NFL Week 16 Injury Report: Fantasy Advice Heading into the Championship
Sometimes I worry about you, my fantasy-obsessed friends.
I feel you. I am one of you to a point. I know how much fun this game can be. I've made lifelong friends and perhaps this job is the result of playing fantasy sports, whether it was that first league among teammates in 1984 (which entailed long walks on Tuesday and Wednesday to get the USA Today editions that had league stats) or the one that put me among people that are in this industry.
What worries me isn't so much the craziness of a real-time society that rewards Justin Tucker for a shout-out to fantasy players and then attacks Torrey Smith for saying he doesn't care about those same players. No, for me, it's the way that people are obsessing about their teams. If you haven't seen HBO's documentary about "Trophy Kids," I think they could make a sequel about fantasy players seeking trophies.
I know it's championship week and you're this close to bragging rights or a big check. I wish I was there with you in some respects, but I hope that everyone remembers that it's just a game. It's supposed to be fun. The joy is in the competition as much as in the winning.
That said, there are a lot of injuries that could change the shape of the week. Plenty of them, to some of the biggest names in the game, so let's look around the league...
INJURY: fractured collarbone
OUTLOOK: unclear if he will play in Week 16
Don't be distracted. "Throwing missiles" is a nice story by Gregg Rosenthal and easy to see, but Aaron Rodgers' comeback from a fractured collarbone was never going to be about his ability to throw. The issue has been and remains whether the bone has healed enough to take the inevitable next hit.
There's no magic formula that is going to tell the Packers when Rodgers is able to play. They'll continue to match up the medical information with Rodgers' feeling and the team's needs. There's no question that they're a significantly better team with Rodgers on the field. He's better than Flynn and makes everyone else, including the running game, better.
The Packers are likely to give Rodgers at least until Saturday before making a decision. They won't take it up to game time, though be careful. If all reports are positive, they may still pull him back. I've even had some people asking me if the Packers might start Flynn and bring in Rodgers depending on what they do and some scoreboard watching. I can't imagine them doing this, but it's not the worst idea.
INJURY: midfoot sprain
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 16
The Vikings have the opposite problem with Adrian Peterson from the Packers' issue with Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings aren't playing for much of anything and while Peterson is conscious of his place in history, any question mark about the health of his foot should be enough to severely limit him or even keep him on the bench.
The Vikings have Matt Asiata, who carried the load for the team in their win last week, and should have Toby Gerhart back, making it even less likely that Peterson will get his normal touches, as noted by Fox Sports North. That said, very little is normal about Peterson, and even when Leslie Frazier says he wants to limit his touches, it's often too tempting and productive to actually do it.
It helps a bit that Peterson will be playing on grass rather than the Vikings' home turf. It will help some, but Peterson is going to be a very tough read. It's nearly impossible to sit Peterson knowing his history and potential, but he'll be one of the riskiest players going into Week 16. The variance on his projections is huge, so how you roster him will come down to what else you have and how much you're having to play the upside.
INJURY: sprained knee
OUTLOOK: will play in Week 16
Franchise quarterback makes it to the end of the season with only a mild knee sprain. He'll play with a brace and the team anticipates no problem.
Is that Joe Flacco I'm talking about or Robert Griffin III? If the cases sound familiar, they should. Griffin trying to play through an LCL sprain contributed to his ACL injury, which has caused all sorts of issues for Griffin and for Washington. While Flacco's MCL sprain isn't as problematic or serious, I do have to wonder if the Ravens aren't taking a big risk with their QB.
Flacco will be wearing a brace, as detailed by Fox Sports.The brace should keep things stable, and Flacco's not a mobile QB. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens use more of the Wildcat package that Flacco's been against in order to protect him. I wouldn't expect significant changes in how he plays or how the offense flows through him.
One interesting thought: A scout I spoke with decried the lack of sliding skills in modern QBs. He wondered whether teams just couldn't teach it. I suggested that a QB that's not a running QB could take some hits, though they should avoid the big ones. He thought that maybe the NFL should come up with an alternate to sliding, like spiking the ball. I don't think that works.
