NFL teams are starting to think about next year. For some, next year means January and the playoffs. For others, next year means next season, again. That forward thinking will change how teams play and who they play over the next few weeks, which happens to be right in the fantasy playoffs.
That means you should be thinking about it as well.
Injuries at this stage of the season can be devastating. The waiver wire is thin. The trade deadline is long since past. What was a minor three- or four-week injury is now a season-ender. Depth is tested, like it or not, and the skill part of fantasy football really comes out.
The same is true in the NFL, where we see teams thinking long-term. How can they get players healthy in time or get them healthy just in time? Can the lingering injuries be helped by rest and if so, how much does it hurt the team? Can a team get that all-important bye week to heal up, or will it be forced to play Wild Card weekend, putting another game of pounding on sore and weary bodies?
You not only have to have answers for your team, you have to know how the real teams are answering it for the players you have and those they'll line up against.
Now more than ever, information and context is everything, so let's look around the league...
Injury: sprained ankle/bruised knee
Outlook: not expected to play Week 12, should return Week 13
The short week got Darren Sproles. The Saints' scatback has both a sore knee and a sprained ankle, on top of coming off a concussion last week. He didn't practice all week, as noted by Mike Triplett of ESPN.
While he's expected to be a game-time decision, the team seems set to sit him. With other backs available and a tough schedule through the last few weeks of the season, the Saints are likely to sit Sproles against the Falcons and let him heal up.
The Saints have two key matchups with the Panthers, games that will likely decide the winner of the NFC South. It just makes more sense to have Sproles ready for those (and a touch matchup with the Seahawks) than to get a hobbled version ready to play now.
The Saints will use Pierre Thomas more in the passing game, which could give Mark Ingram more touches as well. The team can succeed without Sproles, though obviously it's better with him. The Falcons have matchup issues with Sproles more than the other running backs, but Drew Brees can adjust. Figuring where the touches go is easier than the offense in general.
Sproles should be able to take advantage of the extra rest and get healthy. None of the injuries are the type to really linger, though with five of six games on turf and two at the hard home turf of the Superdome, the Saints do worry some about managing Sproles' workload.
Injury: strained hamstring
Outlook: will play in Week 13 (bye in Week 12)
It looked worse than it was, but the injury to LeSean McCoy is a bit worse than the Eagles are letting on.
There's a fine line between cramping and a muscle strain, and what McCoy has is a very low-grade strain. The pain is similar, and yes, McCoy responded well to treatment and was able to get back on the field, though the medical staff was taking a calculated gamble sending him back out.
McCoy has had no further issues, but the Eagles are definitely going easy on him and giving him some additional treatment time. The Eagles have had a very low number of injuries this season, though the high-profile ones like Michael Vick's hamstring strain confused the issue a bit.
McCoy should have no problems. But I'd expect Bryce Brown to get a bit more work in coming week and perhaps over the rest of the season as the Eagles try to use their sports science push to give them an advantage.
They may well be not just healthier, but a bit fresher heading into the last quarter of the season.
Injury: strained groin
Outlook: will play Week 12
Most forget that through the last few weeks of his near-record 2012, Adrian Peterson played through a sports hernia. He had surgery to repair it after the season and has shown no problems since.
The new groin strain isn't directly related, but I do have to wonder if somewhere along the line, perhaps in adjusting to his new knee, something didn't change.
Certainly Peterson hasn't been as good as last year. It's almost impossible to repeat a season like that, and with this team around him, it's plain old impossible. Peterson has shown burst, but facing eight- and nine-man fronts, he just hasn't been able to get his normal yardage on carries. He's being hit too quickly. With a groin strain, he won't be able to push the pile or make hard cuts as well.
Peterson will play, according to Derek Wetmore of 1500 ESPN, but there's no reason to believe much will change from the last few weeks.
He's been a disappointment as the No. 1 running back, but looking ahead to next year, it would be hard to say anyone is better. Peterson's "bad" season is still the fifth-best RB season this year, but players ahead of him like LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles have durability issues as well.
(Actually, I think next year, you won't be drafting an RB in the first slot, but more on that later.)
Outlook: expected to play Week 12
The system failed, but luckily for Welker, the Broncos and the NFL, there appear to be no consequences.
