The final Sunday of the NFL regular season is upon us, and for those who are still playing fantasy football in Week 17, this one, as they say, is for all the marbles. The final final. Championship Sunday. Bragging rights for a year!
It’s also a very different week for NFL teams depending on their status heading into Sunday. For those that are trying to win their division or secure playoff hopes, it is imperative they have their best players on the field. Those already guaranteed a part of the postseason action may consider resting some of their stars or at least removing them from this week’s game early. In other words, fantasy nightmares are all around us.
From the injury standpoint, here’s what we know as of Saturday afternoon:
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, collarbone (P): And so it has come to pass. Rodgers has been cleared to return to the football field and has been named the starter for Sunday’s decisive NFC North matchup against the Chicago Bears. Enough has been written about Rodgers’ injury, but what are we to expect upon his return? It’s tough to imagine a quarterback missing seven weeks and not looking a little rusty, but if anyone could adjust quickly to being back in a game, it’s likely to be a signal-caller as consistent as Rodgers. What about the risk of re-injury? Coach Mike McCarthy perhaps said it best at the news conference when he announced Rodgers’ return. The organization (whose opinion, one would imagine, is framed by insight from the medical staff) believes he is at no greater risk than any other player stepping on the field Sunday.
“Every football player that plays in this game Sunday will have risk. I think we all understand that," McCarthy said. "So we've done our due diligence, we've gone through all the evaluations, and we feel it is time. Aaron is ready to play."
There must be sufficient evidence of bone healing to justify his return, knowing he is likely to absorb at least some contact, including potentially a direct blow to the left shoulder or clavicle (collarbone). There are never any guarantees that a player who sets foot on the field on any given Sunday will emerge unscathed; the same applies to Rodgers. It appears the difference this week is the team believes his risk is the same as any other player's.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals, right elbow (P): Palmer played through ankle and elbow injuries to lead his team to victory in Seattle. OK, so it wasn’t perfect and he did throw four interceptions, perhaps due at least in part to his physical ailments. He was out there nonetheless, and it appears he will be again this week to face the 49ers.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills, knee (D): Remember how heading into Week 16 coach Doug Marrone said that despite Manuel missing that contest due to his knee injury he was “110 percent” certain Manuel would return for Week 17? Maybe he was a bit overconfident. Manuel did return to do some limited work in practice but clearly is struggling enough with his latest knee issue -- an LCL sprain in his left knee, the same one he had meniscus surgery on in the preseason -- that the team neither thinks he can be effective nor deems his presence worth the risk. He is not going to play this week, but the topic of Manuel’s knees will certainly resurface heading into 2014.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, ankle (P): Newton’s ankle has been an annoyance for him the past couple weeks, but it hasn’t kept him from taking the field. It hasn’t even cost him any time in practice. He is expected to make his usual start.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, ankle (P): See note in above entry for Tom Brady. Manning, like Brady, remains on the injury report because of what is a chronic ailment he has to deal with during the season. And like Brady, he will play in a way that makes us forget he was on the injury report.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, knee (P): The addition of Brees to the injury report after a limited Wednesday practice rounds out the top fantasy quarterbacks making the list this week. Like the other top quarterbacks, there is no danger of Brees sitting this one out, as the probable tag indicates.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers, ankle (P): Lacy has already shown that he can play through the ankle sprain, but it may be getting tougher as the weeks wear on. He did not practice until Friday, and even then it was only a limited workout. Obviously it is in the team’s best interest at this point to rest (and treat) Lacy’s ankle as much as possible during the week in order to optimize what he can do on Sunday. There is no doubt on Lacy’s part that he will play Sunday and push through the discomfort. The question may be whether he will hold up to a full workload, something that will get answered only as the game evolves.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens, thigh (Q): Rice is back on the injury report with a thigh injury that limited him in practice throughout the week. This has the feel of being linked to his hip injury early in the season, despite Rice’s denials. Perhaps that is because his comments to reporters earlier in the week seemed to reflect on how the injury (or injuries, whether directly or indirectly related) affected his performance. “It’s life,” Rice said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “From a personal standpoint, understanding that I played through a lot this year.” He went on to state that he plans to focus this offseason on whatever it takes to come back better than ever next year. Unfortunately for fantasy owners playing in matchups this weekend, a totally healthy Ray Rice is not going to be an option.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, hamstring (P): Jones-Drew may not be fully recovered from his hamstring injury, but he is doing more than he was at this time last week. After resting Wednesday, Jones-Drew got in limited work Thursday and Friday. At probable, he is expected to play in the team’s final game.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots, groin (Q): Vereen was a limited participant in practice throughout the week after sustaining a groin injury Sunday. He left the Week 16 game after only two carries and one reception because of the injury, and there was some concern as to the severity. When Vereen showed up at practices early in the week, it was a positive indicator, but there is still some question as to whether he is healthy enough to participate in game action. ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss suggests the Patriots could hold Vereen out for an additional week of recovery, given the nonplayoff nature of the game. Clearly fantasy owners will want to check pregame inactives and, at the very least, have a backup plan in place.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills, ribs (P): Jackson played through the sore ribs last week and will do so again this week after limited practice Thursday and full practice Friday.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers, knee (P): Is there really any doubt? Despite limited practices Wednesday and Thursday because of his sore knee, Gore turned in a full practice Friday. He is a lock to play in Sunday’s divisional matchup against the Cardinals.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, foot (P): Last week, coach Mike McCoy said he expected Mathews to play despite Mathews sporting a boot on his injured foot. It appears he will indeed take the field, listed as probable after returning to limited practice Friday.