INJURY: bruised thigh
OUTLOOK: will play in Week 16
Ray Rice has perhaps been the most disappointing fantasy player of the year. He's not bad, but the drop-off from expectations to this year's version of reality was steep. It didn't seem to be all injuries either, as the Super Bowl champs came back to earth.
The worry is that he did get banged up quite a bit and that he wasn't productive when he was healthy. The retroactive hip injury is a good narrative for him, but it's impossible to say whether it had a real effect, unless it ends up being something that needs offseason surgery.
I haven't seen any sort of study on small "bowling ball" backs like Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew and their longevity. Barry Sanders was a similar size but barely got hit. Rice seems to look for contact at times and that's going to shorten his career and slow it at some point. It may have already come.
Though the thigh bruise is painful, it's more annoying than limiting. Expect Rice to play this week normally, but there's a very wide variance in what normal has been. Fact is, Rice is probably not playing for anyone in the championship game this week. As he did with my team where I took him in the first round and thought I got great value with the fifth pick, he took the team down.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 16
This situation is as fluid as any of the ones going into Week 16. The Jags will make a decision on Friday, so fantasy players will have plenty of lead time on this. Plan B should be in place, but Jones-Drew may go this weekend.
The Jags are out of the playoffs but have been improving. Whether Jones-Drew is back next year remains to be seen, but the team and player would both rather go out on a high note. That makes this decision tough. Does he play now in what could be his last home game or wait for perhaps his last road game in a possible spoiler situation in Indy?
Jones-Drew's hamstring strain is serious enough to make playing this weekend a question, but in the long term it shouldn't be an issue. Jones-Drew has been relatively healthy through his career and in the right situation, he likely has a few more productive years in those legs. Whether he can carry some team to a fantasy championship we'll know tomorrow, though don't expect a full workload regardless.
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 16
The Broncos haven't ruled out Wes Welker yet, but they will soon. Welker is still having some concussion symptoms and the Broncos are more focused on getting Welker back for the playoffs than for Week 16 or even 17. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see much of the first team, especially Peyton Manning, get almost no time on the field in Week 17 unless playoff position is still at stake.
Welker is not practicing and seems to be having trouble with both light and activity, per ESPN. The light sensitivity would be more worrisome, since that is an immediate symptom and tends to be transient. If he's still having those types of early-stage symptoms, it's definitely a bad sign and recalls Austin Collie a few years back.
Andre Caldwell will take Welker's slot role again and Manning showed that he's solid enough as a target there. Caldwell is a must-add this week for Welker owners and those looking for an upside play. He'll get more coverage this week, but he's still just one cog in the Bronco offensive machine.
Jay Cutler: Cutler had no issues with mobility and appears to have made some progress with another week of rest and treatment. The high ankle sprain will linger into the playoffs, but it appears the Bears have adjusted. The worry now is less recurrence and more keeping Cutler upright and healthy in general.
Case Keenum: Keenum's taken a beating as a rookie, but he's been impressive enough to lock himself into at least a nice career as a backup. A lot will depend on whom the Texans draft next year, but Keenum may have leaped ahead of TJ Yates in the long-term plan. The thumb injury will likely end Keenum's season.
Ben Tate: Ben Tate played well through fractured ribs, but this was always the risk. The ribs weren't healing and may have been shifted a bit due to the hits. The management on this one was mixed, but the Texans are finally shutting Tate down. Dennis Johnson and Deji Karim will handle carries behind Matt Schaub this week.
Randall Cobb: Cobb is running well and should be active for this week. It's doubtful he goes right back into the WR2 role, but they'd like to get him into the flow quickly, no matter whom the QB is. Cobb isn't a great fantasy play in a championship week, but he's an upside flex, especially if Rodgers plays.
Larry Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald missed practice early this week, but all signs point to him clearing the protocol and playing this week. The Cards have a tough matchup and need help even if they can get past the Seahawks. Fitzgerald was shut down in the team's first meeting (2/17) and has only 21 catches and one TD in the team's past five meetings. He's a flex, not a WR this week in fantasy.