Week 17 is usually the calm before the storm. The fantasy season has ended in the vast majority of leagues and usually, all that's left to be settled is playoff position. This year, it almost is the playoffs, with games not only for the advantage of a bye or home field, but two "win and in" games in the NFC East and North.
Add in that both of those games could be completely turned by injuries and that's enough to make anyone understand just how important staying healthy is, right up to the end of the season and beyond. But add to that two of the most confusing, twist-and-turn injury stories in recent memory, with two star QBs whose status is being followed, rumored, tea-leaved and who knows what other manner of divinations. If Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers go this week, everything's different.
There's a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of narrative but not a lot in the way of facts. I don't have them all, but I'll try to help you understand what's going on as of this moment with those two and several more key players. If you are playing fantasy this week, it's going to get crazy, so let's look around the league...
INJURY: herniated disk
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 17
I have never, ever been so confused by a story. I'm not saying someone is lying or wrong, but the varying leaks from all sides make the limited information that the Cowboys are giving out nearly impossible to parse. I'll try to make this as clear as possible, but understand that's like going from pitch black to a candle in the distance.
Here's the facts we know: Tony Romo has a back problem that is causing him pain in his lower back and hip. That's it. That's all we know. Everything else is leaks, conjecture or speculation.
We don't know when this happened. Romo has had surgery on his back before, but it was said to be a cyst removal. There have been questions about that. Some have asked why, if this was an ongoing problem, this wouldn't be on the official injury report. The answer is that the OIR is not about injury, but about availability. If the team did not feel there was a chance that Romo would miss time (which he hasn't), it doesn't have to be listed. It is an interesting bit of info that he's been able to make all practices as well as games.
So whether its a new, traumatic herniation or one that's been ongoing and maintained, the question is why things accelerated to the point where he would need to be shut down. Normally a herniation is handled conservatively with treatment and injections long before surgery is discussed. The epidural injection that Romo reportedly had on Monday should relieve the symptoms, but if it doesn't, it comes down to pain tolerance and function.
The other confusing factor is that both his previous surgery and the reported injection happened in the mid-back (thoracic spine), but the symptomology for this matches up with a lower-back issue. The body is ennervated in a specific way, so pain can usually be traced. Hip pain would come from L4/5, which is much lower than the reported area. Something's off here.
The Cowboys don't seem close to making a decision so we'll have to watch right up to game time. While the Cowboys brought in Jon Kitna, this is really about what the medical staff can do and whether Romo can safely play the game. Right now, we just don't know and neither does it.
For more detailed medical info on this condition, Dr. Dave Siebert has a great breakdown.
INJURY: fractured collarbone
OUTLOOK: expected to play Week 17
Sometimes, there's one piece of info that clicks into place and everything makes sense. ESPN's Jason Wilde dropped a bombshell on us regarding Aaron Rodgers this week, which explains why he's been out longer than expected and why the medical staff has been reluctant to clear him. Rodgers isn't just dealing with a collarbone fracture, but a specific type, called a spiral fracture.
With a spiral fracture, the healing is more complicated and it is often more painful. Given the location and this type of fracture, it makes much more sense that the medical staff has been reluctant. It would be difficult to get a full view of a fracture that goes around the bone rather than just through it. If it were to re-fracture, it would be a huge risk, as the bone usually breaks into pieces rather than just two parts.
Not only is the time frame longer, but it would explain the pain he's having with motion. Any stress is going to transfer down and with the fracture not likely to be even in its path, almost any motion could cause problems.
The remaining question now is how this happened. The motion that creates a spiral fracture is usually one that involves twisting, like in a skiing accident. Rodgers was driven down into the turf and then landed on, so its very unclear where the motion might have been. Its possible he posed the arm and was driven around it.
The Packers have announced that Rodgers will start, but the risk is now more of a known. Early practice reports are positive and the Packers do hope to make an earlier decision. The Packers still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs, but I'm not sure even that reward is worth the risk of complicating this further for the franchise's future.
