NFL Week 14 Injury Report: Fantasy Advice Heading into the Weekend
I've always thought of this column as like talking to friends. It drives my editors nuts at times, but I've always been kind of like that neighbor on Home Improvement. He'd show up to bestow a little wisdom to the guy who grunted a lot and maybe add a laugh or two. I'm not going to cover every injury, and I'm not going to recap things you can find a million other places.
This is just me, talking to you over the virtual fence.
Injuries are their own domain. They're really like the weather, and every newscast has a weatherman. I'm not sure why sports don't. Yes, the ex-lawyer with the nice hair can read off the prompter better than I can, but he can't offer the context that I can.
Heck, he probably doesn't like trying to pronounce syndesmosis any better than I do. I'm not a doctor, but for your fantasy or fandom, I'm happy to just be your weatherman, explaining not just why the wind blows but in which direction.
Heading into the fantasy playoffs, you have to keep doing the things that got you here, including understanding what injuries all over the field will mean for your team. Context is everything, especially when you're having to judge not only talent and availability, but upside. You No. 8 seeds out there understand this, I hope. You No. 1 seeds better as well.
I'll be gone at the start of next week, but don't worry. I'll leave Tuesday's Injury Review in the capable hands of Dr. Dave Siebert. I'll be here on Sunday before heading down to the baseball winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., then I'll be back in time for next week's Injury Report. For now, let's look around the league...
INJURY: Post-surgical hip
OUTLOOK: Out for Week 14
Percy Harvin had a "little procedure" this week. While previous reports had Harvin getting an injection, the quote from Pete Carroll, via 710 ESPN Seattle, set off alarms around the league. Was this a setback or even a minor surgery, just the type that Brandon Marshall has needed? If so, it would likely end his season and call into question the big contract the Seahawks gave him.
While worrisome, the term "procedure" is often code for a platelet-rich plasma injection or even a more advanced procedure like Regenokine. Peyton Manning is often noted as having had four "procedures" on his neck, which included a Regenokine therapy prior to his fusion. That's hardly a surgical equivalent, even with ultrasound guidance.
The positive report and sightings of Harvin running don't indicate that he's headed to a shutdown or to playing in Week 14. We're left waiting for clarification, and now it'll be another week without Harvin for the Seahawks. They have some cushion and good wide receivers, but Carroll and his staff would love to see Harvin back out there, even on a limited basis for a couple weeks ahead of the playoffs.
I'm just not sure yet if that can happen.
OUTLOOK: Will play Week 14
"I went through all the testing. I'm fine, I passed everything. I passed everything Monday," Le'Veon Bell told Steelers.com. I'll pause and let that sink in a minute.
Yes, if we believe Bell, then just four days after one of the ugliest concussions in recent memory, he was cleared to play. There are reasons to doubt that's technically correct, but Bell has been cleared to play on Sunday. While I tell people over and over that it's impossible to tell the severity of a concussion until after, there's still a poor message being sent on a dramatic, well-noticed play like that leading to a quick clearance. At least pretend, guys!
The NFL's concussion policies has bigger holes in it than the ones Bell has had to run through this season. If nothing else, we are getting some indication that while Bell doesn't appear to be durable, he does heal well. That's a skill. Expect Bell to get his full workload, but I'm just not sold here. I've said since the combine that the workload from last year worried me, and as yet, he's done nothing to convince me that I can trust him.
INJURY: Bruised knee
OUTLOOK: Possible to play in Week 14, game-time decision
It was a surprise that Andre Ellington was inactive last Sunday after suffering what was described as a minor knee injury in practice last week. Sources tell me this was Bruce Arians taking the long view and being very conservative with a player he knows is key to his team's success.
The Cards take on the Rams this week, and while Ellington was back at practice on Thursday, a week after the initial injury, he wasn't full go. The team will watch him closely all the way up to game time, a reflection of its trust in Rashard Mendenhall and a conservatism not normally seen from Arians. The Cards don't really want to see Mendenhall near 20 carries again, but if Ellington plays, he's not going to get many more carries than Stepfan Taylor did last week.
Ellington has shown great promise in his rookie season, but he's still a change of pace for the Cardinals, not the main back. Temper your expectations if he's active this week. He's an upside flex in PPR leagues and a speculative upside play without the TDs everywhere else.
INJURY: Strained knee
OUTLOOK: Likely to play in Week 14
The Broncos were conservative with Julius Thomas last week. I'm not sure if they knew that they could go deeper, both due to Peyton Manning's arm being better or something they saw on film, but the intermediate game was dialed down a bit in the game plan. That signals they didn't expect him to play, even though my sources say things were very close on Sunday.
