Slow-healing ankles, feet playing havoc at fantasy crunch time
Even if Darren McFadden returns Sunday, he will share carries with Michael Bush
MetLife Stadium turf is hard in places, which may slow Ahmad Bradshaw's return
Peyton Manning will have a check on neck fusion but hasn't startedt throwing
This is the make-or-break week. While some leagues are starting their playoffs, the vast majority are in that last week. Some teams are in, some out, but it's the ones on the edge that are on edge around the office. Trash talk has gone quiet. There's some that are like the Texans or Bears, hanging on, hoping to build around the injuries that have foiled their best-laid plans. Some are like the Bills, falling apart piece-by-piece and just hoping to back into the playoffs. Some are like the Dolphins, finding themselves in the second half and hoping they can sneak in past that guy whose team is falling apart. There are a lot of ways fantasy football is nothing like the real thing, but watching team owners chew down Pepcid is a reminder that it's very, very real if you're as passionate as most owners. Let's get to the Week 13 injuries:
UPGRADE: Golden Tate, Riley Cooper
DOWNGRADE: LeSean McCoy
Thursday games are turning out to be a real problem for teams dealing with any injuries. Yes, they get the long week on the back of it, but teams seldom think that far ahead. Both breeds of birds playing here will be missing key personnel, though it's less clear if a couple extra days might have helped get them there. The Eagles will likely have Vince Young back under center while Michael Vick continues to recover from his rib fractures. Jeremy Maclin will once again be sidelined by his shoulder. There's some worry about McCoy, dealing with a toe sprain, but sources tell me it's mild and he should play normally. I'm not so sure and am downgrading him slightly. The Eagles DBs are still hurting. Nnamdi Asomugha tried to play Sunday, but was ineffective and had to be removed. Across the field, Sidney Rice is out (more on his concussion situation below) and two shoulder injuries thin out those WRs even more, with Ben Obamanu and Doug Baldwin both hurting.
Once you get past how much McFadden looks like Kanye West, the only thing separating McFadden from being one of the five best running backs in the NFL is durability. McFadden is neck and neck with Adrian Peterson if you don't count the three or four games he seems to miss every season. His foot sprain is taking longer than the Raiders seemed to expect, but not longer than normal and certainly not longer when you consider McFadden's injury history. McFadden is out of the walking boot, but we won't know until late week practices whether McFadden will be ready to contribute on Sunday. Even if he does, he's going to come back slowly, sharing carries with Michael Bush, so don't get too excited if he's active.
We've gotten to the point where high ankle sprains are just "HAS" in the discussion. It's common enough now to have its own acronym, but there's still not a lot of understanding. While no high ankle sprain is good, like any sprain, there are degrees of sprain. A sprain is a tearing of a ligament, in this case the one between the tibia and fibula, and yes, mild tearing means a mild, low-grade sprain. Peterson's low-grade sprain leaves the medical staff some hope he can be back this week, even in a limited role. That said, he'll need to do more than just run. That's the easy part, so don't be fooled by "Peterson's running at practice!" reports. His ability (or inability) to accelerate and cut will be the tough part. The Vikings will give Peterson every chance to play, but Toby Gerhart is more likely to be back at RB1 this week.
The Giants could have used Bradshaw against the Saints. They could have used lots of things against the Saints, who are once again looking like a team that could play deep into January. The Giants will end up a measuring stick on that as the Giants face the Packers this weekend. There's an open question as to whether Bradshaw will be a part of that game either. His foot is simply not healing quickly enough or completely enough to let him get back out on the field. In fact, he's still not cleared to run. There's an additional complicating factor of the field. There have been reports from both the Giants and Jets that the MetLife turf is oddly hard, at least in places. Turf games might end up being a big issue for Bradshaw even after he comes back, and three of five games are on the fake stuff.
It's strange to be talking about Smith in the same breath as Peterson, but fantasy football is weird that way. Smith's high ankle sprain still is a bit confusing. While it appeared to happen on a reverse, when he turned, a look back at the video shows he was having problems a couple plays earlier, even waving to the sidelines at one point. I think the last play where we saw him hobble was more an exacerbation than an actual mechanism of injury. Regardless, the ankle is going to keep Smith hobbled another week at least. While it's considered minor, it doesn't look like Smith will make it back. He's running a bit, but as we've seen time and again, it's not running that's the hard part; it's stopping, cutting and lateral movement, none of which Smith has at this point. He'll be a GTD at best.
