was determined to try to gut it out until the team’s bye week in an effort to contribute at some level.
After suffering a setback with the ankle in Week 4, then a hamstring injury in Week 5, it appears a single bye week isn’t enough time to get him back in playing shape. In fact, White was recently seen limping in the facility, as reported by ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure. Not practicing at all this week certainly isn’t improving the chances that we'll see him on the field Sunday and at this point, it seems even White would acknowledge that he needs to get his body right in order to better help his team.
Steven Jackson, RB (hamstring): Jackson is another Falcons player who apparently has yet to get his body right. With no explanation coming from the Falcons through Thursday’s practice, his obvious absence was a bit puzzling. From the outset, Jackson’s hamstring injury was expected to cost him multiple weeks, but there were hints that he would be returning following the team’s Week 6 bye. That bye has now come and gone and Jackson has yet to practice with his teammates. According to McClure, Jackson is now expected to miss his fourth straight game.
Significant hamstring strains can take multiple weeks for recovery, and had there not been hints prior to the Week 5 game that Jackson was “close” to returning, this continued absence might not garner as much attention. Is the team simply being cautious, or is there something more serious to explain his situation? It sounds as if Jackson’s healing just hasn’t progressed in the latter phases, as the team had hoped.
Speaking to reporters after practice, coach Mike Smith offered this assessment: "It's a hamstring that's been tough to come back from at this point in time." Smith noted that once doctors have cleared Jackson to return to practice, he will be back out there with the team. With Jackson not even being cleared to practice yet, it becomes virtually impossible to make a game plan for a return.
He is a high risk for re-injury, not only because hamstring strains are known for recurrence but because of his age (30), his history (multiple soft tissue injuries) and his position (running back), all of which are associated risk factors. While it’s understandable that no one wants Jackson to return too soon and suffer a major setback, the increasing length of his absence is in and of itself worrisome, in that it reflects just how serious this injury actually was, an injury he suffered not even two full games into the season.
Jason Snelling, RB (concussion): On a positive note for the Falcons, Snelling returned to full practice this week after suffering a concussion in Week 5. As long as there are no setbacks, he should be available this weekend. That may turn out to be a big deal, as Jackson continues to be out of the picture.
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.
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.
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.
As always, injury concerns regarding players heading into the Sunday and Monday games can be critical. Each week in the Saturday blog, we run down a list of key fantasy players, by position, who appear in the Friday injury report, along with the injured body part(s) as listed on the report, player status, and any relevant developments or insights. The primary fantasy positions are covered (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end). Our injury designations include “out” (O), “probable” (P), “questionable” (Q) and “doubtful” (D).
With that in mind, good luck in Week 2! May your players stay healthy and lead you to victory.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys, ribs (P): Romo impressed when he came back for the second half of Sunday night’s game after taking a big shot to the ribs. No one should be surprised, given that he has played with worse, including rib fractures. Romo was a full participant in practice throughout the week and, again, it comes as no surprise that he is expected to play Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, quadriceps (P): Speaking of Arrowhead, the team hosting the Cowboys has been dealing with its own injury concern. Charles suffered a contusion (deep bruise) to his quad in the season opener. After getting a day off Wednesday, he has made steady progress throughout the week -- upgrading to full practice Friday -- and is on track to play Sunday. In fact, Charles declared his readiness Friday. The fact Charles had good range of motion early in the week was a positive indicator that the injury would not severely limit him. There’s always potential the quad will tighten up on him in the game, but no doubt Charles will go through extensive warm-ups before taking the field.
Arian Foster (calf) and Ben Tate (shoulder), Houston Texans (P): Foster and Tate contributed in Sunday’s outing, although the division of work was not quite the 50-50 split coach Gary Kubiak had hinted at before the game. Foster carried the ball 18 times to Tate’s nine, and Foster wants more moving forward. Kubiak maintains that he would prefer the carries to be more even, at least in these early games. In reality, who knows how this will actually play out? The number of actual carries each back has in this week’s game against the Tennessee Titans might have more to do with how the game unfolds. Despite the presence of Foster and Tate on the injury report, both practiced in full throughout the week and the “probable” tags tell us both are expected to play. The only question is how much each back will produce.
Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions, finger/groin/knee (P): On Tuesday, we discussed the injuries Bush suffered in Week 1, and a hyperextended knee was later added to the mix. We also noted that Lions coach Jim Schwartz has no plans to limit Bush’s workload. (As long as he stays on the field, that is.) Full practice every day and a “probable” tag mean Bush will be playing in Arizona this weekend.
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals, hamstring (P): Mendenhall came into Week 1 listed as “probable” because of knee soreness that had cropped up in the preseason. He played. This week, Mendenhall is on the injury report with a hamstring ailment. He was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday but moved up to full practice Friday, just like last week. Expect Mendenhall to play Sunday, barring a setback.
Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams, foot (P): As noted earlier, Richardson sat out Wednesday with a foot ailment (coach Jeff Fisher described it as “sore”) but returned Thursday, sounding confident. On Friday, Richardson was listed as a full participant, and his “probable” tag indicates the Rams expect him to play against the Falcons.
Da’Rel Scott, New York Giants, knee (P): With Andre Brown on the IR/designated-for-return list, the Giants are counting on David Wilson and, to a lesser extent, Scott to shoulder the load (and perhaps recently signed Brandon Jacobs). Scott was limited Wednesday because of his knee but was able to practice fully Thursday and Friday. The Giants plan to have him available Sunday.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens, thigh (Q): Pierce emerged from Week 1 with a thigh injury and was subsequently limited in practice throughout the week. Despite the “questionable” tag, he is expected to play against the Browns, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, foot (P): After putting in full practices every day this week, Bryant does not appear to be limited by the mild foot sprain he suffered Sunday night. With a “probable” designation, Bryant is expected to play Sunday, and no doubt he is eager to display some of his trademark big-play ability. As long as he does not aggravate his foot in the game, there’s a good chance Bryant will make us forget about the injury.
