Around the AFC: Running back injuries galore
What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: Coach Dick Jauron said during his Monday news conference that Marshawn Lynch's Week 13 status remains up in the air because of his high ankle sprain. "We're not optimistic again," said Jauron. "He's now doing some running and some cutting, but nothing like full-speed playing." And that's not the only problem for the Bills. If Lynch sits for a third consecutive game, it's unclear who will get the ball in his stead. Anthony Thomas, the Bills' starting running back each of the past two weeks and the team's leading receiver in Week 12, suffered a calf strain Sunday and might be questionable for Week 13 himself. If Thomas can't play, Jauron said Fred Jackson, who had 10 touches and 65 total yards in Week 12, and Dwayne Wright likely would share the workload. "We're hoping that Anthony comes back fast enough," said Jauron. "If he doesn't, then that's where we'll be, and we feel pretty good about it. [Jackson] looks fast, he looks elusive and tough. He catches the ball well and runs it well. I was very impressed with his game yesterday. We know that Dwayne is a big, hard runner." Fantasy owners probably can find better out there than a No. 3 running back on the Bills, so don't expect too much from Jackson, or Wright, for that matter. Still, the team's backfield situation warrants monitoring during midweek practices. ... Jauron also said Monday that Trent Edwards will be his Week 13 starting quarterback, not J.P. Losman. "We fully understand that it's not only J.P.," said Jauron of his team's struggles. "[He's] not the only reason we've lost these couple of games in a row, but it is the focal point of the offense, and we do need a lot of consistency from that position." We might have seen the last of Losman this season -- and perhaps in Buffalo altogether. With Edwards now at the helm of a conservative pass offense, and with the erratic Lee Evans as really the only good option to throw to, Edwards shouldn't be much of a fantasy option looking forward.
Miami Dolphins: Ricky Williams saw his first game action since Jan. 1, 2006, in Week 12, running six times for 15 yards in Pittsburgh before exiting early in the second quarter. With Jesse Chatman battling an ankle injury and limited by a neck problem during the contest, Williams got the bulk of the first-half work, as Chatman ran four times for minus-1 yard before halftime. "[Williams has] a pectoral injury, and we don't know the extent of it right now," said head coach Cam Cameron during his post-game news conference. "That is the one thing you never know when a guy hasn't played in a while." Chatman is still the likely starter, if healthy, but keep tabs on both his and Williams' midweek practice reports. Either can be a useful flex option when the matchup is right, although Chatman, who seems in better game shape, would have the higher upside given the chance to play with no restrictions.
New England Patriots: Coming off a hotly contested 31-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, talk about the Patriots on Monday was centering around the Eagles having shown other teams a potential game plan for victory. However, coach Bill Belichick hardly seemed troubled by the performance during his Monday news conference. "They mixed it up. They did different things," said Belichick. "They pressured, they didn't pressure. They played high safeties, they played low safeties. They played press corner, they played off corner." Owners of Patriots players need not fret, but they should be at least a little more conservative with their expectations the next two weeks, as the team plays at Baltimore and versus Pittsburgh, two of their more challenging matchups this season. A 50-point performance shouldn't be expected the next two weeks, but it's worth noting that the Pats still amassed 410 total yards and three offensive touchdowns against the Eagles. This team should be fine, with the Steelers (Week 14) being their only truly tough matchup remaining. ... Belichick also said Monday that a decision on Troy Brown's status won't come until Wednesday. The Patriots have until 4 p.m. ET that day to activate Brown off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. But even if he's activated, he's unlikely to get enough work to warrant any fantasy appeal this season.
New York Jets: As he did while Chad Pennington was underperforming, coach Eric Mangini defended struggling quarterback Kellen Clemens during the coach's Monday news conference. "He has had four defenses that are pretty tough to deal with," said Mangini, according to Newsday. "Those four defensive teams have made a lot of quarterbacks' days difficult, more seasoned guys than Kellen." In his four career starts, Clemens has faced the Ravens, Redskins, Steelers and Cowboys, and completed 49.6 percent of his pass attempts, averaged 197.5 passing yards per game and totaled three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's not in danger of losing his starting role to Pennington, though, especially since Mangini went weeks endorsing Pennington as his starter before finally making a switch. Fortunately for Clemens, his schedule gets easier the next two weeks, as he faces the Dolphins and Browns, two favorable matchups, so keep an eye on him. He's not yet fantasy-worthy, but these will be key games in which to evaluate him for 2008 and beyond.
Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Boller will get another start at quarterback in Week 13, coach Brian Billick said during his Monday news conference. Steve McNair, who has sat out the past two weeks with a partially dislocated left shoulder, isn't ready to play yet, making Billick's decision simple. "He's progressing, but there's a limitation in how far he can bring that arm up," said Billick, according to the Baltimore Sun. "It is progressing. This week he won't be ready, and we'll go week by week after that to see where he is." Just as McNair did in Weeks 9-10, Boller lost back-to-back starts in Weeks 11-12, completing 43 of 74 pass attempts (58.1 percent) for 470 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers aren't bad, but they're hardly stellar, either. Billick said Monday he's unsure whether Boller or McNair will start once the latter heals, and the coach also said there are currently no plans for Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to get a look. With such inconsistency in the Baltimore pass attack, fantasy owners shouldn't be counting on much from their quarterbacks, Derrick Mason or the rest of the team's underperforming receivers, especially the next two weeks against the Patriots and Colts.