Manning is headed to see his surgeon for a final check on his spinal fusion. The doctors will be checking for stability and if the bone they placed in between the vertebrae has properly fused. This has nothing to do with his ability to play QB or do his daily activities. There's been precious little change or news for Manning, leading to outrageous parsing of the slightest sign or word. When Manning showed up with his young son, people checked the pictures for some sign. Yes, Manning was able to hold his son in either arm, but that tells us nothing about his ability to throw a deep out. After his Wednesday appointment, he'll likely be cleared to begin more activities like running. Throwing will need to come quickly, perhaps as soon as next week, to avoid falling even further behind schedule than he is. Forget practice or games, all that anyone needs to see is Manning throwing a normal passing tree.
Recurrent concussions aren't good. When Rice fell awkwardly, missing a defender, it appeared he was bracing for, and ended up going head first into, the turf. It was very clear he was at least briefly unconscious. The "fencer's response" where the arms go straight out make it impossible to dance around the facts. It's one of those situations that can't be helped. He wasn't hit; he just fell the wrong way. Absent a major advance in helmets, there's nothing Rice, the team or the NFL can do to prevent it. Rice was placed on the IR after it was determined he would miss at least a couple of games. As with any concussion, the worry is that there will be long-term implications, so the Seahawks will take the short-term hit on a team that's not going anywhere to try to protect his future. Smart move in a scary situation.
The Steelers just don't like to say "concussion." They'll say "symptoms" and follow the protocols, but their disdain for the term is unusual in today's NFL. Other teams clearly dance around the term and do silly "grass in his eye" things, but the Steelers seem to be systematic. Perhaps it's the old school nature of the franchise or the rough, tough and a bit crazy defense they've featured throughout the Cowher-Tomlin era. I'd be curious to see some kind of data on whether their reluctance translates into anything in terms of return to play, but it seems a small sample size. Polamalu didn't have a concussion last week, according to the Steelers. It's the second one he didn't have this year and he's expected to play Sunday. Polamalu is aging normally and his style lends itself to injuries, though he's shown himself to be durable, or at least willing to play through pain. I just wonder what he'll be like 10 years from now and wonder if he ever met Mike Webster.
Matt Leinart had his collarbone surgically fixated. I couldn't find any information, but I'm 99 percent sure he had this done a couple years ago. I'd be curious to see if it happened near the previous fix ... Matthew Stafford is practicing without his glove this week. Some are hoping this is a sign his finger is healing. My sources tell me it's a sign that the gloves aren't helping ... Josh Freeman needed stitches on his thumb after a gun range injury. Yep, that's a first. He's expected to play ... Kevin Kolb was back at practice this week and looks like he could be ready to play this week. Whether the coaching staff will think he's ready remains to be seen ... Beanie Wells will be ready. He was bent back in what looked like an ugly injury about to happen, but the brace he's wearing to protect his knee did just that. A bent hinge is a lot better than a torn ligament ... Cedric Benson is dealing with some sort of foot injury. Keep an eye on this one. It could cost him some carries, which would go to Bernard Scott ... The Lions just couldn't wait on Jahvid Best any more. His lack of confidence regarding his ability to come back made the recovery from symptoms tougher. He's going to be a big question mark heading into next year, so don't forget about Mikel Leshoure ... Peyton Hillis is crediting PRP for his "quick recovery." I'm not sure how Hillis is defining quick, but a lot of his fantasy owners would disagree. He made it through his first game back healthy and appears on track to start again this week ... Andre Johnson came out of his first game back healthy, but he didn't show any burst. The Texans are very concerned, especially on top of their QB situation ... Miles Austin is still not running and is very unlikely to be back this week ... Michael Jenkins was placed on IR, which leaves Christian Ponder with not much but Percy Harvin to throw to ... Mario Manningham continues to have swelling in his knee, making him questionable for this weekend ... Greg Olsen scared fantasy owners when he had a collision in warmups Sunday. He was bruised but able to play. It shouldn't be an issue this week ... Position counts. Cullen Jenkins suffered a severe fracture of his thumb, but he'll likely be able to play through it. It's a question of pain management and protecting it ... Scott Fujita "shattered" his hand, breaking it in at least two places. He's likely headed for surgery that will end his season. Ray Rice will benefit from his absence this week ... Ray Lewis' toe injury isn't exactly turf toe. It's more accurately described as a sprain with a lot of instability. He'll push to play this week ... Osi Umenyiora described his ankle sprain as "tearing everything." That's a bad sign. He could be at the long end of a 2-4 week recovery, which could end his season ... One programming note -- we'll have our normal Friday chat, but no Sunday morning chat. I'll be on my way to Dallas for the baseball winter meetings, but SMMC will be there to guide you.