Week 8 Med Check: Bryant's return to boost Cowboys, more analysis
Dez Bryant figures to make a good impression as the Cowboys face the Jags
Dexter McCluster's ankle sprain figures to hinder some of the Chiefs' schemes
DeAngelo Williams' foot injury means Jonathan Stewart is now a must-play
Each week, I've been getting so many questions over on Twitter that I'm running into something that's referred to as "Twitter Jail." I won't get into the technical reasons, but Twitter has a limit of 1,000 tweets a day to guard against spammers and bots, but I don't think they recognized what fantasy players would be like on Sunday mornings. To try and get you the best information, I'll be adding a Sunday morning chat to help. Be sure to put that in your calendar for 11 a.m. until noon Eastern. Since reading Michael Beller's article this week here at SI Fantasy, I've been following his advice and watching the line to see how it correlates with player injury news. It's pretty amazing how close and how quick Vegas adjusts. I've got a "secret weapon" site I discovered late in the week and I'll share it with you once I get a better feel for how accurate it is for fantasy purposes. I'd also be remiss if I didn't point out the great articles about concussions in this week's edition of SI. Peter King's piece on research is one that should be a must-read for everyone that watches the game. I read on my iPad each week and the added features it had made it worth every penny. Great work, guys. Let's hope that we don't have many concussions - or any other injuries - to talk about after this week's games. Speaking of, let's get to them:
UPGRADE: Vernon Davis
With the game in London, you have to be a bit careful with this game. GTDs and all the injuries aren't getting quite the same coverage, so if you're relying on a player in this game, make sure you're following their beat reporters closely. Being on scene is about the only way to get good information from across the Atlantic. The Broncos are still having some depth issues, especially on defense, but Eddie Royal should be able to play and should get his normal targets. Over on the Niners side, the biggest injury is to Vernon Davis. His ankle sprain has limited him in practice all week, but with a new QB, Davis figures to be both a big target and a short-pass safety valve, meaning if he's healthy enough to play, he's a good fantasy play, or at least as good as Troy Smith can make him.
UPGRADE: Dez Bryant
DOWNGRADE: Maurice Jones-Drew
Both teams come into this game down some QBs, but these are known quantities. The Jags are hoping to get their QB1 back and signs are looking pretty good. David Garrard was able to practice all week with no limits, though he's still listed on the injury report. Expect him to play, though he hasn't been able to get much done. The Cowboys will be focused on Maurice Jones-Drew, the one working part of their offense, which could open things up in the passing game. The Cowboys won't have Tony Romo for the next six to eight weeks, but they will have Dez Bryant in there. Backup QBs, even experienced ones, tend to find the wide-open receivers versus going through progressions. That could mean good things for Miles Austin, who'll get the most targets, but don't sleep on Dez Bryant. He's tall and fast, but not a route-runner. Oddly, that could get him the ball, especially if he can break open deep. The Cowboys other big worry is the line play, which ended up getting Romo crushed. Kyle Kosier remains out while the rest of the line hasn't done much to pick themselves up.
UPGRADE: Brandon Marshall
DOWNGRADE: Bengals DST
Miami comes into this week relatively healthy. It's not as ridiculous as last season, when they went weeks without listing someone on the OIR, but it's still something that should be more of an advantage than it seems to be. That tells me they're hiding a little bit in there. The Bengals have no such illusions. This team is banged up all over. The most interesting injury is a listed hip injury to Carson Palmer, who has been nothing short of terrible so far. The word that this hip injury is something the Bengals have been "dealing with a while", according to coach Marvin Lewis, offers some explanation. Palmer had good superficial stats last week, but don't be fooled - he hit some home runs last week that cover up problems. The Bengals DST is where the real depth issues are, leaving them very exposed in the secondary. Zone coverage improves with practice and familiarity, so look for someone like Brandon Marshall or the very quick Davone Bess to find the seams and the mistakes.
UPGRADE: Jamaal Charles
DOWNGRADE: Dexter McCluster
The Bills don't have any significant injuries headed into this week, but the Chiefs have one that will be interesting to monitor. Dexter McCluster has been a pure speed guy in multiple roles for the new-look Chiefs, but an ankle injury has him limited. There are rumors that the injury is a high ankle sprain, but there's been no confirmation from the Chiefs. Speed guys and ankle injuries of any type don't go together, so while McCluster is questionable, you probably want to bench him for another WR3 possibility for this week. Jamaal Charles could get a few more looks this week, so he's a great play in PPR leagues.
The 'Skins have some injury clusters. In analyzing sports injuries, I've found terms and concepts from epidemiology and networking theory actual have a lot of application. It's more than just perception that some injuries seem to be viral, though no one seems to have any explanation. The 'Skins have a lot of injuries on the offensive line and defensive backfield, which will lead to some depth issues. Most of their OIR players will play - coach Mike Shanahan loves "questionable" - but there's always worry about depth. The offensive line should be more of an issue for the passing game, due to Ryan Torain's style and the use of the fullback. For the Lions, their biggest concern this week and going forward is keeping Matthew Stafford upright. He's looked solid enough in practice, but it all comes down to keeping him from landing on that shoulder too much and hoping he "lands right" when he does.