INJURY: sprained foot/strained groin
OUTLOOK: will play Week 17
The Vikings don't have anything to play for in Week 17, but Adrian Peterson is going to be out there regardless. It's the last home game at the Homer Dome and that's one Peterson doesn't want to miss, as noted by Twincities.com
Peterson played on last week's wet turf in Cincinnati but said afterwards that his groin was more of an issue than his foot. That's a positive sign and a reminder that Peterson has been hobbled all season and has still put up huge numbers. He may not be the top point scorer, but give him points for consistency. That counts for a lot and will be a key point when debating Peterson or Jamaal Charles as the 2014 1-1.
Expect Peterson to play much like he did last week, with the idea that he loses touches to other backs one to keep in mind, but one that seldom actually happens under Leslie Frazier. Whoever the coach is next year should consider whether or not Peterson can continue to carry the workload alone or whether a more normal 2013 RB touch count would be better as Peterson passes his peak.
INJURY: arthritic knee
OUTLOOK: likely to play Week 17
There may be another puzzle piece on why Calvin Johnson has been hobbled over the last couple weeks. There are rumors that Johnson has been playing with a sprained PCL, but the reports are admittedly "some guy on the internet." There's been no suggestion of a sprain, just the type of maintenance needed on degenerative knees.
If there is a sprain, it would be interesting to see where this goes. Did the Lions risk Johnson's health on a season that ends far short of the goal? And if so, was that worth it? The team is talented to be sure, but not a complete enough unit to make the playoffs. The inconsistency is certainly an issue.
Now whether Johnson has a sprained knee or not doesn't explain his recent drops. If Johnson does need surgery, he would likely be ready for training camp next year, but it might affect him well into the season. Receivers have come back from significant PCL sprains previously, so the Lions shouldn't panic just yet, even if next year is yet another rebuilding campaign.
INJURY: sprained knee (PCL)
OUTLOOK: unlikely to play Week 17
Steve Smith hasn't been ruled out officially yet, but with the playoff position locked in, there's little reason for the Panthers to risk any of their key talent against Atlanta. Smith and others, including Cam Newton, are not likely to play the entire game.
Smith's PCL sprain is low-grade and he should be back for the playoffs, but the bye could be key. Smith's ability to be physical will actually work against him in adjusting to this. His instincts are usually to go through people and that kind of issue will be what could hurt him more.
If the sprain heals up enough, and it should in a few weeks, he won't be at a significant physical deficit. Minor sprains like this do heal well and a brace shouldn't be necessary. Routes may have to be adjusted, but that's really it once it's healed, which is more reason not to risk him in Week 17.
INJURY: strained groin
OUTLOOK: unclear for Week 17
There's nothing a medical staff hates more than to bring a player back and watch him re-injure what they'd worked to heal up. Shane Vereen re-strained his groin early in Week 16, which might leave him sitting on the sidelines for a game key to his future.
If the Pats can lock up the bye, that would give Vereen even more time to let the groin heal up. Given how much time he missed previously, that would be a big bonus. Vereen's quickness isn't something the Pats were able to replace and his uses in the passing game help Tom Brady.
Vereen was at practice on Thursday, which is a positive sign, but he was very limited. The Pats will likely be scoreboard watching a bit and if the Bengals and Colts lose, giving the Pats the bye, Vereen is unlikely to play (or at least play much), as are other players. Be very careful if you're playing fantasy with any of them, including Brady, this week.
Drew Brees: Brees has a sore knee and some think there may be some minor damage, perhaps a meniscus. The Saints will watch him closely and try to keep defenders off his lower body. Watch to see if he's stepping into throws during warm-ups. The Saints need a win to lock up a playoff spot and a bye is still not out of the question.
Ryan Mathews: Mathews is always banged up, so that's not news. His ankle acted up a bit last week, so we won't know until game time whether he'll be limited. Early signs are that he'll be on much the same plan as last week. The Chargers need help to get in the playoffs, but they need help from Mathews just to win.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Jones-Drew took about half the touches last week, as expected. He'll practice on Friday and will likely get about the same workload against Indy. The turf in Indy could work against him a bit, so Jordan Todman is a flex possibility.
Clay Matthews: Matthews is definitely out for Week 17 but is delaying surgery to see if he could be available for the playoffs. If he comes back, his effectiveness is going to be in big question, playing essentially one handed.