Roddy White (ankle) and Julio Jones (knee), Atlanta Falcons (Q): The Falcons are listing their top two wideouts as “questionable.” After last week’s last-minute fiasco surrounding White’s status and the true nature of his ankle injury, what are fantasy owners to believe this week? Falcons coach Mike Smith says White will play, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, it should be noted that White returned to only limited practice Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday. If White is to be believed, those missed practices are a red flag as to just how healthy (or unhealthy) he is. There is no evidence yet that White can perform up to his previous high level.
Consequently, we would expect more from Jones. Oh, wait. Jones is also on the injury report, listed as “questionable” with a knee injury. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice, as well, but did return for limited work Thursday and Friday. There has been no strong suggestion that Jones would miss Sunday’s game, but the "questionable" tag mean it’s worth double-checking before kickoff. After all, the Falcons have already shown they might not be forthcoming when it comes to injuries to their star players.
Wes Welker (ankle) and Eric Decker (shoulder), Denver Broncos (P): Welker came into the season opener with the residuals of an ankle sprain but proved it was not going to limit him. He resumed full practice Friday (after being limited Wednesday and Thursday) and is expected to be on the field Sunday. Decker cropped up on this week’s injury report with a shoulder ailment. His season-opening appearance did not match Welker’s, and no doubt he is looking for a better outing against the Giants. He should at least get the opportunity as he practiced in full Thursday and Friday and is expected to play Sunday.
Larry Fitzgerald, hamstring (Q) and Andre Roberts, quadriceps (P), Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald has been bothered by a hamstring that tightened up on him Wednesday but was able to participate on a limited basis each day this week. Barring a pregame setback, it appears Fitzgerald will play Sunday. Roberts was on the injury report because of the quadriceps issue last week, but he played and, given his “probable” tag, is expected to do the same this week.
Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints, foot (P): Colston may well appear on the injury report regularly because of his foot, given that it has been bothering him since last year. It did not seem to limit him in Week 1, though, and Colston, a gritty player, is likely to play through it again Sunday unless the pain becomes unmanageable. This week, he was able to practice fully every day and the foot does not seem to be limiting him. He is expected to play against the Buccaneers.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars, groin (P): Shorts was kept to limited workouts throughout the week, undoubtedly part of the plan to preserve him for Sunday’s matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Listed as “probable,” he is expected to play.
Sidney Rice, Seattle Seahawks, knee (P): Rice’s knee might keep him on the injury report throughout the season as the team could routinely give him an extra day off from practice. After sitting out Wednesday, Rice returned to full practices Thursday and Friday. Just as he played this past Sunday, expect him to do so again when the Seahawks host their division rival San Francisco 49ers.
DeVier Posey, Houston Texans, Achilles (P): Posey continues to practice fully with the team throughout the week, and the "probable" tag indicates the Texans expect him to be available Sunday.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers, toe (P): There was reason for concern when Finley appeared on the Packers’ injury report Wednesday because of a toe injury suffered in the season opener. His surprise return to a limited practice Thursday was a positive sign; the fact he repeated the effort Friday was an even better one. There’s no telling how a toe injury will fare in the course of a game, so this is something that could bother Finley as a result of pushing off and route running as the game progresses. But, given the “probable” tag, it’s clear the Packers plan on Finley being available at the start.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, back/groin (P): We’re accustomed to seeing Daniels on the injury report, but we’re also accustomed to seeing him play through various ailments. He was back in full practice Friday after lighter workouts the previous two days. It appears Daniels will again take the field when the Texans host the Titans in Week 2.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts, hip (D): Originally listed as questionable on the injury report because of a hip problem that kept him out of practice throughout the week, Allen was downgraded to doubtful Saturday and is not expected to play.
Kai Forbath, Washington Redskins, right groin (Q): Forbath popped up on the injury report Friday with a right groin injury, although he was still listed as a full participant. The Redskins had an available substitute at the ready, and, as of Saturday morning, there are reports that the sub might be called upon to fill in. According to ESPN 980, a source says John Potter will be the placekicker for the Redskins on Sunday. Although the team has not declared Forbath out, fantasy owners should plan to find another option at the position.
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders, right calf (P): Janikowski’s sore right calf keeps him on the injury report as he takes Wednesdays off, but he is still playing. Expect him to play again when the team hosts the Jaguars on Sunday.
This space is intended for a list of key players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.
Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts, knee: Ballard suffered a knee injury in practice Thursday, but the seriousness of the ailment was not immediately revealed. On Friday, the team announced that Ballard had torn his right ACL and was done for the year.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars, right thumb/right hand: After suffering a cut that required 15 stitches on his already-injured hand, Gabbert will sit out Sunday’s game. Chad Henne gets the start in Oakland.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers, foot: Despite Bell’s optimism that he could be ready in Week 2, he has not even returned to individual drills in practice. This appears to be progressing the way foot sprains often do; the athlete starts in a boot, gets the boot removed, walks without pain and thinks his return is around the corner so increases his work load -- only to find out the recovery won’t be so quick after all. The Steelers do not want an injury that could become a chronic problem; as such, they will be smart and cautious when it comes to treating Bell’s foot injury. Consider Bell week-to-week going forward.
Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers, knee: Miller continues to upgrade his rehab as a limited practice participant but does not appear quite ready for competition. He will not play Monday night.
Kenjon Barner, RB, Carolina Panthers, foot: Barner missed last week’s contest and, after not practicing at all this week, will also sit Sunday.
Off the injury report
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Indianapolis Colts: This announcement couldn’t come soon enough. With Ballard being out for the year, the Colts will lean more heavily on Bradshaw, who, after a gradual buildup in practice work leading to Week 1, is in good shape to absorb the load. Bradshaw will be backed up by Donald Brown.
Be sure to check out "Fantasy Football Now," Sundays on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. ET, for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more.
He started, but only after much drama and the revelation that there was more to his injury than initially reported.
