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|Calvin Johnson is listed as questionable heading into Sunday's game.|
There are four teams on bye this week: San Francisco, St. Louis, New England and the New York Jets. Here are the players we're keeping an eye on heading into Week 9.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins, knee (Q): On Thursday, we noted the issues for Tannehill after suffering a bone bruise and thigh contusion this week. Tannehill was able to practice on a limited basis each day this week, and The Miami Herald cites sources saying the Dolphins are "cautiously optimistic" Tannehill will play. He is not at full health and his status will not be definitively determined until Sunday, making him a risky play.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, thumb (P): Manning said earlier in the week that he was lucky he just banged his thumbnail on a helmet instead of further down on the bone. Actually, the team, the fans and Manning fantasy owners are the lucky ones. Manning will play.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, knee (P): Luck has been on the injury report because of the knee for several weeks now and it hasn't threatened his ability to play, nor will it again this week.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, calf (P): Rodgers has been on the injury report for three weeks because of the calf, but he has practiced every day and not come close to missing a game.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings, knee (P): Ponder's presence here is not new, and neither is his "probable" tag. Expect him to play.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans, left shoulder (D): Locker again participated in limited practice this week but has not yet been cleared for contact. Matt Hasselbeck gets the start.
Ahmad Bradshaw, foot, New York Giants (Q): Bradshaw continues a cycle of resting quite a bit during the week so as to be available Sunday. On Thursday, we pointed out that coach Tom Coughlin is not embracing the pattern for the remainder of the season, but for now it seems to serve a bigger purpose, namely getting Bradshaw on the field Sunday. The expectation is that he will play.
Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns, chest/rib (P): Richardson's performance this past week was proof that he was feeling better. Even as the rib cartilage injury he suffered in Week 6 continues to heal, Richardson is showing his resilience. Despite being limited in practice throughout the week, his status for Sunday has been upgraded to probable, a sign the Browns fully expect him to play.
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys, knee (P): Jones and his ongoing struggles to stay healthy remain a concern to the organization, but this week it appears he will be ready to go, as indicated by the "probable" tag. Jones is dealing with not only a knee bruise but also a neck/shoulder injury and practiced on only a limited basis throughout the week.
The coaches expressed admiration for his efforts, but whether it will be enough to get him through an entire game remains the big question. Phillip Tanner might end up with some increased work as a result. Unfortunately, this division of labor might depend on how things proceed during the game. In other words, it's hard to predict how things will go.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, ankle (P): Peterson has been playing despite a sore ankle and is expected to do the same this week. Peterson practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday but was given Friday off -- another day of rest, perhaps, before facing the Seattle defense.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts, knee (P): After a positive first game back post-knee surgery and no postgame setbacks, Brown looked to be doing just fine. His surprise absence from practice Thursday was enough to cause concern, but he returned to a full Friday practice. (Edit note: the following is updated Sunday morning). Brown was downgraded to questionable Saturday after experiencing swelling in his surgically repaired knee. Team officials say he will be evaluated before gametime but there seems to be a good chance given this setback that Vick Ballard could get the nod.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills, shoulder (P): Spiller's resurfacing on the injury report probably has less to do with a setback than it does with the Bills' recent fine for failure to disclose on their injury report (specifically as related to the status of Mario Williams and his wrist). Spiller might be receiving treatment, but he is not missing any practice reps and is fully expected to play.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks, back (P): Lynch has been on the injury report more often than not because of his back, but he has also been on the playing field every week of the regular season. Expect him to play again Sunday after practicing fully all week.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders, shoulder (P): McFadden has become a regular on the injury report because of his shoulder but has consistently put in full practices and played in games. This appears to be the same pattern for him this week.
Isaac Redman, ankle (P), Rashard Mendenhall, Achilles (D) and Jonathan Dwyer, quad (D), Pittsburgh Steelers: The running back situation was convoluted heading into Friday with all three running backs on the injury report. By Friday afternoon, it became more apparent who would be playing and who would not. Dwyer and Mendenhall are listed as doubtful and therefore are not expected to play.
Mendenhall did initiate some practice this week after two weeks off to rest his sore Achilles, but the Steelers apparently are not confident enough in what they've seen to return him to game action. Dwyer had a nice outing in the starting role this past week (when Mendenhall and Redman were out with injuries) but strained his quad late in the game. He did not practice Wednesday but returned Thursday to limited work and appeared to have a shot at being active. On Friday, Dwyer was again out of practice (as was Mendenhall) and it became obvious the team did not plan on having them Sunday.
In the meantime, Redman has clearly made good progress from the ankle injury he suffered in Week 6, the same Thursday night game in which Mendenhall injured his Achilles. Redman has been a full participant in practice throughout the week and, as the healthiest of the trio, gets the start by default.
Calvin Johnson, knee (Q) and Titus Young, knee (P), Detroit Lions: Young has been upgraded to probable after being questionable for several weeks. Young has been playing through the knee ailment, and his daily (limited) practices combined with his improved status indicate the Lions expect him to play.
More worrisome is Johnson. He did not practice at all this week after stating outright after the Week 8 game that his knee has been problematic for his play. The Lions are hoping the additional rest during the week will allow Johnson to be able to go Sunday, and Johnson told the Detroit Free Press, "That's the main thing, just being ready for Sunday."
That might be the hope, but it certainly is possible that, if Johnson is struggling pregame, he could be held out. Fortunately, this is an early game, but fantasy owners definitely will want to monitor pregame inactives.
Jordy Nelson, hamstring (Q) and Donald Driver, neck/thumb (P), Green Bay Packers: Driver is the easier of the two to comment on because his status is not really in doubt. Driver was on the injury report last week because of his neck and was active. This week, he again practiced daily and is expected to play.