Thomas is back at practice and moving well, according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, which is a good indication that his two weeks off have the knee back to the point that he can return and contribute. The Broncos will continue to be conservative with Thomas and others, but they're also going to have a game where they get an emotional boost from John Fox's return and are hoping to get a couple meaningless games locked down by clinching home field early.
Look for Thomas to play, but he won't get his normal targets or snaps. The Broncos have enough options at both the role and position to ease Thomas back in and try to prevent the kind of setback that would become a real issue. Thomas is still a good red-zone target, so playing him this week is an upside play on touchdown roulette more than a 4-50-1 expectation.
INJURY: Lower leg injuries
OUTLOOK: Will play in Week 14
The less Peyton Manning gets hit, the better it is for his legs—and when his legs are healthy, his arm looks better. He had some deep passes to Eric Decker last week and had no setbacks, so all areas of the field are open to him again. This is a master class in how an offensive design and a good rehab plan can work together to get a player back to higher function while still playing.
One of the things that's helped Manning is a new brace. His ankle brace is made by Ultra, a company out of Indianapolis. Don't be surprised to see this brace used more around the league as high-ankle sprains seem to gain prevalence. It certainly limits motion, so it's not going to be as effective for a more mobile player, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Jay Cutler have one on when he returns to the field.
Manning is still in the period where a setback is possible, but with his increased protection, it's looking less likely that it will be an issue. When we look back at the story of this Broncos team, maybe even one of those Super Bowl DVDs, the medical staff should get a lot of credit for keeping Manning out there and productive. They seldom do.
INJURY: Factured collarbone
OUTLOOK: Unlikely to play Week 14
This one's simple—Aaron Rodgers is not going to play this week. He won't officially be ruled out until Sunday, but sources tell me the doctors have been watching that small line on the X-ray for weeks now, and the latest just hasn't made enough progress. Worse, there's nothing scheduled right now, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, though an X-ray doesn't normally have to be scheduled. The short-term reward is not balancing out the long-term risk.
Rodgers is pushing to play, but this is where a medical staff has to be the voice of reason. All things considered, the healing, the progress and, to some measure, the opponent, all work against Rodgers here.
Yes, there will be some more discussion of shutting Rodgers down, especially if there's another Packers loss, but I doubt that will happen. The Packers know that Rodgers wants to play, and it may stunt his confidence slightly if he doesn't come back and know that he can play.
This isn't anything resembling a setback. This is merely that Rodgers is human and isn't back on the extreme low end of an already short rehab timeline. Rodgers is at five weeks and could be back at six. For those who scoffed at the six-to-10-week timeline I quoted originally, well, there's a reason we have standard timelines.
INJURY: High-ankle sprain/strained groin
OUTLOOK: Out for Week 14
The Bears ended any suspense by ruling out Jay Cutler on Thursday, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune and others. Even with the extra day, as Chicago plays on Monday, the Bears didn't see enough progress from Cutler in rehab to give him enough mobility to play effectively this week, so Marc Trestman will go back to Josh McCown for another outing.
The opponent does factor into the decision, and the pass rush of Dallas is enough to worry the offensive brain trust. With Cleveland and the swarming Eagles defense in the next couple weeks, things aren't going to get much better in the pocket, which is going to make it a real key for Cutler to show that mobility.
The positives are that the groin strain appears to have cleared up almost entirely, and it's the lingering high-ankle sprain that's keeping Cutler sidelined. Week 15 is possible, just as Week 14 was, so calling Cutler week-to-week is correct—but with every extra day of healing, he's closer to full function. How much he needs to convince Trestman and the medical staff is still unclear.
Reggie Bush: Bush has a mild calf strain and a case of fumblitis right now. The Lions will watch to see how he's moving Friday and before Sunday's game. They don't want to see the calf injury ruin the maintenance work on his knee, and Joique Bell offers a good Plan B.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Jones-Drew left Thursday night's Jags win with a mild hamstring strain. Initial reports, including quotes from Jones-Drew, indicate the strain is minor. The extra rest should help him be ready for Week 15.
Calvin Johnson: Johnson missed practice, again, but that's becoming a standard part of his knee maintenance program. He's been productive, and if you saw that soaring goalpost dunk last week, there sure didn't look to be anything wrong with his legs at all. Expect him to play normally.
Randall Cobb: Cobb isn't practicing yet, but there's a chance he could be back on the practice field next week. If the Packers are eliminated, the team is much more likely to shut down Cobb than it is to shut down Aaron Rodgers. It's not logical, but it's football.
Delanie Walker: Walker has not yet passed concussion tests. If he does not practice in full on Friday, have Plan B ready for Sunday. Walker has been very involved with the Titans offense this season, but the way he suffered the concussion is, I'm told, just the type of hit that would create very high force to the brain. The Colts are going to have to fix that hard turf.
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