If you've made it this far, you've won a lot. You're better than most. In 12-team leagues, which are the standard, you're already better than 10 teams and maybe, just maybe, better than the 11th. You've set the right lineups, avoided the big injuries, drafted and prepared well and gotten more than a little lucky, if you'll admit the truth.
The Big Game is here. In most leagues, this is it. You're close to the bragging rights or trophy or even a big honking check that I'm sure you'll declare on your taxes, wink wink. It doesn't really matter what you're playing for, but that you're playing. Everyone else is watching; you're winning.
I'm here to help you again this week, right up to kickoff, and I hope you'll drop a note in the comments about your team and how B/R helped you get to this point. Was it this column or Fantasy Live? Was it Team Stream giving you that last-second alert that helped you avoid the zero?
There are a million ways to get there and only one championship. This week is yours, friends. Let's look around the league...
INJURY: fractured collarbone
OUTLOOK: unknown for Week 16
The Green Bay Packers made it through last week without Aaron Rodgers, more not losing than winning. Dallas Cowboys gift in hand, the team is now in place to push for the playoffs, but it's clearly better with Rodgers. Will he be back? The answer as yet is "I don't know."
Just a few weeks back—six in fact—I was mocked pretty roundly for saying that the standard recovery for this kind of injury is six to 10 weeks. Here we are, and it's evident that the standard recoveries are standard for a reason. Each week, Rodgers has gotten closer and the Packers have had to rebalance the risk/reward algorithm. It's going to be even tougher this week.
Rodgers will have more scans and see more doctors, and in the end, his word about soreness and function will be the biggest part of the equation. The Packers are likely to play up the uncertainty early in the week to keep the Steelers guessing.
“We’re game-planning right now for Matt Flynn,” coach Mike McCarthy said, according to Anwar Richardson of Yahoo! Sports. “That’s where we started the conversation on Saturday. We do some preliminary game-planning each week for the next opponent."
There's probably not much of a fantasy play here. If Rodgers goes, you'll have to look at your roster and decide how much you trust him, but it would be a definite upgrade for everyone else, especially the WRs. If he doesn't, things hold steady, but none of the scorers are likely available in any leagues.
INJURY: sprained midfoot
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 16
With Matt Asiata taking 30 carries in an upset win, there's no reason the Vikings need Adrian Peterson back, right?
That's the kind of silly thinking that some will have, much like those who expect the same kind of performance from Asiata against a much tougher Bengals defense. Look, Asiata was a guy who sounds more like a cheese than a running back. I didn't even know how to pronounce his name until an hour before Fantasy Live last week.
The Vikings hope to get Peterson back, as ESPN's Ben Goessling tells us, but they're not going to risk his long-term future. The midfoot sprain is mild, but the last thing the Vikings need is an offseason question mark with their best player. If this team is going to contend sometime soon or at least improve, Peterson has to be at the center of that.
I can't see very many scenarios where Peterson plays his normal snaps this week, but at this time last week, we weren't sure if Peterson was even human. Toby Gerhart's status is going to play into this, and Asiata will be involved.
Have your backups at the ready for Peterson regardless, and keep your eye on how he's moving in practice by the end of the week. The worst thing would be to lose because Peterson came back but shared carries.
INJURY: strained hamstring
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 16
The mild hamstring strain suffered by Maurice Jones-Drew in Week 14 kept us on edge all of last week. Jones-Drew finally seemed to be finding himself, just as the Jags were turning into a credible team, until a hamstring strain threw it all off and sent Jones-Drew down the tunnel into fantasy oblivion.
The same is true this week. While there are positive indicators, the Jags are a team focused on the future, which may not include Jones-Drew. There's a balance of figuring out whether Jordan Todman is enough for the future or if the team would need to sign someone, including a big deal with Jones-Drew, and giving Jones-Drew the respect of a showcase.
The Jags are in an interesting position. The winning has hurt their draft position but provided credibility for the rebuilding done by Gus Bradley. The front office, which some attacked for its analytics approach, gets additional buy-in as well.
Now that the draft has gotten screwy, they're probably more comfortable having missed on that top pick. Week 16 doesn't really matter, but how they handle Jones-Drew in the coming months matters a lot.
INJURY: strained calf
OUTLOOK: likely to play Week 16
Reggie Bush was back for Week 15, but it was clear he wasn't all the way back. The calf strain and its effect on his knee issues held him back. The Lions weren't that effective in general, including with Joique Bell, so it's hard to get a real read on Bush. He came through the game no worse, so that's a bit of a win.
The question now is how he'll respond. Did playing cause any issues with the calf or with the knee that the team has been maintaining all season long? That maintenance has been very solid with Bush and with Calvin Johnson, so expect them to manage this well for the next few weeks, erring on the side of caution.
