Gore's growing timeshare with Niners may pay off in playoffs
Niners are using Frank Gore on inside runs and Kendall Hunter outside the tackles
Andre Johnson may need to get adrenaline of playing to get full confidence in leg
Difficulty in bracing ankle sprain may keep Adrian Peterson sidelined in Week 12
There's almost a writer's rule that you have to say something about Thanksgiving in the week leading up to it. It's also a societal norm to love the holiday. Look, I like a day off, a lot of food and cranberry sauce that still looks like a can, but frankly, Thanksgiving is annoying to me as a football writer. But here I am on Tuesday evening trying to give the info I normally don't get until Thursday. I don't write on Tuesday normally because I like more information, more perspective, and more time to figure things out. Injuries depend on treatment, reaction and response. Thanksgiving shifts the schedule, pushing several games up rather than just one. Keep in mind that more will change as the week goes on ... which is why I write on Sunday morning. Let's get to the injuries:
UPGRADE: Jordy Nelson
DOWNGRADE: James Starks
The Packers come in relatively healthy. Starks was back at practice on Tuesday after a mild LCL sprain, so he's likely to see a few less carries. That's OK with Ryan Grant now healthy. Greg Jennings should be ready to go, though if the bruise is still bothering him, Aaron Rodgers may keep spreading the ball around, as he has been anyway. That would make Nelson a solid play again. The defense is a bit dinged, but has made adjustments all season long. Matthew Stafford seemed to deal with his injured finger better against the Panthers, or maybe it was just Kevin Smith. Smith takes some of the edge off the continued absence of Jahvid Best. Otherwise, the Lions are relatively healthy, but lack some depth in the LB and DB corps.
DOWNGRADE: Felix Jones
The Cowboys are healthier than they look, with only Miles Austin out among the FRGs. Jones is still a bit limited, but should get more touches than he did last week while splitting carries with DeMarco Murray. The Dolphins are pretty healthy this week, though Dan Carpenter is not likely to be kicking. The Fins have brought in Shayne Graham to kick.
UPGRADE: Vernon Davis
DOWNGRADE: Braylon Edwards
The Niners have been doing a lot of maintenance recently, trying to keep Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Edwards functional from Sunday to Sunday. The short week makes that harder. Gore played well despite concerns about his knee, getting about T! of the carries. That should hold true for this week as well. Gore took most of the inside work with Kendall Hunter running exclusively outside the tackles. It's a split that keeps Gore from wearing down too much, a plus as we get into the fantasy playoffs. Crabtree and Edwards should be able to go, but there could be a bit less function there, which could bring Davis into play more.
On the Baltimore side, Ray Lewis could be back this week as he tries to figure out how to control the pain in his foot while maximizing function. It's touch and go with the short week, but it's also tough to keep Lewis off the field. Week 13 is much more likely. Lee Evans is also expected to have more looks this week, though he's clearly the WR3 now behind Torrey Smith.
Cutler fractured his thumb while chasing down San Diego's Antoine Cason on an interception. This was just one of those bad luck traumas that can change a season. The unstable fracture had to be fixated, giving him a 6-8 week return time frame. Immediately, people wondered why Cutler couldn't play through something that seemed like the same injury that Ben Roethlisberger was playing through. Thing is, a fractured thumb is not just one thing. I talked with Dr. Steve Shin of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, one of the top hand doctors in the world, about the differences with this kind of injury, and he told me, "Not all thumb fractures are the same. It depends on which bone is fractured and what kind of fracture it is. If the fracture pieces haven't moved out of position, then it's possible that the thumb can be protected with a splint while bony healing takes place. Whether or not a quarterback can play with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand depends on two things: how well he can throw with a splint on his thumb and how tolerable the pain is when he's throwing. If the fractured pieces have moved out of position or the fracture type is unstable, then surgery will be necessary to put the pieces back in place, stabilize the fracture and allow early motion." Cutler's noted diabetes shouldn't be a factor in his recovery, but there's also not much that can be done to protect the thumb. It will have to be fully healed for him to get back, so the Bears will have to make it to the playoffs with Caleb Hanie.
