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Week 16 is nearly in the books. You are looking like a proud winner of a fantasy championship or a slightly bitter second-place finisher (like me), or perhaps you have just advanced to your championship round if your league finishes in Week 17. For those of you with big games in Week 17, even minor injuries may be major factors in whether a team decides to play one of its stars, especially if the team has already clinched a playoff spot.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: In an otherwise dismal season in Detroit, one of the bright spots has been this young receiver who manages to get into the end zone on a near weekly basis. On Sunday, Johnson missed the entire fourth quarter after suffering what the Detroit Free Press is reporting as a bruised (right) knee. Johnson has apparently already indicated he will play against Green Bay, hinting that the problem does not appear serious.
The Lions have to hope he will be back in the lineup as they try to avoid making history by going an entire season without a win. Johnson has proven he's a quality end zone target and consequently gives the team its best chance to score. Johnson is a physical player who can leap to make a catch, so if his knee is sore or swollen it could affect his playmaking ability. As always, watch the weekly practice reports to see how this plays out over the week.
• 49ers running back Frank Gore sat out for the second straight week with an ankle sprain and the 49ers' running game was less than spectacular without him. Gore did acknowledge this past week his ankle felt much better, but the fact he did not practice with the team all week made it less likely he would play against St. Louis. Gore should be able to test the ankle a bit more in practice now. With only 22 yards to go to reach 1,000 on the season, not to mention the 49ers' desire to finish out the season on a high note, Gore should have an opportunity to see the field this weekend (assuming the ankle cooperates, of course).
• Giants' running back Brandon Jacobs was back in action Sunday night and I liked the way he looked running and driving the ball. Any concerns about residual instability in his knee were alleviated when he proved how much pure strength can compensate for such a deficit. Jacobs remains a risk for aggravating the knee; that will not change as the season finishes out. The risk, however, is minimized by his size and strength, and it appears there is no reason to worry about his health at the moment.
• Cowboys' running back Marion Barber was also on the field this week but still looks compromised by his injuries. He just can't run as effectively as he normally does, and whether that's an issue with his toe, his calf, or some combination of the two is uncertain. In the end, here's an observation: Barber has not been able to fully practice since sustaining the initial injury on Thanksgiving. If he is not able to participate in an increased manner, then I would not have any confidence in his ability to contribute much Sunday, either. If, however, Barber is able to progressively increase his activity throughout the week, then that would at least give a clue his condition is improving. At this point, it appears the Cowboys are leaning on Tashard Choice until Barber has fully recovered.
• Bills' running back Marshawn Lynch was limited in practice with a sore shoulder but managed to play against the Broncos on Sunday, at least for a while. Lynch reportedly aggravated his shoulder in Sunday's contest and teammate Fred Jackson handled the bulk of the run duties late in the game. There is a decent chance Jackson has more opportunities this weekend.
• Bengals' receiver Chad Johnson was a surprise late inactive Sunday with a hamstring strain. Johnson was added to the injury report just Friday and was listed as probable, but apparently the hamstring injury was not something he could play through. In case Johnson is on your roster, you may want to start perusing your alternatives as the Cincinnati Enquirer is calling it "unlikely" he will play in the season finale.
• The Colts face Tennessee in Week 17 and the big question is whether their key starters will play, especially given the fact they have secured a playoff spot. Tony Dungy has already made it clear he will be cautious with certain guys (Joseph Addai and Marvin Harrison, for instance), but does that mean they sit the game out entirely? Do they play a half to keep some rhythm with the first team offense (or in Addai's case, since he has missed the past two games, to regain some rhythm)? At this point in the week, those are unknowns, but if you have either Addai or Harrison in your lineup, it would be a good idea to secure insurance. Addai has been nursing a sore shoulder, which should be improved after the rest period, but still may cause the Colts to consider limiting his playing time, even if he goes. Harrison strained a hamstring in the Detroit game and his pain is down close to the knee, usually a sign the tendon is involved. Knowing these injuries, even if minor, can be a bit slower to recover from, Harrison becomes no lock to play against Tennessee. Obviously we will watch what they do in practice throughout the week, and as the weekend approaches we should have a better clue as to which Colts are likely to get the bulk of the work.
Be sure to check back here throughout the week as we update these and other injuries. Stop by the injury chats (11 a.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. Sunday) to discuss the status of your injured players. Hope to see you there and Happy Holidays!