Look for Bush to practice normally this week. Don't panic too much if he's out on Wednesday or even Thursday, though the latter would be where the red lights start blinking. Bush will continue to be the bigger half of the Lions committee and, for many, a big part of why they made it to the fantasy championship.
INJURY: concussion/sprained knee
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play in Week 16
Fantasy owners don't want to hear "out for the season" about Victor Cruz, but New York Giants fans might. With both a concussion and a sprained knee, Cruz is likely out for Week 16 and 17. Even a low-grade sprain wouldn't be worth the risk.
It's not clear how Cruz injured his knee, which makes it tough to gauge what's wrong, but sources tell me it's a mild knee sprain and that it's really secondary to the concussion at this stage. Cruz landed hard after a catch, as detailed by the New York Daily News, and will undergo tests according to the league protocol.
While it's not impossible to think that Cruz could be back for Week 16, it's highly unlikely. Beyond that, Cruz becomes like everyone else—day to day based on function, healing and the situation of the game around him. With Cruz out, it's unclear who gets the benefit. It's certainly not Eli Manning, and it's not clear if any of the other WRs can pick up his workload productively.
Beyond this week and fantasy, the Giants are going to have to answer the question of who the future WR2 is and how they'll patch the offensive line to give Manning more time to find whoever is downfield.
OUTLOOK: likely to play Week 16
You know me well enough to know I'm not going to call any concussion minor. Larry Fitzgerald seems to be making good progress, with early reports very positive, like that of Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. Given the way star players have accelerated through the five phases of the return protocol, it's a good indicator that the Arizona Cardinals will have Fitzgerald back for their key matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
It's a terrible matchup for Fitzgerald, especially with Carson Palmer still showing signs of his elbow sprain. The Seahawks just dominated the Giants, even with a banged-up secondary, and left Victor Cruz in a heap. But Fitzgerald is a physical receiver who can give even the Seahawks matchup issues. Then again, the hard-hitting safeties put Fitzgerald at more risk if he's pushed back.
For fantasy players, it's a real conundrum. You don't have a better WR, but you may have better matchups. If Fitzgerald is active on Sunday, we should have a good indication by Friday. That will give his owners a couple sleepless nights as they decide who to put in for championship week.
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 16
Washington shut down Jordan Reed after he didn't progress through the return protocols and because the team has nothing to play for. Mike Shanahan shut down Robert Griffin III without an injury!
The Denver Broncos have tougher decisions with Wes Welker, who is still on the sidelines. With columnists such as Mike Klis of the Denver Post calling for a regular-season shutdown, there are facts getting lost here.
The key fact is that we don't know where Welker is in the protocol. He's not having terrible symptoms, but he's not showing much sign of physical activity, which would indicate he's in the middle. For all the reasons cited in the link above, there's just no reason for anyone to rush this, but the symptomology shouldn't care. Even if cleared, the Broncos aren't required to play Welker.
In fact, if cleared, the Broncos aren't required to tell us that. There have been some indication that Welker's shutdown is more precautionary than required. We simply don't know.
The Broncos are banged up and hoping to rest the players who need it, including Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno and especially Peyton Manning. We could see a shell out there in Week 17, if the playoff spots are locked up.
Andre Caldwell did a nice job filling in for Welker and is a nice pickup in most leagues. If Griff Whalen can torch the Houston Texans secondary, imagine what Manning and Caldwell could do.
Newton's toe injury is very minor. While the Panthers wouldn't confirm any details, sources tell me it amounted to stubbing his toe. It's painful for a time but transient. The Panthers are going to guard Newton closely. A Cardinals loss could lock in a playoff spot for the team and give Newton a short or off week in Week 17.
Cutler came through his first game back with no setbacks. While the ankle was braced up and experiencing reduced mobility, he seemed to have just enough to get around. Sadly, he showcased it on the pick-six he threw and his lackluster effort to get back for a tackle.
Cutler is seldom enthusiastic, but he was clearly hobbled. He was good enough and will be back there again in Week 16 as the Chicago Bears fight for the playoffs. Cutler has a nice matchup for the championship as well.
Tate's done amazing work playing through broken ribs, but there's a chance he's had a setback. Tate went for scans on the ribs, and with nothing to play for but pride and picks, the Texans might shut him down for the season if there's anything negative. Dennis Johnson isn't a great pickup in his stead, but that's who'll get the touches.
Stacy has had a nice campaign, but he's shown that durability is his biggest question mark. A hip injury forced him out of Week 15, and the team has acknowledged he's sore, but Stacy is likely to be the RB1 for the St. Louis Rams this week and next.
As expected, Cobb is back at practice and should play in Week 16. It's unclear what limitations he may have, but it should be a boost for the team whether or not Aaron Rodgers is back. It could cost Jarrett Boykin some targets, but the spread-around nature of the Packers passing game makes it tough to tell by how much.