With Jake Locker and the specter of "next season" looming close, Hasselbeck's strained elbow could be one of those inflection points for Mike Munchak. Does he look at Hasselbeck and think 80 percent of him is better than 100 percent of Locker at this stage? Does he see Matt Schaub sidelined and think that the Titans are still in this thing? The worry here is function. While Hasselbeck doesn't have any structural damage, it's a loose definition of structure. If Hasselbeck can snap his wrist and grip the ball normally, he'll play. Things look positive at this stage and should get better. Any indication that he's throwing on Friday should be a strong indicator that he'll be ready.
Schaub is meeting with a surgeon in North Carolina on Wednesday morning. The expected outcome is a surgical appointment to repair his injured foot, ending his season. There's a chance -- a very small one -- that the Texans QB will elect to wait on surgery, trying the rest and rehab route, in hopes of being available for the playoffs. One Texans source referred to this as the "Joel Osteen plan," saying it was basically wait, think positively and pray.
Things are a bit more positive for Johnson. He'll be back in Week 12, giving Matt Leinart a good target ... or will he? The acceleration issue isn't as bad as it was a couple weeks ago, but sources tell me that Johnson either doesn't have it all back or still lacks some confidence in the leg. I was also told that Johnson reacted in a very similar manner a couple years ago after his knee injury. Once he got back out on the field and into game situations, the adrenaline kicked in and he was fine. I'd expect that to be the case again, but there are some reservations there.
Peterson was playing through a sore ankle, previously sprained, but braced. He was obviously well enough to play and play well in Week 11, but it only took one play to take the weakened ankle and turn it into a much bigger problem. Going from the "classic" sprain to a high ankle sprain is not good, but it could have been much worse. Word from the Vikings is that it's a low-grade sprain with minor swelling and pain. The area is very difficult to brace, so it's more about stability and pain management. Watch the Friday practice report to see if Peterson is able to run at all. That will be our best indication that he could play, though Toby Gerhart is going to get more looks regardless.
Heyward-Bey's head was essentially in the wrong place at the wrong time last week, though he's going to have to accept some of the blame for not having his helmet strapped on properly. (I still think this should be a rule. The refs could give one warning, then enforce a delay-of-game penalty, sending a player off for one play until he learns how to snap his helmet.) Heyward-Bey quickly got all the feeling and motion back in his extremities, but he is still dealing with a sore neck. This is the result of the neck being snapped and could be either muscular or ligamentous. Both are painful, but the structures that support the spine are key, especially for a WR that could face the same kind of hit. Heyward-Bey is in a neck brace, but hasn't been ruled out of Sunday's game. If that seems contradictory to you, it should. He's very unlikely to play.
Matt Cassel had surgery Monday on his hand. But what was the issue? The Chiefs still refuse to give any details, even after placing Cassel on IR ... Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play Sunday, but the fractured thumb is painful for him when he grips the ball. Look for more shotgun looks ... Michael Vick remains day to day with his fractured ribs. The play of Vince Young "won't affect his return," I'm told. Look to see if Vick throws at Wednesday's practice ... Darren McFadden is "closer" but will likely be a GTD with his foot ... The long week has helped the Jets a bit. They think they'll have both Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson back for Week 12 ... Peyton Hillis is already listed as out for Sunday's game. It's looking more likely that he's done for the season ... There's some question as to whether A.J. Green will be back this week for the Bengals. They're definitely playing it safe with his knee ... DeSean Jackson took a beating Sunday night, coming out of the game with a mildly sprained ankle and a bruised knee ... Donald Jones appeared to re-injure his ankle on Sunday. The Bills sounded very negative early in the week. It could end up season ending if it's Grade II or worse ... Is it possible that Dallas Clark could miss only a couple weeks with a fractured fibula? My sources tell me its unlikely, but that the Colts aren't ruling it out either ... The Chargers are very worried that Marcus McNeill is done for the season. That won't help any of the Chargers, especially Philip Rivers ... Roger Saffold tore his pectoral muscle, ending his season. There's a question whether he was cleared for physical activity after his concussion though it's hard to see how the two would be connected ... Turns out Terrence McGee didn't tear his ACL on Sunday. It was worse -- a torn patellar tendon ...
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