Cincinnati Bengals: T.J. Houshmandzadeh came out of the team's Week 12 game with a bruised back, coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference. His Week 13 status is unclear, although Houshmandzadeh entered the game with a similar issue, yet played. He finished with seven receptions for 66 yards and no scores on eight targets, taking a back seat to Chad Johnson, who caught 12 passes, three of them for touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh's owners shouldn't fret that he'll be limited the remainder of the year, but with his back now an issue, he might offer a little closer to the 8.0 fantasy points he has averaged from Weeks 10-12 than the 17.8 he averaged the first five games of the season. ... Lewis wouldn't offer any information about Chris Perry, who must be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list by Wednesday or be placed on injured reserve. Perry failed to practice Friday, which indicates he might be moved to IR instead of added to the active roster.
Cleveland Browns: Just as he did last week, coach Romeo Crennel raved about Jamal Lewis' Week 12 performance during his Monday news conference. "I think he runs really hard," said Crennel. "He runs with a sense of purpose. We needed that sense of purpose this week, and he gave it to us." Lewis has totaled 226 yards and scored two touchdowns on 51 combined carries (4.4 average) in those contests. He also faces one of the most favorable schedules of any running back looking forward -- at Cardinals, at Jets, versus Bills, at Bengals, versus 49ers -- which bodes well for him as a No. 2 option, bordering on No. 1 value. Crennel also said Monday he feels good about Lewis helping open things up for the Browns offensively. "It hurts the opponent both physically and mentally," said Crennel. "The mental aspect of not being able to stop the run, that wears on a defense. As soon as you start ganging up on the run, then you're able to throw the ball down the field if you need to. I can speak to that because it's been wearing on us all year." Expect Lewis and the rest of the Browns to finish strong.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Despite being without fellow starter Santonio Holmes and battling terrible weather and field conditions, Hines Ward was one of the few bright spots for fantasy in the team's Week 12 Monday night win. He hauled in nine receptions for 88 yards in what wound up as a tightly contested 3-0 victory. "Hines Ward was big tonight," said coach Mike Tomlin during his post-game news conference, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He was Hines Ward, and we needed every one of those catches." Ward now has 37 receptions for 409 yards and three touchdowns in six games since returning from a knee injury; those rates are every bit as productive as he has enjoyed in the past. And Holmes' presence hasn't hurt him. In fact, it's helping him get open more often, keeping him among the more reliable No. 2 receiver options for fantasy.
Houston Texans: Ahman Green's knee injury hasn't improved, and coach Gary Kubiak said during his Monday news conference that the veteran running back will sit out his third consecutive game in Week 13. Considering Ron Dayne has 289 rushing yards in his past three games, one must wonder whether Green will be much of a factor the remainder of the season. "[Dayne] was effective," said Kubiak. "We were effective running the ball. I probably should have stuck with him and given him more of an opportunity. He's been playing good football for us." Darius Walker was activated from the practice squad before Week 12 but didn't get any carries. Kubiak said he'll continue to evaluate the youngster during practice this week. Expect Dayne to get the bulk of the carries the remainder of the year, though with a challenging schedule ahead -- at Titans, versus Buccaneers, versus Broncos, at Colts, versus Jaguars -- he might be limited only to flex appeal during your fantasy playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts: Yet again, coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference that he hopes Marvin Harrison will be able to return from a knee injury in Week 13. "We're hoping Marvin will be back and be ready to go and practice," said Dungy. "If he's able to do that, and be ready to play, it's going to be a big lift to us. We'll see how that goes." Doesn't this seem like a broken record? Harrison has missed the Colts' past five games, and six of the past seven, and now will need a productive game effort before he's fantasy-worthy again. In his place, Anthony Gonzalez, Aaron Moorehead and Craphonso Thorpe have combined for 42 targets, 21 receptions, 241 receiving yards and no touchdowns the past five weeks; Reggie Wayne, meanwhile, has 55 targets, 31 catches, 511 receiving yards and three scores during that span. In other words, no Harrison fill-in has warranted fantasy appeal, but the good news is Wayne's owners haven't been affected at all.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars were hit hard at tight end in Week 12, losing both George Wrighster and Greg Estandia for the season. "It appears Wrighster is going to need surgery to repair a torn ACL, and Estandia is going to need surgery to repair his shoulder," said coach Jack Del Rio during his Monday news conference. Neither player was a fantasy factor, each backing up starter Marcedes Lewis on the depth chart, but this could conceivably boost Lewis' stock. Wrighster had 15 targets the past four weeks combined, compared to Lewis' 16, and some of those tosses to Wrighster likely will go in Lewis' direction. Lewis hauled in five passes for 57 yards on nine targets in Week 12 and can be used as a useful stopgap option in the coming weeks. With Wrighster and Estandia landing on injured reserve Monday, the Jaguars added Richard Angulo to the active roster. He'll serve primarily as depth, though.
