Instant Impressions: Week 11
• His injury probably won't turn out to be as bad as it looked, but Adrian Peterson deserves to be at the top of this morning's Instant Impressions if only because he sent about one-tenth of Fantasy Nation into shock when he was carted off the field Sunday. Watching the uber-tough All Day unable to use his left leg after a wrenching, gang-tackling injury was hard to stomach, and when the Vikings had to drive him off under mechanized power, we were all ready to fear the worst. But while AP didn't return in Minnesota's 27-21 loss to the Raiders, he did stand in uniform on the sidelines during the second half and was reportedly able to put some weight on his left ankle. After the contest, he told reporters that he plans on playing Week 12 versus the Falcons' tough run D. However, while X-rays were reportedly negative, it's no sure thing that Peterson will be able to go. It has always been a good idea, but now his owners simply must handcuff him to Toby Gerhart. No, Gerhart didn't do much Sunday (eight touches, 25 yards), but you can't get stuck with no other options if AP winds up hurt during the fantasy playoffs.
• Jay Cutler had his best fantasy day of 2011 Sunday, posting more than 18 fantasy points for the first time all season while going 18-of-31 for 286 yards, two TDs and an INT. Things looked tremendous for Chicago, which has won five in a row and is in the thick of the NFC wild-card race. Then word came late Sunday night that Cutler fractured the thumb on his throwing hand and is likely to miss at least six weeks. Ouch. Presumably, that hurts the Bears more than it does most fantasy teams, as Cutler hasn't been a top-10 signal-caller this season and thus was probably riding fantasy pine more often than not, at least on good fantasy squads. Still, that Chicago offense was rounding into shape, producing three WRs with at least 60 yards receiving Sunday, and now with Caleb Hanie at the helm, you can't invest heavily in Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett or Roy Williams. The real question for fantasy is whether the reduced aerial threat represented by Hanie is a blow to Matt Forte. It's too early to say for certain, but put it this way: It doesn't help.
• Kevin Smith got on a roll against the execrable Panthers' run D and never looked back and now has presumably wrenched away the Lions' starting RB job that he lost because of multiple knee and shoulder injuries two years ago. Jahvid Best reportedly isn't close to returning from his concussion, and Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams have been pedestrian in Best's absence. (Williams had exactly one carry Sunday, which he fumbled, and after which he sat.) Realize that Smith's 201-total-yard, three-TD performance came in the most favorable of all matchups, and also realize that the once supremely talented Smith isn't a superior player any longer because of all those injuries. But he's more talented than Morris, and that should be enough to help him lead the Lions in RB touches for the foreseeable future. He should be added in all leagues.
• Fred Jackson added to the RB heart attack factor Sunday. He hurt a calf in the third quarter of the Bills' blowout loss in Miami and didn't return; he was seen on the Buffalo sideline wearing a large wrap on that injured leg. Before leaving the game, Jackson had just 17 yards on seven carries (though he had 50 yards on five catches), and he hasn't found the end zone since Week 6. This decline in production was always going to happen eventually, and it's not really Jackson's fault: His O-line is decimated by injuries, and Chan Gailey's spread offense has a short shelf life, which has led to predictably worse returns for Ryan Fitzpatrick as the season has worn on. Like Peterson, Jackson told reporters he'll be fine for next week, but monitor the situation. C.J. Spiller would get the nod if Jackson can't go; deep-leaguers can consider adding Spiller.
• Guess Matthew Stafford's finger is OK, huh? When Stafford began Sunday's win over the Panthers with two interceptions, the wags in the ESPN War Room nodded sagely, certain that Stafford's fractured index finger on his throwing hand was at fault. However, neither of those picks looked like they were due to inaccuracy; one was a misread by Stafford, and the other was a tipped pass. And Stafford subsequently put concerns to rest, throwing five TDs thereafter in a come-from-behind win. (Do the Lions win any other kind?) Alas, Calvin Johnson caught exactly zero of the five scores.
• Vince Young wasn't quite as good Sunday night as I hoped he would be, but he wasn't bad. He threw three picks, two of which were his fault (a deep ball to DeSean Jackson on which he waited too long to throw it and couldn't catch up with Jackson's speed, and a woeful fade in the end zone that was underthrown). But he mostly looked steady and accurate in the face of a very tough Giants pass rush, and he was positively Tebow-esque on the Eagles' game-winning drive. There's no definitive word about whether Michael Vick will be able to return for Week 12, but if VY is in there, I'm going right back to the well versus the Patriots, and putting him safely inside my top 15 QBs.