Now that we know it’s a high ankle sprain, what should we expect for Week 2? White tweeted on Monday, “As far as fantasy if I don't participate in practice than don't start me it's a red flag.”
If you’re planning on following his advice, consider that White did not participate in practice Wednesday or Thursday. Although it seems likely that he will again suit up and function in a role similar to last week, even that is not guaranteed yet.
Until we actually see White making sharp cuts and breaks, which he acknowledged last week he could not do, it is hard to expect a top-flight performance. It will be worth noting whether he does get back into any practice before the week is out, but White may have given fantasy owners all of the advice they need.
Week 1 is in the books! As always, injuries old and new will impact fantasy lineups everywhere. Here's what we know so far.
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots (groin): Don't say you weren't warned. Amendola has long been touted as a high-risk, high-reward option and both qualities were in plain view last Sunday. Amendola came into the season opener on the mend from a groin injury suffered in the second preseason game, and while he had improved, he resumed practicing on a limited basis just last week. He was not expected to be at full health, thus making him a risk for a setback in the game, and it didn't take long for that setback to occur. Late in the second quarter, Amendola could be seen reaching instinctively toward the injured area of his right upper thigh and pelvis as he limped off the field. Somewhat surprisingly, he returned to the game in the third quarter. More surprisingly, he delivered a solid performance in the aftermath of the setback, but it may have come at a price. The Patriots play Thursday night and Amendola was absent from the team's Tuesday walk-through, typically the most significant practice day in a Thursday game week. His status may come down to a game-time decision but fantasy owners should make plans to have a backup in place. If he does play -- which, according to ESPN and media reports, is unlikely -- he will not be at full health. The question if he does suit up will be whether he can muster another performance like last Sunday or whether he will potentially set himself significantly further back. If he sits Thursday against the Jets as it appears he will, it would give him a two-week recovery period before the Patriots' subsequent matchup against Tampa Bay.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (ankle): White's status provided some last-minute pregame drama Sunday when reports emerged that his ankle injury was more serious than previously revealed by the team. It's not unusual for a team to downplay the severity of an athlete's injury. But even in the day and age of gamesmanship, it is still uncommon for a team to refute the nature of an injury outright. When White originally injured his ankle in the preseason, it was reported as a "minor ankle sprain". Reports from NFL.com indicated it was a lateral ankle sprain, not a high ankle sprain, which is an entirely different injury. The team denied that White's injury was a high ankle sprain. On Sunday, we learned from White himself (after the game) that he was indeed dealing with a high ankle sprain and that he had not been able to test it in various ways in the week leading up to the opener. White told reporters, "It's hard to cut. It's hard to do just about everything at the position." Although he was on the field, he was clearly not himself and the question facing fantasy owners now is when he will return to form.
Suffering a high ankle sprain does not automatically translate to a longer absence than a standard ankle sprain; the injuries are still measured in terms of severity and the extent of tissue damage. A severe lateral sprain can be worse than a mild high sprain. Some movements, however, particularly rotational, can be more difficult with a high ankle injury. It is also critical for the injury to heal properly to prevent longer-term problems down the line. White said doctors told him initially he would be sidelined for approximately a month. This week marks a month since the initial injury so, barring a setback, he should be rounding into form soon. It's not yet clear whether he will play this Sunday when the team hosts the Rams, although it seems likely, given he played in Week 1. Fantasy owners will want to see just how much he does in practice, however, before making a decision about Week 2.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (foot): Bryant sprained his left foot late in Sunday night's game as he appeared to get it caught underneath him as he was rolled on by a defender. Although he walked off the field, Bryant's frustration with the injury on the sideline was immediately obvious. Then he returned to the game moments later, suggesting it was not perhaps as bad as originally feared. X-rays after the game were negative for any fractures. ESPN's Ed Werder reported that a subsequent MRI confirmed a mild foot sprain for Bryant, and the Cowboys -- as well as Bryant himself -- are optimistic about his chances for playing this week. Naturally, any foot injury is a concern for a running back or a receiver, but Bryant's ability to return to last week's game was a positive sign. Expect him to be perhaps limited in practice but, as of now, he appears to be in line to play against the Chiefs.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots (wrist): Not that anyone would have known based on his performance Sunday, but Vereen fractured a bone in his left wrist on his first play of the game, a story originally reported by Fox Sports. (Vereen went on to finish out the day Sunday to the tune of 101 rushing yards and seven receptions.) While it was immediately apparent he would miss some time once the plan for surgery was announced, a definitive timetable remains hard to project. The Boston Herald cites a source as saying Vereen will miss at least a month. Beyond the healing parameters for a fracture (typically about six weeks, although surgical stabilization may allow sooner return to activity), there is the issue of regaining adequate motion and strength around the wrist and hand to provide ball security. Since Vereen was given extra work Sunday when teammate Steven Ridley was involuntarily sidelined after fumbling, the Patriots have made it clear that ball security is of the utmost importance. The Patriots placed Vereen on injured reserve-designated to return on Tuesday, meaning he can return to practice after six weeks and return to play after eight weeks. That means the earliest he could play is Week 11 because the Patriots have a bye in Week 10.
Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions (thumb, groin): Bush appeared to have a new lease on his running back life Tuesday, amassing 90 rushing yards and, perhaps more impressively, 101 receiving yards Sunday with a touchdown thrown in for good measure. But the oft-injured running back -- most notably in the early part of his career, as he missed only one game in the past two seasons with Miami -- sustained not one but two injuries Sunday. Bush dislocated his thumb, later telling reporters, "it was pointing in the wrong direction, but they were able to pop it back in and tape it up." It would seem that this could have presented a big problem for a running back who needs to catch and carry the ball, but Bush's solution was simple. "After that, I just carried the ball with my right hand," Bush said. As if that weren't enough, Bush indicated that on the subsequent series he pulled a groin muscle. None of that was enough to keep him from being exceptionally productive last Sunday, which also bodes well for his chances of playing this week in Arizona. Naturally, there will be concerns about the potential aggravation of the groin injury, but at least Bush appears in line to start. According to the Detroit Free Press, coach Jim Schwartz has no plans to limit Bush's workload in an effort to protect his body (unsurprising if you look at track record of play for injured running backs in Detroit). "That's life in the big city," Schwartz said. "You're a running back in the NFL." Bush's fantasy owners should make every effort to acquire Joique Bell, who looked pretty darn good for the Lions on Sunday in that No. 2 role.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (quad): Charles left Sunday's game early with what is being called a "quad contusion," otherwise known as a deep bruise of the large muscle on the front of the thigh. The biggest factor in determining how much this will affect Charles is how much bleeding or bruising there actually is in the muscle and how quickly it dissipates. Head coach Andy Reid told reporters Monday that Charles does have his range of motion (a positive, suggesting the thigh is not overly stiff or swollen), and the Kansas City Star reports Reid was hopeful about his availability for Sunday's home opener. The key will be how well Charles can move throughout the week and whether he can run without discomfort and at full speed by Sunday.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (ribs): We were told Sunday night on the television broadcast that Romo "got the wind knocked out of him" when he absorbed a double-crunch blow to the ribs just before halftime. It certainly looked like it had the potential to be more serious, but Romo's ability to return and finish out the game eased some concern. He clearly wasn't comfortable and did undergo further testing postgame. The good news is that there was no structural damage and the subsequent diagnosis was "bruised ribs." The Cowboys and Romo fantasy owners had to be relieved to hear "bruised" and not "broken." It was just two years ago when Romo played with broken ribs, leading us to believe he will continue to play now. He may get some additional rest this week in practice to allow the pain to settle and he may get some additional padding in the area for the game, but this is not expected to keep him from facing the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (hand): Gabbert came into the opening week of the season as questionable with a nondisplaced fracture in his right (throwing) thumb, an injury suffered during the team's second preseason game. After doing enough in practice during the week to convince the team he was ready to play, Gabbert did indeed start. He did not finish. Gabbert left in the fourth quarter with a laceration on his right hand that required 15 stitches to close. He has already been declared out for Week 2. Chad Henne will get the start in Oakland.
Zach Sudfeld, New England Patriots (hamstring): Sudfeld was apparently dealing with a hamstring issue, which may have been a factor in his lack of contribution last Sunday. With the Patriots on a short week, it's unclear whether Sudfeld will be available Thursday and whether he would even be fully healthy if active.
And we're keeping an eye on:
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (back/forearm): Gronkowski is working his way back to action, but don't expect it to come on a short week. At least, it doesn't appear that way as of Tuesday.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (foot): Bell proclaimed he would aim to return in Week 2 but followed that up with the caveat that he wasn't making any promises. That would indeed be a quick turnaround following a midfoot sprain, but no timetable -- especially when it comes to foot injuries -- is set in stone. With the report Tuesday from Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest that Bell has not yet begun individual drills in practice, it does not appear likely Bell's return is imminent. The Steelers also re-signed Jonathan Dwyer in the wake of LaRod Stephens-Howling's ACL tear.
It's the final week of the NFL regular season and, well, if you're still playing fantasy football, it's clearly the final week for that too. Championship games in Week 17 are always tricky since some NFL teams may opt to rest their starters. And even if their starters play, they may get pulled halfway through a game if there is no meaningful result associated with the outcome.
While teams may not reveal their respective strategies when it comes to how much playing time their starters will see, the injury reports may yield some clues as to who might be watching from the sidelines.
Players with the biggest question marks heading into Week 17:Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (forearm/hip): We haven't heard from the big tight end in a long time as he's been kept to limited practice and away from the media. However, on Wednesday Gronk spoke to reporters and made it clear that the decision as to his playing status remains a medical one. "When the doctors clear me, when the training staff clears me, when I'm medically ready to play and they let me play, I'm sure that's when I'll be out there," said Gronkowski, according to ESPN Boston. Gronkowski has been practicing for nearly two weeks and this Sunday marks the six-week milestone since he fractured his left forearm. He underwent surgery to implant hardware and stabilize the fracture a day later.
The earliest a player would typically be cleared to play following a fracture is around the four-week mark, with six weeks being more common. Still, there are individual differences in healing and individual circumstances to take into account. It is possible that Gronkowski, who will likely be listed as questionable this week -- just as he has been for the last two weeks -- could be activated Sunday. But for now his status remains uncertain.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (knee/foot): Bradshaw had his usual off day Wednesday but returned to limited practice Thursday, always a good sign for his weekend playing outlook. After injuring his knee in Week 14 and sitting out the following week, Bradshaw was active in Week 16 but was a limited contributor. Part of that may be a result of how the game unfolded; regardless, Bradshaw still touched the ball more than teammate David Wilson. With another week between him and the injury, Bradshaw should be in better form this week and as of now, his chances of suiting up look good.
Here's one you don't see every day on the injury report: arrhythmia. That's the descriptor next to Arian Foster's name. Foster left last week's game early with an irregular heartbeat, something he experienced in the past, but received medical clearance to return to work this week and has been a full practice participant. Teammate Owen Daniels was out Thursday with tightness in his hamstring, although coach Gary Kubiak said he expects him to play Sunday.
Last week, we noted that running back Adrian Peterson didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. Peterson openly acknowledged the rest was geared at getting him ready for Sunday. He has already declared his intention of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, so we already know he plans to be on the field -- a lot.