Tennessee Titans: Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, out the past three weeks with a hamstring injury, is nearing a return to action, said coach Jeff Fisher during his Monday news conference. He'll be a welcome addition to a defense that has been lit up for 97 points and totaled minus-6 fantasy points in his absence. "The odds of getting a defensive stop on third-and-one or two are significantly lower than they are getting a stop on third-and-seven to 10," said Fisher of the impact of Haynesworth's absence on the team's defense. "We've had our share of third-and-ones, twos and threes. With Albert on the field, maybe those third-and-shorts may have been third-and-seven, and you might get off the field there. So it's hard to quantify. But I might be able to answer the question in a different fashion after he returns." Keep tabs on Haynesworth's health, as well as that of Chris Hope, who suffered a possible concussion in Week 12, during midweek practices, as each plays a key part in Tennessee's defense. Without either, the team's slump could continue.
Denver Broncos: Coach Mike Shanahan said during his Monday news conference that Andre Hall, who started and totaled 167 yards and a touchdown in his first career start in Week 12, suffered a high ankle sprain. It's unclear how much time Hall will miss, however. "I've seen guys with high ankle sprains come back and play in the coming week; sometimes it takes guys three or four weeks," said Shanahan. "You never know. I'll tell you more as the week goes on." Hall got the start because both Travis Henry and Selvin Young were sidelined with knee injuries, so fantasy owners will need to monitor the Broncos' midweek practice reports to identify a Week 13 starter. Shanahan said a ruling on Henry's possible one-year suspension might come as early as Tuesday, meaning the Broncos' remaining games might come down to a weekly battle between Hall and Young. Both should be owned in all league setups. ... Javon Walker returned from knee surgery in Week 12 but played a limited number of snaps and wasn't targeted a single time in the contest. "I watched him through warm-ups. He wasn't completely comfortable with being full speed, but I think he will this week," said Shanahan. "He only played about eight plays." Shanahan said he'd look to get Walker more involved in the offense in Week 13, especially with Brandon Stokley reportedly battling a knee injury, but until Walker either gets a glowing report on the health front or shows us something in game action, he'll be a shaky fantasy start. There's considerable upside in him, but in these important weeks, play it conservatively.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kolby Smith earned 31 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns in Week 12, representing season highs in each category by a Chiefs running back (though Larry Johnson matched his 31 carries in Week 6). "He did a fantastic job his first time starting," said coach Herm Edwards during his post-game news conference. "The thing about him was we didn't want to wear him out. He got a little fatigued carrying the football. He ran well, ran well behind his pads, and made some good runs in the hole." Smith shouldn't be expected to carry the ball 31 times in any of the season's final five games, nor do his matchups -- with the possible exception of the Jets in Week 17 -- stack up as well as his Week 12 showdown against the Raiders. Still, he's capable of being a No. 2/flex type, as the clear go-to guy now that Johnson is likely out for the season and Priest Holmes has retired. ... The Chiefs plan to sign kicker John Carney on Tuesday, according to the Kansas City Star. With Dave Rayner missing four of his last six field-goal attempts, Edwards decided to attempt to upgrade the position. Rayner will be released on Tuesday, but fantasy owners shouldn't expect much more from Carney, not with the team's offense being so inconsistent.
Oakland Raiders: Coach Lane Kiffin said during his Monday news conference that he will stick with Daunte Culpepper as his starting quarterback, according to the Oakland Tribune. A decision on Culpepper's backup, between Josh McCown or JaMarcus Russell, is forthcoming. If Russell is declared the No. 2 quarterback, the Tribune speculates he might see some playing time in Week 13, although not as a starter, which was the popular rumor a week ago. Don't expect much in the way of fantasy production from any of the Raiders' receivers, but keeper-league owners have to be interested in seeing what Russell might do with a little playing time in December. ... Speaking of Oakland receivers, Kiffin said Monday that both Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter are showing the effects of taking hard hits during games and will continue to get extra rest during midweek practices. "They're pretty worn down after games, so we have to make sure we watch them during the week," Kiffin said.
San Diego Chargers: Coach Norv Turner, during his Monday news conference, said one of the reasons for LaDainian Tomlinson's "disappointing" season has been a tougher schedule. "Some of it is who we've played," said Turner, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We've played good run defenses. Some of it is we haven't performed as well in that area as we're capable. Some of it is by scheme." As the Union-Tribune notes, more than half of Tomlinson's rushing attempts (117 of 216) have come against teams that rank in the top half against the run, including Nos. 1 (Vikings), 2 (Ravens) and 5 (Patriots). He still ranks second in fantasy points among running backs (184), but he's on pace for 268 points for the year, which would represent his fewest since his rookie year of 2001. Fortunately for Tomlinson, he faces only two more top-10 run defenses the rest of the year, the sixth-ranked Titans and the ninth-ranked Lions, so while he'll certainly be a disappointment for the full season, at least he should stack up well for your upcoming fantasy playoffs.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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