• James Starks hobbled off the field as the Packers were nursing a two-point lead very late in the fourth quarter Sunday, having had his knee and ankle twisted badly after a carry. He needed to be driven to the locker room by a cart, finishing the day with 11 carries for 38 yards and six catches for another 53 yards. As of this writing, the Packers are calling Starks' injury a knee strain, which could mean nothing major, or it could mean a multi-week injury. Given this uncertainty, and given the fact that the Packers play Thursday, Ryan Grant could be in for a significant bump in his workload, and he has been dropped in about one-third of ESPN.com leagues. However, neither Starks nor Grant has been used with any regularity in TD-rich situations (John Kuhn appears to be the goal-line halfback), so don't go crazy with Grant.
• Rarely have two men who play different positions for different teams been so linked in fantasy owners' minds. Philip Rivers and Chris Johnson continued their busty ways Sunday, much to the chagrin of Chargers and Titans fans, respectively. Rivers once again produced a quasi-respectable 15 fantasy points (respectable, that is, for an "average" fantasy signal-caller, but Rivers is supposed to be well above average) but made crushing mistake after crushing mistake in a loss to the Bears. He now "boasts" a league-leading 17 interceptions, putting him on pace for an amazing 27. Meanwhile, I'll have to watch the tape of Johnson again, but every time I looked up I saw CJ0K getting stuffed, and he wound up with 12 carries for 13 yards. Ouch. The opposing defense's step up in quality from the Panthers in Week 10 to the Falcons in Week 11 obviously was the biggest factor here, but let's face it: Matchups didn't used to matter very much to Johnson. Now it appears he's a slave to them.
• Greg Jennings sat out the entire second half Sunday because of a leg injury, leading to a devastating day in which he caught two passes for six yards. Meanwhile, Jordy Nelson produced 123 yards and two TDs, including the late game clincher. It would be easy to say, "Oh, Nelson had the big day only because Jennings was out," but in fact, only one of Nelson's catches (the 40-yard late score) came in the second half. Jennings reportedly will be able to play on short rest on Thanksgiving, and if he's active, obviously he's a must-start. But let this serve as another example of why great receivers on deep receiving corps can sometimes be scary to use in fantasy leagues.
• A pair of young receivers coming off big Week 10 efforts and ranked inside ESPN.com's top 30 receivers for Week 11, Vincent Brown and Damian Williams, spit the bit in a major way, and illustrated that relying on unproven WR talent can be the kiss of fantasy death. Brown had one catch for 8 yards and saw only four targets; Williams caught one catch for 16, though he did have a whopping 11 targets. Meanwhile, the veteran receiving options on the Chargers and Titans (Vincent Jackson and Nate Washington) went nutty. Just when you think you've figured something out about the NFL
• Victor Cruz again was a far superior option to Mario Manningham, and despite the fact Cruz plays out of the slot and usually comes off the field when the Giants go two-wide, I've finally learned my lesson and will be ranking Cruz (six grabs, 128 yards and a TD) over Manningham (one grab, 4 yards) in Week 12. Of course, see my note about Brown and Williams above. Past performance is evidently not indicative of future returns, especially when it comes to young WRs.
• I'll eat a little crow about Marshawn Lynch, but only a little. Against what's supposed to be the worst run defense in football (the Rams'), Lynch managed 89 yards on 29 touches from scrimmage, a pathetic 3.1 yards-per-touch mark that was rescued by Lynch's sixth straight game with a rushing TD. The Seahawks' offense is putrid, but give the Seahawks credit, at least, for knowing Lynch is just about the only thing they have going for them, and riding him like a rented mule. I still predict the bottom will drop out for fantasy teams who rely on Lynch in the playoffs because he's just not making even midsized plays, and in a game in which Seattle gets blown out, he won't get the volume that has rescued him lately. But give the man his due: He has produced for a month and a half.
• It just occurred to me that perhaps Josh McDaniels isn't a magic elixir for the Rams' offense.
• Jerome Simpson did yeoman's work (eight catches for 153 yards on a whopping 13 targets) versus a tough Ravens secondary Sunday, but don't get carried away. A.J. Green was reportedly fairly close to being able to play on his injured knee, meaning a Week 12 return feels rather likely. That would bump Simpson down to the No. 2 receiving gig in Cincinnati. He has produced some fine games from that spot this season, but his week-to-week output is far too spotty to be relied upon in fantasy leagues.
• Lee Evans returned to the Ravens' lineup, and Torrey Smith took the opportunity to produce a giant day: six catches for 165 yards and a gorgeous 38-yard score. Like Simpson, Smith is incredibly up and down as Baltimore's deep threat, though his highs tend to be high enough that he's worth the risk in deeper leagues. Will Evans eventually steal looks? We don't know that yet. For one week, however, the second-round rookie remained firmly in the fantasy picture.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
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• Carpenter: Gridiron Challenge preview
• Cockcroft: Consistency ratings
• Harris: Top Week 12 free agents
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Bell Injury Blog
• Week 12 sneaky pickups
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• Football Outsiders: Top matchups
• Top 100 flex (RB/WR/TE) rankings
• 2011 ranks update: Riding the hot hand
• Pass Plays: Alex Smith, Carson Palmer
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