Titans running back Chris Johnson has not practiced this week after spraining his right ankle on Sunday. However, Johnson said that he will play this weekend, telling the Tennessean that he still wants to "go out there and fight." Fantasy owners would appreciate the effort.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson has been on the injury report for a few weeks due to an ailing hamstring, but his status seems to have taken a turn for the better. Nelson has been a full participant in practice this week and looks as if he could make a return Sunday. Fellow receiver Randall Cobb was limited last week because of a shoulder injury but played Sunday, only to sustain an ankle injury in the process. Cobb participated in limited practice Wednesday but then did not return to the practice field Thursday. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that this was part of the plan, according to coach Mike McCarthy. Cobb went through light work Wednesday then received treatment on the ankle Thursday and will test the ankle Friday for the medical staff to determine whether he can practice. This is one to keep an eye on as Cobb's status may come down to the weekend. Running back Alex Green has been a full participant throughout the week after missing Week 16 with a concussion. If he is active -- which it appears he will be if there is no setback -- there will be a timeshare situation for the Packers at running back.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks continues to be limited by his sore knee. Nicks was off Wednesday then did limited work Thursday; however, coach Tom Coughlin said Nicks did not do "a whole lot," according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Nicks has typically played despite being less than 100 percent healthy, but it sounds as if he might not be a lock to go this week. We should know more after Friday's practice.
Despite the fact Falcons receiver Roddy White has not practiced this week, it's hard to get too worked up about his playing status. After all, the week after the injury when his Sunday availability was most questionable, he played. It hardly seems likely that he would miss a game two weeks later due to the same injury. A more reasonable concern, however, would be White's potential playing time, given the Falcons have secured the top spot in their division. Tough call here for fantasy owners as the team is not likely to give away its plan in advance.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (finger) and running backs DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee) have been full participants in practice throughout the week. With their game against the Redskins not tipping off until Sunday night, fantasy owners can at least feel confident about the status of these three.
This week, the 49ers will be without receiver Mario Manningham, who suffered a brutal season-ending knee injury in Week 16. But will they also be without tight end Vernon Davis? He sustained a concussion last Sunday and did not practice Wednesday. However, Davis received an encouraging boost Thursday when he received medical clearance to resume non-contact activity and returned to limited on-field work, according to CSNBayArea.com. The final step before Sunday will be receiving clearance for contact. If Davis has no recurrence of symptoms after Friday's efforts, his chances of a Sunday return appear promising.
Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but according to the Ravens' official website, the diagnosis was a bruise. Though Boldin has been held to limited practice this week, it appears he will be healthy enough to play come Sunday.
Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis appeared on Thursday's injury report as a non-participant due to illness. There is no indication that this poses a threat to his Sunday status, but it will be worth noting whether he returns to practice on Friday. Meanwhile, teammate Mike Nugent has been sharing kicking responsibilities with Josh Brown while dealing with a calf injury. He returned to full practice Wednesday but did not practice Thursday; as a result, the team's kicker status for Sunday is still up in the air.
After putting in a limited practice on Wednesday, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (high ankle sprain) did not practice Thursday. Carolina coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that Stewart suffered a setback with his ankle, according to the Charlotte Observer. It has been a gloomy end to an unspectacular season for Stewart, who looks as if he will miss his fifth game in a row.
Running back Pierre Thomas, who appeared on the Saints injury report last week because of his knee, played Sunday and there was no immediate report of a setback. However, this week Thomas has yet to practice, raising some concern as to whether he'll be in the Sunday lineup. Teammate Chris Ivory, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, returned to full practice Wednesday and repeated the effort Thursday. After Friday, we should have a better idea as to who will be healthy enough to play Sunday.
Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has not played or even practiced since suffering a high ankle sprain three weeks ago. It seems unlikely his status will change this week; however, as has been the custom so far, the Lions are not ruling him out.
Week 16 did not go well for the Steelers. Not only did their season virtually come to an end, but they also lost tight end Heath Miller to a knee injury. Wide receiver Mike Wallace was also reported to have a hamstring injury following the game, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Wallace continues to be listed on the injury report because of a "hip" ailment and has not practiced this week. His status for Sunday remains iffy at best.
Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was limited Wednesday because of a knee injury (he left practice early, according to the Philadelphia Daily News), then did not practice at all on Thursday. There is no reason to trot him out Sunday if the knee is a significant issue. Regardless, Maclin told the Daily News that he would return to practice Friday. Maclin's fantasy owners will have to take a wait-and-see approach this week.
New York jets tight end Dustin Keller is still not practicing and appears very unlikely to return this weekend. Quarterback Greg McElroy was already on the injury report for an abdominal injury, and had a concussion added next to his name on Thursday. He will not play Sunday; as a result, Mark Sanchez will reclaim the starting role.
The clock is ticking down toward championship weekend for many fantasy football owners. The last thing anyone wants to see is a big zero next to a big-time player's name on Sunday night, dashing any hopes of taking home the fantasy trophy and, most importantly, bragging rights for the next year. It's not too much to ask for a Week 16 in which every player finishes the game as healthy as he entered it, right? OK, maybe it is. But at least it would be nice to know in advance who will be healthy enough to play.
One player making his return this week is Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who has been out since Week 11 recovering from a concussion. McCoy will start Sunday, but the Eagles are expected to rotate him and Bryce Brown, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
It's not surprising that McCoy would return to play, as that is what players do once they are deemed healthy. It's worth keeping in mind that while McCoy was in the early stages of recovering from his concussion, his workouts were severely limited so as not to overstress his system -- and he only recently returned to full practice. Consequently, it would not be surprising if his game conditioning has dropped off. McCoy was subject to -- and passed -- numerous tests to demonstrate his readiness to return. How he performs after being absent for four games is the big question.
Players with the biggest question marks heading into Week 16:Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins (knee): Will he be under center when the Redskins play the Eagles on Sunday? On Thursday, coach Mike Shanahan told reporters, "If there is no setback, he should be ready to go."
Griffin III sat out last week's game with a sprained lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his right knee, but as we noted Tuesday, Shanahan said that if doctors clear RG III to play, he will play. On Wednesday, Griffin participated in his first full practice since the injury. The fact that he was able to practice again Thursday indicates that his knee responded well. As long as nothing develops between now and Sunday, expect Griffin to be starting at quarterback for the Redskins.
