If you're fortunate enough to be left standing in your fantasy league after another injury-filled Sunday, you may be limping your way into the playoffs.
Exhibit A: One of my fantasy teams finally had its original ensemble back together ... for a week. Then Sunday came, and two of the players who had helped successfully launch my fantasy season were injured again. Running back Peyton Hillis and wide receiver Andre Johnson left their respective games with injuries. While neither was an aggravation of their original ailments, they do seem to be somehow connected, if only by the running theme of steady misfortune. Hillis turned in a decent performance, providing both rushing and receiving yards, but was absent late in the game. Hillis was seen lying on the treatment table, appearing to have his leg worked on by members of the Cleveland Browns' medical staff. On Monday, the Browns indicated Hillis had a "left hip strain" and was considered day-to-day. The diagnosis is vague, making it difficult to interpret just how serious this is, but with Hillis just coming off an extended injury absence, there has to be concern. The Browns play on Thursday night, casting further doubt on Hillis' availability.
As for Johnson, he was due for a big game with newly anointed quarterback T.J. Yates (filling in for the injured Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, both now on injured reserve) looking to get the ball to the All-Pro receiver. Johnson was actually converging on 100 yards receiving when a familiar -- and scary -- sight unfolded. In the third quarter, Johnson pulled up while running a deep route, then went to the ground in pain. Eventually he hopped off the field, keeping his left foot in the air, and he was tended to on the sideline. As it turns out, the injury was to his other (nonsurgical) leg, which is a relief from the standpoint that there is no setback to the right side. On the other hand, Johnson has joined the ranks of fellow wide receivers Julio Jones and Miles Austin in suffering bilateral hamstring injuries within the same season. The Houston Chronicle reports the Texans believe that this latest injury to Johnson is far less severe than the previous one. Coach Gary Kubiak is calling Johnson day-to-day, but the sense is he will be out for at least Week 14.
Despite the aforementioned injury catastrophes, my team will indeed limp into the playoffs and hope to benefit from waiver-wire pickups suggested by my colleagues at ESPN.com. Hopefully you will do the same.
And then this happened ...
• As significant as the injuries to the two above players seemed at the time, at least in my world, there was perhaps no more devastating and surprising blow than the one dealt to the Chicago Bears when running back Matt Forte hurt his knee. Forte was upended by a tackle, which at first glance appeared to deliver the most force to his left knee area. It was Forte's right knee, however, that sustained the injury, a Grade 2 MCL (medial collateral ligament) sprain. The MCL reinforces the inner aspect of the knee joint, and an injury here particularly compromises lateral mobility, making cutting and directional changes difficult.
Not all Grade 2, or moderate, sprains are equal and can represent a range of damage (from roughly 30 percent to 70 percent tearing of the ligament), hence the variability of the timetable. The more damage, the greater instability results at the knee and the longer it takes to heal. Presuming all other structures remain intact (and the confirmation after Forte's MRI was that the ACL was not torn), an isolated tear of the MCL presents a better prognosis than a more complex tear involving other ligaments, the meniscus or the fibrous tissue of the joint capsule itself. Forte could miss as little as two weeks or upward of a month. It's worth noting that Forte suffered a mild MCL sprain in his left knee in 2009 and played through the injury but struggled on the field. The Bears are optimistic that Forte will return before the regular season is over, but his progress over the next week to 10 days will give better clues.
• Green Bay Packers running back James Starks was on the injury report heading into Week 13. Starks was injured in Week 11 with sprains to his right knee and ankle. Despite the short week heading into the Thanksgiving Day game, Starks was able to suit up and managed to get through the game, albeit with a sore ankle. After a 10-day respite between games, it appeared Starks was in better shape when the Packers traveled to play the New York Giants. But it was not meant to be. Starks was injured in the second quarter and did not return. After three straight weeks of problems with the ankle, it stands to reason that Starks will have to scale his activity back. Consider him highly questionable for Week 14.
• The Philadelphia Eagles see signs of hope that quarterback Michael Vick will return in Week 14. Vick resumed throwing Monday and told reporters he expects to play Sunday. He has not fully recovered from the two broken ribs he sustained in Week 10, as the bones are still healing, but the key to his return is whether he can be effective enough both throwing the ball and running with it. If Vick can practice every day this week and gradually ramp up his activity, it's conceivable he could rejoin his team this weekend.
• Teammate Jeremy Maclin would like to be on the field with Vick and says he hopes to return to practice this week. Maclin, who is dealing with a shoulder sprain and a strained hamstring, suffered a setback with the hamstring the last time he tried to practice. According to the Eagles' website, Maclin said the hamstring is the limiting factor. "There's ways around the shoulder," Maclin said. "We just have to make sure the hamstring's right." Wednesday will be a big day at the Eagles' practice facility.
• The Minnesota Vikings would like to have Adrian Peterson on the field in Week 14, but we've heard optimism early in the week before, only to find out late in the week it was premature. Peterson did make some progress last week, doing some light jogging and increasing his overall activity. His ankle was not ready for agility and cutting maneuvers, however, and Peterson was not yet able to practice. While coach Leslie Frazier called Peterson "very close" to returning, Peterson's activity this week will go a lot further in convincing us one way or the other.
• The Detroit Lions thought Kevin Smith had made enough progress in 10 days after his ankle injury to return him to the field. Unfortunately, it took only two-plus quarters of football to find out otherwise. Smith aggravated his ankle injury Sunday night when he went down without contact (never a good sign) and was struggling with his mobility prior to that moment. It appears unlikely that he would be ready to test it again by Sunday.
• Things are not looking good for running back Darren McFadden. Despite all the positive-speak initially from coach Hue Jackson, his latest remarks have a different tone, suggesting progress is not being made as expected. McFadden has already missed more than a month because of a midfoot sprain, and his absence is expected to continue.
Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times reported that Jackson does not expect McFadden to miss the rest of the season. Well, neither did we. In fact, it had not been a real thought until Jackson introduced it as a possibility. Jackson also noted that there was no timetable for McFadden's return. Those two comments cause concern as to what the real status of McFadden and his foot is going forward. After the initial MRI, Jackson said there was no major structural damage and hinted at a speedy recovery. While the structure of the midfoot is complex, and pain or inflammation in the area, even in the absence of major disruption to the anatomy, can be severely limiting, the slow progress of McFadden after such early optimism is frustrating. At this point it is difficult to have confidence in McFadden's status, especially as long as he is absent from the practice field.