The final six games of the 2011 season will determine whether or not the Oakland Raiders make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The health of Darren McFadden will go a long way in making that goal a reality.
McFadden hasn't played since a Week 7 loss to the Chiefs. In his stead, Michael Bush has done well, although he lacks McFadden's breakaway speed.
UPDATE: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 3:50 p.m. EDT
Unsurprisingly, McFadden has been ruled out for this week's game against the Bears. He did not practice all week and his return date is still up in the air.
According to the Oakland Tribune, head coach Hue Jackson admitted that it is going to take some time before McFadden is back as the full-time running back for the Raiders.
“It’s hard to come back when you’ve been gone that long to just hit the ground running and expect him to be exactly what he was before he left,” Jackson said. “We’ll have a plan to take care of that. We just want him back, that’s the most important thing. I want to get the player back out here at practice at some point in time.”
McFadden's return is coming, but Michael Bush's performance will allow the team to take it easier on him than they otherwise would have.
Update: Friday, Nov. 25 at 11:17 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo
Bad news for Raiders fans. NFL.com's Jason LaCanfora says McFadden is "likely will miss at least a few more games while recovering from his foot injury, according to a source with knowledge of the situation."
This is an inopportune time for McFadden to miss a string of games like this. Michael Bush has proven to be capable of assuming the feature back role, but he's not DMC. The Raiders are making a playoff push in a wide-open AFC West and McFadden on the bench is a huge blow.
Update: Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 1:28 p.m. ET
From a fantasy perspective, I would wait until it's officially announced that he'll actually be back. Monitor him through the week to see if he's practicing. If he's not practicing by Friday, I would say that it's best to take a pass on him.
For one, if he's not practicing by then, it doesn't bode terribly well for his chances of actually playing. If he does play, you would have to think that the Raiders would be very cautious with him, especially given Bush's emergence and the amount of perimeter threats that they have.
On top of that, the Chicago Bears are a strong defensive team that has really gotten strong in recent weeks. It's true that the lack of Jay Cutler will likely have their defense on the field a little bit more, but that's a unit that's still not likely to surrender a lot of points to any given running back.
So, for fantasy owners and the Raiders, the best advice is to be cautious with McFadden. Early week news doesn't look great and it certainly doesn't indicate that they will be rushing him back as a result of the tough finishing stretch that they face.