He could play with a protective shell on his forearm (wrapped in padding) once there is confidence that the risk of re-fracture is relatively low. Given that standard bone healing is approximately six weeks, there may be a desire to simply keep him out a while longer to minimize that risk. It would not be surprising if Gronkowski practices on a limited basis again Friday, is listed as questionable on the injury report and comes down to a game-time decision.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (knee): After missing Week 15 because of a knee injury, Bradshaw told me Tuesday that his knee feels much better and he expects to play on Sunday. Of course, Bradshaw is always of the mindset that he will play and, to his credit, he has perhaps played more games with injury and pain than without. Coach Tom Coughlin said that whether Bradshaw plays will be a medical decision. Bradshaw did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, not altogether surprising given that he often misses multiple days of practice each week to rest. His Sunday playing status could come down to a game-time decision.
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons (knee): Last week, White did not practice because of a knee injury but, true to form, he did not miss the game. Although he only had two receptions, he was not seriously limited in playing time and there were no reported postgame setbacks. This week, White did not practice Wednesday but rejoined practice on a limited basis on Thursday. The Falcons travel to Detroit to play the Lions Saturday night. After playing last week, the expectation is that White will do so again.
Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was able to return to action in Week 15 after missing two games (and most of a third) with what was termed a foot injury on the injury report (reported as a plantar fascia injury by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). The best evidence that Amendola continues to improve is his removal from the Rams' injury report this week. There will be no agonizing game-time decision necessary this week -- expect Amendola to start against the Buccaneers.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant proved that he will play with a fractured left index finger. He also proved that while it may be more challenging to make certain catches, he can still be productive. However, there are still risks associated with his injury; at any moment, the particular way the football strikes his injured finger -- such as an awkward landing, helmet hit on the hand or even a bad angle on a block -- has the potential to escalate the pain to the point where Bryant becomes less able to produce.
But there are risks anytime a player steps onto the field. Given what Bryant was able to do last week, the expectation would be that he can perform similarly this week. While his Week 16 production may not be up to his maximum potential, it is probably still better than many other wide receiver options. The Cowboys certainly seem to think Bryant is up to the task, since he was targeted more last week (nine targets) than his per-game season average (8.4), turning one of those receptions into a touchdown. This week, he practiced on a limited basis both Wednesday and Thursday, and is on track to play on Sunday.
One player who does not appear he will be healthy enough to play this weekend is Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew. He injured his ankle in Week 14 (a high-ankle sprain, according to the Detroit Free Press), and has not played since. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and his chances of playing this weekend appear slim.
Rams running back Steven Jackson fell ill due to a virus and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. However, Jackson did warm up Thursday, then stayed to watch the remainder of practice, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If he's able to increase his activity a bit on Friday, that will be all the encouragement fantasy owners need to see heading into the weekend.
Eagles tight end Brent Celek returned to full practice this week after missing last week's game after suffering a concussion in Week 14. He is on track to play Sunday. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was limited in practice Wednesday because of a back injury but returned to full practice Thursday, a positive sign that he too will play on Sunday for the Eagles.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith did not practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion last week. He returned to limited practice Thursday but has yet to be cleared for contact, according to the Baltimore Sun. His status for Sunday remains uncertain.
Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline, dealing with a back injury, was limited in Wednesday's practice and was a non-participant on Thursday. We never like to see downgrades as the week progresses, but late in the season it can sometimes be a precautionary move. Friday's practice session becomes very important for gauging Hartline's game-day status.
New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller is still not practicing because of his sprained ankle, and it appears as if he will miss his third straight game.
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was limited in practice on Wednesday with a rib injury, but upgraded to full-practice status on Thursday. Expect to see him on the field this weekend.
A pair of Broncos on many fantasy rosters appear on the injury report this week, but there doesn't seem to be huge cause for alarm. Wide receiver Eric Decker (ankle) and running back Knowshon Moreno (ribs) were both full participants Wednesday and Thursday, and seem to be in no danger of missing Sunday's game.
Of course, running back Adrian Peterson didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. He seems deserving of an extra day or two of rest during the week given the output he delivers every week. Although he is listed on the injury report with an abdomen/groin injury, there does not appear to be any concern in Minnesota that he is in danger of sitting out this weekend's game.
In fact, Peterson told Tom Pellisero of ESPN1500.com that it's part of the plan to be at his best come game time. "I'm just doing the necessary things I need to do as far as resting," Peterson said. "I'm still getting my conditioning in and working out. It's all about that push to Sunday." That's exactly what his fantasy owners want to hear.
The additions to injured reserve keep piling up.
This week, the Arizona Cardinals placed quarterback Kevin Kolb on injured reserve. Kolb has complex rib, chest and shoulder injuries, which have sidelined him since Week 6. After giving John Skelton a shot at the starting job last week, the Cardinals have reverted back to Ryan Lindley. (We feel for you Larry Fitzgerald fantasy owners.)
Also, the Indianapolis Colts placed running back Donald Brown on injured reserve. Brown has a severe high-ankle sprain, which would have taken longer to recover from than the season permitted. Vick Ballard will be the starter for the remainder of the season.
Players with the biggest question marks heading into Week 15:Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins (knee): RG III has impressed many by participating in limited practice both Wednesday and Thursday. His presence Wednesday was a bit of a surprise after the frightening blow he took in Sunday's game, which resulted in an LCL sprain. More encouraging was that he returned the following day, which indicated that he did not experience any setback from Wednesday's activity. "He looked more comfortable," coach Mike Shanahan said of RG III's effort on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.
