For many fantasy owners, this is it: Championship Week. The entire fantasy season, for those who have been lucky enough to make it this far, comes down to this weekend. There are no more Thursday night games; rather, all of the agonizing will come down to Sunday with a little leftover drama perhaps for Monday night in San Francisco.
In Week 15, several injured fantasy stars were sidelined while others were active but invisible, resulting in numerous championship spots being determined by rookies, underdogs and even a kicker on Monday night. (We pause to thank Ravens kicker Justin Tucker for his shoutout to fantasy owners on "Monday Night Football.")
Injuries are a factor every week, but in the hopes of keeping any surprises from dashing your championship dreams, here are some of the health-related situations we’re keeping an eye on heading into Week 16.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (collarbone): It all comes down to medical clearance. Rodgers made enough strides in practice last week that he clearly felt he was ready to give it a go. The overarching concern remains risk of re-injury as a result of contact. Imagine a scenario in which Rodgers gets cleared to play then takes a vicious hit in the game and comes up clutching his left collarbone. Imagine the result is a complex fracture that requires surgery. Everyone would then question why Rodgers was allowed to return, a discussion that would carry over into next season as everyone wondered about his health heading into 2014.
Imagine that your responsibility as the Packers’ team physician is making the call that could, theoretically, lead to this scenario. While there are no guarantees to whether an injury has completely healed, it would stand to reason that the person in charge of making that call would err on the side of caution, playoffs hanging in the balance or not. We should learn more after Rodgers meets with Packers team physician Pat McKenzie on Wednesday, but all the positive chatter late last week certainly hints at the possibility of his return in Week 16. (For a look at the Packers' playoff odds with and without Rodgers playing this weekend, ESPN Insider provides an analysis.)
Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (groin): Shorts missed Week 15 after his groin injury took a turn for the worse, the first game he has missed all season despite playing multiple weeks with the injury. Now it appears his season has come to a close. On Tuesday, the Jaguars placed Shorts on injured reserve, according to ESPN.com. Shorts previously acknowledged that he would need surgery in the offseason to address the issue, so it appears that will be the next step.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (hamstring): He missed Week 15, the result of a hamstring injury sustained a week earlier. But Jones-Drew isn’t calling it a season yet. Due to his veteran status and ability to play amid the presence of injury, Jones-Drew is usually given up until the weekend to assess whether he can go. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday, according to ESPN.com’s Mike DiRocco, at which point there should be more clarity as to his prospects for suiting up Sunday, even if the final decision doesn’t come until later.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans (ribs): Last week, Tate took another shot to his ribs which led to another CT scan, according to ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli. No word on the results yet but it appears the setback could present a challenge for him this week.
Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans (hamstring): Graham missed last week with a hamstring strain and his status for this week is still up in the air. There have been murmurings about the potential return of Owen Daniels, out since early October with a right fibula fracture, but all coach Wade Phillips has said thus far is that Daniels “might” practice this week.
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams (hip): Stacy suffered an injury to his hip early in Sunday’s game, causing much concern among fantasy owners. However, he was back in the blink of an eye and finished out the game with more than 100 rushing yards and a touchdown. Coach Jeff Fisher expects Stacy to be sore and said he won’t practice Wednesday; however, no one seems concerned that he’s at risk for missing Week 16’s game.
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (stinger): Brown suffered a stinger in the first half of Sunday’s game and did not return. The signs and symptoms associated with stingers -- where nerve tissue between the neck and the shoulder can be stretched or pinched, usually as a result of the neck getting forcibly extended and bent toward one side -- can be highly variable. Athletes can experience pain, tingling and sometimes weakness. The effects can linger anywhere from minutes to days to weeks. The Colts are describing Brown’s status as day to day and it is unclear whether he will be cleared to return by Sunday.