UPGRADE: Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith
DOWNGRADE: DeAngelo Williams
It seems amazing Steven Jackson can go in for surgery, have some pins put in to hold his ring finger together, and then play less than a week later. This injury is all about pain management and protection, since the ring finger isn't as important to grip as the others. It is the weakest finger, after all. He'll likely lose a few touches, but not enough to downgrade him. Jason Smith, the big LT, missed the end of last season with a concussion and had a recurrence in a practice incident. He's very questionable and would affect the passing game more than the running game. There's some depth issues with the Rams DST as well, but none significant. The Panthers should have Steve Smith on the field after last week's cramps that had people panicking. It's less likely that DeAngelo Williams will play, given his setback in practice. That opens things up for Jonathan Stewart, who's now a play in all formats.
UPGRADE: James Jones
DOWNGRADE: Donald Driver
The Jets should have all their pieces back in place, which leaves any failings firmly at the feet of the players and coaches. Rex Ryan has been good about not making excuses, so I don't expect him to start now. Injuries are a part of the game, but minimizing the effect of them is a bigger part of the game, whether that's prevention or game-planning. Nick Mangold, Calvin Pace and Darrelle Revis are all expected to play at or near 100%. The Packers still have some issues, especially on the line. It looks like they'll continue to protect Aaron Rodgers with a patchwork. Donald Driver's a bit more iffy than the probable designation, so James Jones could end up getting more targets again this week even as the listed WR3.
UPGRADE: Ryan Mathews, Patrick Crayton
The Chargers started the week without enough WRs to practice their offense. (I'm still wondering what they do - lots of two TEs or bring over some DBs just to get the work in?) They head into Sunday's game with one healthy WR and a couple more who should be healthy enough. Patrick Crayton is the must-start of the bunch this week with Antonio Gates the real No. 1 target, despite his injured toe. Legedu Naanee, Buster Davis and Malcolm Floyd aren't going to play this week, so Richard Goodman and Seyi Ajirotutu could end up viable fantasy options if you believe in Philip Rivers. I think they'll have to run more, though my guys at numberFire don't have the same faith in Ryan Mathews, projecting him to only muster seven points. Tennessee hasn't officially said Vince Young will start, but there's no indication that he won't either. The ankle has held up well this week and he's been able to practice well. Don't worry about the thigh of Chris Johnson either. He'll start and get his normal touches.
UPGRADE: Adrian Peterson
DOWNGRADE: Deion Branch
Let's get this one out of the way: Brett Favre is going to play. Beyond that, there's a lot of questions, starting with Brad Childress' authority. Favre was able to practice this week despite a calcaneal avulsion (a small pulling away of some bone fragments in his foot), showing decent mobility and no changes to his throwing mechanics. There's still a small chance that something goes wrong and we see the end of Favre's streak here, but that would be huge news and a huge surprise. Playing and being effective are two different things, but Favre's struggles this season have been less about his physical condition and more about the increasing disconnect between what he can do now and what he thinks he can still do. The Vikings have some issues with the interior of their line, which could affect their running game slightly. They also have some depth issues in the defensive backfield that should help Tom Brady -- you know, Mr. Probable. (How many weeks has he been on the OIR as probable anyway?) The big question marks for the Pats are Patrick Chung, who's been a difference maker at safety, and Deion Branch. Both are GTDs in a late game, but Branch's hamstring didn't make much improvement after a light practice on Friday.
UPGRADE: Steve Breaston
Both teams have pretty long lists for the OIR this week. Max Hall looks to make his return, but it's unclear what kind of player Hall really is. The metrics and the scouts are mixed on him. Steve Breaston should be back this week in the WR2 slot, sharing time with Early Doucet. He could have been back last week, but the Cards did worry about him on the wet grass, which tells you he's not all the way back. For the Bucs, it looks like LaGarrette Blount will be getting the most touches, but it's still a split between Blount, Cadillac Williams, and Earnest Graham, who should play as well this week. The Bucs will be without their RT Jeremy Trueblood, which will affect who ever is running the ball.
DOWNGRADE: Jason Campbell
The Raiders may have to hope that Darren McFadden does what he did last week again, given their injury situation. Both Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens are out, leaving Jason Campbell not much to throw to aside from Zach Miller. That's going to force more running, likely another split between McFadden and Michael Bush. Seattle has a lot of questionable this week - they didn't use any other designation - but none of them is significant.
Night Game Notes: The Sunday and Monday night games are much harder to get good info on at this point, because they're further out. There's a couple notable injury situations that bear mention. The Colts are very banged up on offense. It looks like Anthony Gonzalez will get the WR2 role and that Donald Brown will only split carries with Mike Hart. The Colts are looking like they'll overplay the run and dare Matt Schaub to get in a shootout with Peyton Manning. There could be big fantasy points here on both sides. For the Saints on Sunday, they'll be back with Chris Ivory in the RB1 role after Reggie Bush looked terrible in practice this week. He could be a couple weeks away still.