RG III has been fit with a brace to protect his knee and offer some stability. The final decision regarding his game status sounds as though it will not be made until Sunday. This gives RG III the maximum possible time to recover and keeps the Redskins' opponent (the Cleveland Browns) guessing, both of which benefit the Redskins. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan outlined the key questions to determine whether Griffin will be under center. "I think Robert's going to be able to show us that he can move well, [but] it's more," Shanahan said. "If his knee is stable enough, can he protect himself in there and is there a risk of further injury?" Griffin is trending in the right direction in terms of his health, but come Sunday, the team could still elect to hold him out to buy him some additional recovery time. Fantasy owners should plan for a game-time decision.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (finger): On Tuesday, we noted what the concerns might be for Bryant and his finger if he postpones recommended surgery. However, it appears that Bryant plans to take on that risk. He returned to limited practice Thursday, telling reporters, "Only thing y'all need to know is I'm playing," according to ESPN Dallas.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (knee): When Bradshaw misses practice to rest his sore foot, it almost goes unnoticed because the expectation has become that he will play come Sunday. However, Bradshaw is contending with a new injury this week, and there seems to be a lot less confidence that it will be business as usual on game day. Bradshaw underwent an MRI and the team reports he has a sprained knee, although in the absence of any specifics, the diagnosis is essentially unhelpful as it could represent a multitude of scenarios.
The bottom line is that he has not practiced -- and may not this week. Coach Tom Coughlin referred to Bradshaw's toughness when addressing reporters Thursday after practice. As reported by ESPN New York, Coughlin offered this response to questions about Bradshaw's status: "I am not going to speculate -- because of the toughness of this young man -- on how long it would be," Coughlin said. "I am not going to rule him out of anything." Bradshaw is likely to appeal to play because he is, well, tough and competitive. However, the Giants' coaching and medical staffs may help make the decision for him. The Giants travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons, so if Bradshaw does not make the trip, the question will be answered. If he does travel, then add him to the game-time decision list.
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons (knee): Knee. MRI. No details. Game-time decision. Sound familiar? The matchup between the Giants and the Falcons on Sunday has two stars whose injury situations are tenuous. Falcons coach Mike Smith told reporters Wednesday that White had a knee injury but he expected him back Thursday. After White did not practice Thursday, Smith called him a game-time decision, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Smith did say that White felt "much better" Thursday compared to how he did Wednesday, but he also noted the team would exercise caution leading up to Sunday.
This is, after all, the time of the season when teams headed for the playoffs exercise careful judgment about returning players with even a minor ailment to action for fear it will develop into something more significant. White never misses games -- he hasn't missed one in eight years with the Falcons -- even when he's less than 100 percent healthy. However, this week it sounds as though he will have to be convincingly healthy come Sunday. For fantasy owners, it's another toss-up until Sunday morning.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams (foot): Amendola has missed two games in a row (and most of a third game considering he had one catch in Week 12) because of his sore foot and heel. He has been a limited participant in practice this week, and could make a return Sunday, though it is likely to be another game-time call. Coach Jeff Fisher said Amendola needs the foot to heal sufficiently before returning, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Danny needs to be close to 100 percent to be effective -- to be able to protect himself," Fisher said. Whether he will reach that mark by Sunday is the big question.
Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has missed two practices following his ankle injury in Week 14. The Lions have not hinted at his status, but they play in a late game on Sunday. It would be wise to have a backup plan.
Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy described the chances of wide receiver Jordy Nelson suiting up on Sunday as a "long shot," which is all fantasy owners should need to hear. Nelson has not practiced this week, and with an eye on the postseason, expect the Packers to hold him out this week.
Concussions kept Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings and wide receiver Cecil Shorts out in Week 14. It looks as though Jennings will be sidelined again, as he has not yet returned to practice. Shorts has returned to limited practice this week and appears on track in his progression. Still, as the Florida Times-Union reports, Shorts has seen up close the difficulties some of his teammates have had after sustaining concussions, and he plans to take it one step at a time. "I'm definitely going to be smart about this," Shorts said. "As much as I want to play and would like to play, my health is more important." That sounds smart.
After getting a much-needed Wednesday off (along with the majority of his teammates), Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Expect him to play on Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice suffered a hip pointer on Sunday, but has been a limited participant in both Wednesday and Thursday practices. His injury did not sound serious, and his presence on the practice field supports that notion. Expect him on the field Sunday.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice suffered a foot injury, and ended up in a walking boot to start the week. He has not practiced, but the Seattle Times reports he was moving without the boot Thursday, which is encouraging. For what it's worth, quarterback Russell Wilson told the Seattle Times that he expects Rice to play. It would be a good sign to see Rice practice on Friday in order to feel better about his Sunday status.
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden was reportedly moving well in practice early this week despite suffering a minor setback to his ankle in Week 14. He has been a full practice participant this week and is expected to play this weekend.
Don't expect to see Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (turf toe) or running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) this weekend as neither player has practiced this week.
QuarterbacksBlaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (glute): Gabbert was a full participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday. He appears on track to play Sunday.
John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (ankle): Skelton missed Week 2 because of his ankle sprain, and Kevin Kolb started in his place. Will Kolb start again in Week 3? Early signs point to that being the case. While Skelton was "walking around," according to the Cardinals' official website, he did not practice Wednesday. Skelton did manage a limited practice Thursday, but it seems hardly enough to suggest he'll take over the reins again this weekend.
This is from my entry on Mathews in the 2012 Fantasy Football Draft Kit: "... Before a player is cleared to resume contact, there must be sufficient evidence of bony repair to alleviate concerns of reinjury. Every fall onto the shoulder, direct hit to the shoulder (especially if the player is hit from both sides simultaneously), even a stiff-arm move, will translate force through the collarbone area. For an athlete such as Mathews, who will incur contact through his clavicle (directly or indirectly) on virtually every play in which he carries the ball, the confidence that the bone will remain intact must be high before allowing him to compete. Normal bone healing takes approximately six weeks, which, given Mathews' injury date, would suggest he could be ready by Week 3."
