Rice, Harvin, Best among upgrades in Week 3 medical check
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could run wild against the Bengals
The Steelers welcome back Casey Hampton, bad news for Cadillac Williams
Ray Rice should be able to exploit the holes in the thin Browns defense
Judging from my emails and tweets, injuries are as big a factor as ever when it comes to winning and losing in the NFL. Whether you care if "your team" is notching a win or if you're counting points in your fantasy league, talent wins, but keeping that talent available is as big a part as assembling it. Fantasy players often don't feel like they can manage that risk, but while they don't have doctors and trainers advising them, you can make adjustments. I'm here to help with that.
If you're following me on Twitter, you can ask questions and get the quickest updates all week long. I got a great email this week from a guy who said he was 0-2 already. He noticed his opponents were both making a lot of Sunday morning adjustments while he was still trying to check his rosters by listening to chuckling ex-players. It wasn't working, and someone finally told him about this column. We'll see whether we can get him -- and you -- a win this week. Be sure to check back throughout the morning on Sunday for regular updates.
DOWNGRADE: Eli Manning
The Giants come out of a big Sunday matchup with a lot of injuries and a loss. Their o-line was utterly exposed by the Colts rush and it doesn't look much better this week, meaning Manning is a downgrade against an aggressive Titans defense. Kevin Boss is expected to return from concussion, which gives Manning one more target if he needs to avoid a rush. Justin Tuck is a game-time decision, but even if he plays, he's likely to be spotted in. The Titans have been doing it on the ground, which comes as no surprise. What is a surprise is that Chris Johnson hasn't had any support. He would have had a nice fantasy day last Sunday, but a penalty called back a big run. The Titans D/ST hasn't been much better, with lots of small injuries. Jacob Ford remains out, but there's enough depth that Jeff Fisher will follow the Colts gameplan by testing the Giants line.
UPGRADE: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart
Chad Ochocinco tweeted that he has a fractured rib (and then deleted it), but the Bengals didn't get the message, leaving him off the injury report. That can't make the NFL happy, but no one really knows how accurate the "Ocho News Network" really is. Sources tell me that he has practiced fully and has received no X-rays, so let's give this one a "child please" for now. Where the Bengals are hurting is on defense, where Antwan Odom, Keith Rivers and Frostee Rucker are all injured. Odom -- still awaiting an appeal on a drug suspension -- has a wrist injury that has him unlikely to play, while Rucker and Rivers will be game-time decisions. That gives the Panthers running game a full upgrade, especially considering that they'll be trying to take some of the heat off Jimmy Clausen in his first start. Clausen will, like Matt Moore before him, be lacking blind-side protection from Jeff Otah. He will have both Steve Smith (thigh) and Brandon LaFell (hamstring) available, though LaFell is likely to be slotted as the third wideout this week. Smith plays through injuries well and is likely to be Clausen's first option in most passing situations.
DOWNGRADE: Cadillac Williams
The Buccaneers are one of the real surprises of the year, but looking at their injury report tells you a bit of why they've surprised. Getting all the talent out on the field is key to any team's hope. There is a big red flag flying over the pirate ship with Kellen Winslow having knee pain. This is anticipated to some point; Winslow's chronic knee issues have held him back for years. Winslow seems determined to play through it as long as he can, but he's a sell-high candidate on any good week. Williams had a sore hamstring coming out of last week, but practiced well and will get the start. The Steelers will counter that with the return of Casey Hampton, which will make it tougher for the Bucs to run between the tackles. On the offensive side, they should get Max Starks back in, which will help Charlie Batch stay upright a bit more.
UPDATE (11:30 a.m.): Not that they needed the help, but Brandon Spikes is active and starting for the Pats. Upgrades Pats D/ST.
The only injury of significance on either side is to Fred Taylor. His toe injury has him slightly hobbled through this week's practices and means that the carries will be shared. With Kevin Faulk's season done, that leaves those carries to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It's unclear how much of a split it will be, though it appears that if Julian Edelman is available this week, the Pats will use the short passing game as a running replacement.
UPGRADE: Ray Rice
DOWNGRADE: Browns D/ST, Seneca Wallace
UPDATE (10:30 a.m.): Downgrade Josh Cribbs, who sprained his ankle and is a game-time decision. Upgrade Mohammed Massaquoi.
The NFL has 53-man rosters. The Browns' injury report this week listed 20 of those players. Across the board, the Browns are in a situation where depth is a real issue. Jake Delhomme is out again this week with his ankle sprain, and so are Jerome Harrison, Brian Robiskie and much of the offensive line. The defense is just as injured with Shaun Rogers and D'Qwell Jackson unlikely to play and limited even if forced into action. Facing all this and the physical style of the Ravens seems like a nightmare for Joe Sheehan and the Browns medical staff. The Ravens have their own share of injuries, including an ankle injury to Rice and a sore shoulder for Le'Ron McClain. Both should play, and practice observers say that Rice showed no real functional issues with his running on Friday. Rice should be able to exploit the holes and lack of depth in the Browns defense on Sunday and is a must-play. The Ravens have several defensive players listed, but all should play, though the hope is that they can spot them in or run up the score and get them out early.
UPGRADE: Percy Harvin, Jahvid Best
UPDATE (11:30 a.m.): Percy Harvin is active and will get "normal reps." Reports coming in that Brett Favre is having issues with his ankle. Keep an eye on this.
The Vikings look to get off the schneid against, but the Lions aren't the pushover they once were. Brett Favre has been more problem than solution, but his issues haven't been injury-related. The ankle seems to be holding up well, and sources that have watched tape on him tell me they don't see anything different this year with his footwork or movement in the pocket. What they see is a slightly reduced arm strength which they attribute to age. Favre should have all his targets, with Bernard Berrian and Harvin both listed as probable. Harvin is always a game-time decision, but the hip doesn't appear to be a major concern. The Vikings do have some defensive issues, especially in the backfield, but no one thinks Shaun Hill will be able to test it. The Lions injury problems are all focused on the defensive side, but they're much the same as they've dealt with the last couple weeks, so there are no surprises here. Only Nate Burleson, out with a sprained ankle, changes anything. With his speed out, the Lions will be forced to look to a bunch of untested targets. While some think this could give Brandon Pettigrew more looks, it's more likely that Best gets more touches and targets, especially if they find a way to get him on the edge.
UPGRADE: Devery Henderson
DOWNGRADE: Michael Turner
With Reggie Bush out, the easy solution would be more carries for Pierre Thomas or whoever's available, right? No. Bush is as pure a speed player as we've seen, and many of the plays are purpose-built for his skill set. Chris Ivory or anyone just can't take those plays. Until Bush returns in November, it's as if Sean Payton pulled those plays out of the book. Instead the touches and targets get redistributed, mostly to the wide receivers. This makes Henderson a solid 1a to Marques Colston and upgrades Jeremy Shockey a bit as well. The Saints will be without Randall Gay, ruled out by a concussion this week, which should open things up slightly for Matt Ryan. Those that picked up Turner in the first round are feeling the effects. Turner's groin strain last week was mild, but enough to keep him out. That shows that anything below 100 percent, and the Falcons won't hesitate to share the load. Turner looked solid enough in practice and is still a good play, but there's some risk that Jason Snelling will get more carries this week. The Falcons are also unsure just how much Michael Jenkins will play. Roddy White has been one of the most targeted receivers in the game, so he continues to be a must play.
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