Welker has been going through the league's concussion protocol, making progress up to Thursday, as noted by CBS Sports. He's on track to be cleared Friday or Saturday, putting him in place for the Sunday night game against his old team.
The Broncos want Welker, to be sure, but they're not rushing this process. In fact, they've been very careful with him, taking him through the stages one day each, as intended.
Assuming Welker is cleared, he'll start and get his normal targets. The Pats won't like covering him and the matchups will be tough, especially if the Broncos use similar blocking and passing schemes to protect Peyton Manning again. The quick passes and one-read throws go right into Welker's wheelhouse, on top of wanting to show the Patriots that they were wrong to let him go.
The Broncos really want to win against the Pats and again at home against the Chiefs. If they lock things up, their soft late schedule could give the team an opportunity to rest Manning, Welker and others to get ready for the playoffs even ahead of a bye week.
Injury: bruised foot
Outlook: expected to play Week 12
It sounds simple, but it's actually a major concern. More and more players are getting their feet stepped on, and it causes real issues. The shoes that players wear have taken so much weight off that there's little for support, let alone protection.
There are certainly positives to this, but with Lisfranc injuries on the rise and lightweight materials available, I'm surprised we don't have something like an Under Armour cleat with an EvoShield layer on top. It could even be spatted on there for a player like Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders was stepped on in last week's game. The pain and inflammation was enough to get him off the field, but treatment and time have cleared things up. It's as simple as rest and ice for him, but the Steelers have given him the attention and the rest needed for him to be productive in Week 12.
Expect Sanders back in his normal role with normal targets. This isn't the kind of injury that should linger in any meaningful way. The only worry is that Sanders gets stepped on again, which is always possible.
Wonder how it happens to a guy like Sanders? Just look at the picture above.
Injury: strained quadriceps
Outlook: expected to play Week 12
Coming off the bye, the Cowboys are hoping that the hobbled DeMarcus Ware of 10 will become the dominant speed rusher they'll need to shake up Eli Manning, who has regained both his touch and his confidence after a terrible start to the season.
Todd Archer of ESPN reports that Ware will play, but at what level is a major issue.
Ware's quad strain is tough on him because of what he does. He has to have quick acceleration, push and to be able to "run the circle" or make a quick bull rush on a big tackle. He has to be able to make quick moves laterally for someone running by him.
That's exactly what will task the still-weakened muscle as it continues to heal.
The medical staff will be working to figure out what bothers him and how he can adjust his techniques. The problem is that scouting will quickly note what he can and can't do and change things on the offensive side to exploit that.
There's nowhere to hide this kind of injury. Instead, we'll have to wait and see whether Ware can do what he does at a slightly lower level. For the Cowboys, at least early indications are positive.
Darren McFadden: The Raiders have gone deep on their depth chart this season, but Mike McGloin and Rashad Jennings didn't look like second stringers last week.
Jennings' effectiveness has allowed the Raiders to give McFadden plenty of healing time for his hamstring. He's not back at practice, but signs are he'll be back in Week 13.
Unfortunately for fantasy players and for McFadden, he'll split carries when he does return.
Joique Bell: Bell was held out of the second half of last week's game due to an Achilles injury. Reports are varied as to whether it was a strain or whether he was just stepped on. Either way, it's considered minor and he should be back in the mix with Reggie Bush this week against Tampa.
Greg Jennings: Jennings was a surprise "inactive" last week with an Achilles strain, but it looks as if he'll be ready to play this week. He's been ineffective, as has most of the Vikings offense, but they'll have a chance to take advantage of a weakened Packers team this weekend. Jennings isn't going to miss this chance.
Michael Floyd: Not having Floyd could hurt Bruce Arians' offense if Floyd can't go on Sunday. The Colts are a bit banged up in the secondary, with Greg Toler questionable, so a solid WR2 would keep the team from loading up on Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd is a true GTD with his shoulder injury.
Leonard Hankerson: Hankerson had surgery to fix his LCL on Thursday. Unfortunately, as reported by NBC Sports and others, surgeons also found ACL damage, so he's facing a much longer rehab process. He should be back during training camp, but not at 100 percent.