Mathews was cleared for contact late last week but had very limited practice reps and was held out of competition for another week. That was smart. Now Mathews has had a chance to turn it up a notch in practice, and his collarbone has had another week of bone remodeling. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mathews said, "I feel great; I feel healthy and strong." That's what fantasy owners like to hear.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams, (groin): On Tuesday, we noted that Jackson missed time in Sunday's game because of a groin injury and nothing else. While coach Jeff Fisher and Jackson made it seem as though the injury was not serious -- and an MRI seemed to confirm as much -- it remains to be seen whether Jackson will be ready to go this weekend. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, but according to the Rams' official website, he "remains hopeful" he'll be ready by Sunday. This may well come down to a game-time decision.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (ankle): As we noted Tuesday, we said it would be a surprise to see Forte this week, and his non-participation in practice Wednesday or Thursday supports that idea. While it does seem that the injury was not as serious as initially expected, it's still looking like, barring a Friday surprise, Michael Bush will start for the Bears in Week 3.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks (back): Lynch has been on the injury report since prior to Week 1 because of his back. So far he has managed to play in the first two games of the season. Since the Seahawks play Monday night, there is only one day of practice (Thursday) to report so far, and Lynch again appeared as a limited participant. No reason for major concern as of now.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (knee): Charles fell on his surgically reconstructed knee in Week 2 and sustained a knee bruise, according to the Kansas City Star. He was able to return to full practice Wednesday and followed it up again Thursday, boding well for him playing Sunday.
Rashard Mendenhall (knee) and Jonathan Dwyer (toe), Pittsburgh Steelers: Mendenhall has again been listed as a full participant in practice both Wednesday and Thursday this week. Here's what I said last week after he practiced both days: "Pittsburgh does have an early bye week (Week 4), and it's possible we do not see Mendenhall before then." I still feel the same way. Each week, Mendenhall has been exposed to increasingly more work and increasingly more contact. Like others coming off ACL surgery, there is a process for evaluating how the player -- and his knee -- responds to each upgrade in activity. There is nothing official from the team to indicate he will wait another week, so it remains possible that he could be activated. If that does happen, he would not likely get a heavy workload in his first outing.
Meanwhile, Dwyer is dealing with a case of turf toe, which may have hindered his productivity somewhat in Week 2. He rested Wednesday but was back in full practice Thursday, hinting at him being active for Week 3.
Rashad Jennings, Jaguars, (knee): Again this week, Jennings has not practiced due to a knee injury. It will be the Maurice Jones-Drew show on the ground in Indianapolis when the Jaguars visit the Colts regardless.
Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins (concussion): Thomas missed last week's game due to a concussion but returned to full practice Wednesday. Barring a setback, he should be available this weekend, although he will serve as a backup to Reggie Bush.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings sat out last week's game because of a groin injury. It wasn't much of a surprise considering he had suffered the injury just four days prior, The expectation was that the extra time off would have him in good shape for Week 3. In fact, coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel late last week he would be surprised if Jennings did not play in Monday night's contest.
Then came Tuesday's practice. Jennings was on the field in full pads, and all seemed to be progressing well. It turns out Jennings didn't do much Tuesday other than run, and on Thursday he was unable to practice at all. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, McCarthy said Jennings was limited to rehab Thursday and was not progressing "as well as hoped." While there are still a few more days before game time, if Jennings is still this limited 11 days post-injury, how much improvement can realistically be expected by Monday? His status could come down to a game-time decision, but if he isn't able to practice at all Friday, fantasy owners should be concerned.
Jeremy Maclin (hip) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Philadelphia Eagles: These two were both on the Thursday injury report last week, and both ended up playing Sunday. The difference is that this week Maclin was forced out of the game because of his hip. Jackson finished the game -- and played well -- despite a hamstring strain late in the week. While Maclin was unable to practice Wednesday, he did return on a limited basis Thursday. Jackson practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and returned to full practice Thursday.
At this point, Jackson appears to be in better shape heading toward Sunday, presuming there are no setbacks beforehand. As far as Maclin's status is concerned, he does appear to be making progress and as long as he shows he can perform sufficiently before kickoff, there is still a reasonable chance he plays. Friday's practice should yield better clues for both receivers.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (foot): Even though he did not play Sunday, the rest might not have been enough for Garcon's foot. He participated in limited practice Wednesday and Thursday, but according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, coach Mike Shanahan says Garcon's injury is "nagging him a little bit more than I was hoping it would." That's certainly not the most optimistic sounding assessment. If Garcon continues to experience this level of discomfort, it's hard to imagine him suiting up in Week 3.
Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints (foot): Colston was listed on the injury report last week because of his foot, but still managed to play Sunday. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer says the foot injury is affecting Colston's speed. Perhaps the limited reps in practice this week will help him get back up to speed. He is expected to play Sunday.
Julio Jones (thigh) and Roddy White (knee), Atlanta Falcons: Jones and White both on the injury report? Not to worry. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that coach Mike Smith offered this explanation: "The reason a lot of those guys are limited in their participation is [because] we are on a short week." They did play Monday night, and it was, after all, a very long game. Both were restricted to limited work in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but from the sounds of things, both are expected to play Sunday.
Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots (thigh): Lloyd was limited both Wednesday and Thursday with what is being listed as a thigh injury. There has been nothing to suggest the injury is serious, though, including the fact that Lloyd did not completely miss a practice. The Patriots do not play until Sunday night, so hopefully there will be a better indication after Friday's session.
Tight endsAntonio Gates, Chargers (ribs): Despite missing Sunday's game due to sore ribs, Gates did get right into practice this week, an encouraging sign for this week's status. Although he was limited Wednesday, his response to practice was positive enough to bump him up to a full workload Thursday. Thankfully, it does not appear he will be a game-time decision this week.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers (abdomen): Miller has not practiced yet this week because of a rib cartilage injury. Any injury in the rib area can be exceptionally painful; Antonio Gates missed last week's game with a similar ailment. This could come down to a game-time decision.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets (hamstring): Keller missed last week's game because of his hamstring injury but appears to be making progress. He wasn't in practice Wednesday but did return to limited work Thursday. Now the test will be to see how the leg responds and whether he can repeat the effort Friday.