Nelson missed Week 8 because of the hamstring injury, but coach Mike McCarthy said he was "close." This week, the expectation was that Nelson would sit out Wednesday and Thursday practice, then test the hamstring Friday. Although Nelson did not practice Friday, he did work with the rehab staff and, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, McCarthy said, "They pushed him farther than they have all week." McCarthy noted they would see how Nelson responded to the effort and "give him the opportunity to take it to the game."
In other words, Nelson will be a game-time decision. It certainly sounds as if he has a decent chance to play, presuming no setback, but -- just like any time a player is coming off a hamstring injury -- there is uncertainty about how he will respond to game action. It is simply not possible to reproduce the effort that comes in a competitive situation, and it is sometimes this level of effort that triggers a setback. Nelson could start and be just fine, or he could just as easily finish early. Be sure to check pregame inactives to ensure he will even play.
Dez Bryant, hip and Kevin Ogletree, hamstring, Dallas Cowboys, hip (Q): On Thursday, we noted that Bryant remained confident about his status despite not practicing. On Friday, however, Bryant was still not practicing but did participate in the walk-through portion, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Cowboys sound as if they still plan on having Bryant available and as though the extra rest from practice is geared toward his improving before the game. Ogletree did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but did return to limited work Friday, which is somewhat encouraging.
A warning to fantasy owners: This is a Sunday night game against the Atlanta Falcons, so be sure to have a backup plan for each.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins, groin (Q): Hartline was a Thursday addition to the injury report with a groin strain but did return to limited practice Friday. Although he is listed as questionable, the rumblings in Miami are that he will try to play, barring a setback, but it's worth noting that he might not be 100 percent.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons, back (P): Despite appearing this week with a back ailment, White was practicing every day and, at "probable," is expected to play.
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings, hamstring (P): When Harvin was absent from Thursday practice, the fear was that his hamstring had worsened. It turns out he had a family issue to deal with, and he was back in limited practice Friday. At "probable," he is expected to play.
Victor Cruz, New York Giants, calf (P): Despite popping up on the injury report this week with a calf strain, Cruz practiced daily (limited Wednesday but full Thursday and Friday), and, at "probable," is expected to play.
Kenny Britt (knee) and Nate Washington (knee), Tennessee Titans (P): Both receivers are expected to be fine for Sunday, and both practiced every day this week.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers, head (D): LaFell is dealing with symptoms related to a head injury suffered in Week 8. Given the "doubtful tag" and the fact he has not practiced all week, he is expected to sit this one out.
Mohamed Massaquoi, Cleveland Browns, hamstring (P): Massaquoi has been out since Week 3 with a hamstring injury but finally seems to be turning a corner. For the first time since the injury, he was a full participant in practice every day, and his upgrade to "probable" status is an indication the team expects him to be ready. Still, between this being his first potential game action in more than a month and the rise of Josh Gordon in the Browns' receiving corps, it's hard to count on Massaquoi's contribution.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers, shoulder (P): Finley remains on the injury report, but his shoulder is improving. According to USA Today, Finley is hopeful that this week will be reminiscent of his 2009 breakout game against the Arizona Cardinals, which lofted him into top tight end status among fans and fantasy owners. At the very least, the shoulder should not prevent that from happening.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans, hamstring (P): The "probable" tag comes as a relief after Daniels was a late addition to the injury report Thursday. Daniels saw limited work in practice Thursday and Friday, but apparently the Texans have confidence he will suit up Sunday.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions, knee (P): Pettigrew has been playing through his knee ailment and will again, as the "probable" tag suggests. He has not seen the end zone much, but, then again, not many of the receiving options in Detroit have, either.
Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos, hip (P): Tamme has been practicing fully despite the sore hip. He played last week and will play again this week against the Bengals.
This space is intended for a list of key players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans Saints (hand): Surprise! Sproles appeared as a "Did not practice" on Thursday's injury report (the first one of the week for the Saints because they play on Monday night), and the body part listed was "hand." Because there had been no post-Week 8 report of an injury to Sproles, it didn't immediately suggest something significant. Wrong. On Friday, Saints coach Joe Vitt said Sproles had undergone surgery to address a hand fracture, according to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Beyond stating that Sproles would miss Monday night's game, Vitt did not offer any detail, saying only that the running back would be evaluated again next week.
Typically a "hand" fracture refers to a metacarpal bone, one of the long bones that connects the fingers to the wrist joint, but the complexity and location of the fracture can have an impact on the time to return (which in the case of a metacarpal could be anywhere from two weeks -- as was the case for Broncos running back Willis McGahee in 2011 -- or as long as six weeks). Team sources have since indicated the fracture was to Sproles' left hand and the initial timetable is four to six weeks, although there is hope for an earlier return.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars, (foot): Jones-Drew continues to rehab from his midfoot sprain and has not yet returned to practice. Rashad Jennings again starts in his place.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins (foot): No surprise here, as Garcon continues to rest his foot in the hope that he can attempt to return later this season. The Redskins have a bye next week.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers (groin): Jennings underwent surgery this week to repair a torn abdominal muscle. He will be out for the next few weeks as he continues his post-op rehab.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (foot): Murray says he is making progress, but he is still not back on the practice field. He is out for the third game since spraining his foot.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans (hamstring): His absence does not come as much of a surprise after coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that he expected Tate to miss "some time." There is no indication yet as to how long that will be, but we know for sure he will not be out there this Sunday.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears (hand): Jeffery is out again as he heals a fractured bone in his hand. Coach Lovie Smith says Jeffery, now one month removed from the injury, is "making progress," but there is no definitive return date targeted.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona Cardinals (ribs): Kolb is out for the foreseeable future with a complex rib injury. John Skelton is the starter.
Be sure to check out "Fantasy Football Now" this Sunday, at 11 a.m. on ESPN2, for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more!