Joique Bell, Detroit Lions, knee (P): Despite sitting out Wednesday’s practice with a sore knee, Bell returned to limited practices Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday’s game. In other words, expect Bell to play in the Lions’ final game of the season.
Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins, ankle (Q): Thomas’ ankle continues to present a challenge for him, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the severity of his original injury. Since aggravating the ankle, Thomas has remained on the injury report and was held to limited practices on Thursday and Friday. He has played in the last two games despite the setback, but his numbers (five carries for 16 yards in Week 15 and nine carries for six yards in Week 16) should tell fantasy owners all they need to know heading into Sunday’s contest.
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals, finger (P): Mendenhall has already played with the finger injury and is expected to do so again this week.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets, quadriceps/ankle (P): Despite his presence on the injury report because of two separate injury issues, Ivory has been a full participant in practice throughout the week. He is expected to play Sunday.
Willis McGahee, Cleveland Browns, knee (P): McGahee is no longer listed on the injury report because of a concussion. Instead it is the chronic knee issue he has been dealing with throughout the season that has him here. McGahee was a full participant in practice throughout the week and is expected to play Sunday.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions, knee (Q): Just when fantasy owners need him the most, Johnson might not be able to deliver. There is no doubt he is at less than 100 percent health; his knee, in fact, has been problematic much of the season. Johnson, competitor that he is, would like to play Sunday, and the Lions may wait until game time to make that decision. Last week, his status was a game-time call and Johnson struggled mightily in his limited appearance. This week, he did not participate in any practices and, as ESPN.com’s Mike Rothstein noted, remained characteristically quiet on the subject of his injury. It’s the ultimate fantasy owner’s dilemma, not so much if Johnson is declared inactive (which at this point wouldn’t take anyone by surprise), but rather if he is declared active when it is abundantly clear that he is operating at a deficit. He will always play hard, but whether he can play effectively and how well he can hold up will be big questions.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens, thigh (Q): Smith is dealing with what appears to be a minor injury and practiced on a limited basis throughout the week. He is listed as questionable but appears to be a likely candidate to play. Of perhaps greater concern is the health and mobility of quarterback Joe Flacco, who does not appear on the injury report but is still dealing with the aftereffects of a sprained MCL. Last week, Flacco and Smith had trouble connecting; injuries to both doesn’t likely help their cause.
Demaryius Thomas, neck, and Eric Decker, thigh, Denver Broncos (P): Thomas has been on the injury report for a few weeks because of his shoulder, but now he is listed with a neck injury. It’s unclear whether this is related to his prior shoulder issue or was newly acquired during his strong Week 16 performance. Either way, Thomas has practiced fully each day and is line to play Sunday. Decker, who had an even bigger Week 16 performance than Thomas, was added to the injury report with a thigh ailment, but it doesn’t appear to pose any threat to his status for Sunday. Decker was limited Wednesday but returned to full practices Thursday and Friday. At probable, he is expected to play.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings, chest (P): After a limited practice Wednesday, Patterson was a full participant Thursday and Friday. Given the probable tag, the Vikings are counting on him suiting up for the season finale.
Santonio Holmes, foot/hamstring, and Jeremy Kerley, elbow, New York Jets (P): This has been the standard status for these two receivers the past few weeks. Both continue to practice daily (although Holmes works on a limited basis), and both are expected to play Sunday.
Danny Amendola, groin (P), Kenbrell Thompkins, hip (Q), and Aaron Dobson, foot (Q), New England Patriots: This is the third week in a row with these receivers having these respective designations. Amendola remains the only one of the three practicing fully each day while the other two work on a limited basis. As such, Amendola is the only sure bet to play. Dobson was active in Week 16 (one reception), making him likely to see the field again. Thompkins has another week of recovery from his hip injury under his belt, but it’s unclear just how much of a target he would be anyway with a plethora of pass-catchers available to Tom Brady. As usual, note the Patriots inactives before locking any fantasy lineup.
Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins, knee (P): Despite appearing on the injury report because of a knee injury, Hartline is listed as probable and is fully expected to play. After being limited early in the week, he was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will be on the field to face the Jets.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers, ankle/wrist (P): Crabtree has already played through both the ankle and wrist ailments. After practicing fully each day, expect him to play again Sunday.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams, ankle (Q): Austin finally made an appearance in practice after being absent for the past two weeks, but it was only a limited one on Friday. He is expected to be a game-time decision, though fantasy owners would be rolling the dice to count on Austin after so little activity in recent weeks.
Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers, knee (Q): Sanders did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of the knee he injured in Week 16. He returned to a full practice Friday, an encouraging sign. Naturally, the team will want to see how his knee responded to the work, but Sanders said the pain is bearable and, according to ESPN.com’s Scott Brown, rated himself as 50-50 to play. He is going to be a game-time decision.
Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers, toe (Q): Royal is again listed as questionable because of his toe, a familiar sight throughout the fantasy season. He also, for the most part, has played on Sundays despite the questionable tag, even after not practicing, which is the case for him this week. Still, fantasy owners should be mindful of the fact this is a late game and he is not a lock to start until the official word comes before kickoff.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons, toe (P): It can’t be the year he envisioned when Gonzalez agreed to come back to the Falcons for one more season. He’s such a class act, though, that he’ll finish it out strong despite their lack of postseason hopes and an injury to his toe. Fantasy owners have to believe the team would like to see him go out with a score. It’s the least the Falcons could do.
Tyler Eifert, neck (D), and Jermaine Gresham, hamstring (Q), Cincinnati Bengals: Eifert suffered a stinger in last week’s game and was unable to return to practice. It appears all but certain he will sit this one out. Gresham has been listed in recent weeks with a hip, abdominal and now a hamstring strain, the combination of which suggest a core injury that will likely not be 100 percent resolved before season’s end. Still, he could play Sunday, and his status is slightly more optimistic than Eifert’s.
It’s worth noting that Gresham did find the end zone for a score in Week 16. Then again, this could be a situation where the Bengals are interested in protecting Gresham for the playoffs and allowing him some additional recovery time. Of concern is that he practiced on a limited basis Wednesday but was listed as a nonparticipant Thursday and Friday. The bottom line for fantasy owners is that Gresham’s status needs to be verified before kickoff.
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns, concussion (Q): Cameron did not play last week because of the head injury, and his status for this week is still up in the air. Cameron’s only practice was a limited one on Friday, and he still needs to be cleared by an independent neurologist to be eligible to play Sunday. His status may not be known until game day.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings, groin/foot: As ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling notes, Peterson’s lingering groin injury is causing more trouble for him than his recently sprained foot. It’s enough of a problem that the team decided to keep him out of its final contest of 2013 -- and final game at the Metrodome. Coach Leslie Frazier had hinted at sitting Peterson unless something were to change dramatically before Sunday. Apparently it did not.
Resting Peterson should not come as a huge surprise after his effort in Week 16, which proved that while he had the mental toughness to push himself through pain, physically his body could not keep up. In fact, Peterson acknowledged after Sunday’s game that his body was not responding the way he wanted it to, which hinted at a potential absence this week. With Toby Gerhart sidelined again due to a hamstring injury, Matt Asiata will get the start.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys, back: Well, it is tough to play two days after back surgery, which Romo underwent Friday morning. The signs and symptoms of his herniated disk were significant enough that an epidural injection barely made a dent. Romo should have plenty of time to recover in time for camp. The discussion of his health can now be put on hold until organized team activities roll around.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs, concussion: Bowe showed up on the injury report Thursday with a concussion, leaving little doubt he would miss Week 17. The Chiefs confirmed this in their Friday injury report, ruling Bowe out ahead of Sunday’s game.
Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings, hamstring: It’s a tough time to be a running back in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is doubtful with groin and foot injuries, and Gerhart’s hamstring injury continues to bother him enough that the team has already ruled him out. Matt Asiata will start this week.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos, concussion: As noted last week, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Jeff Legwold reported Welker was likely to sit out Week 17. Although he has made enough improvement to participate in practice on a limited basis, Welker has officially been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Atlanta Falcons, concussion: After not practicing all week due to concussion symptoms, it comes as no surprise that Rodgers is out.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills, not injury related: Johnson remains in California with his family following the passing of his mother and will not play this week.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers, knee: Stewart injured his MCL in Week 14 and remains out this week.
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers, knee: Smith joins his teammate Stewart on the “out” list for Week 17 after spraining his PCL in last Sunday’s game. The Panthers hope he will be able to make a return in the playoffs.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants, knee/concussion: No one expected Cruz to play after he underwent knee surgery last week, and he is officially out.
Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans, hamstring: In what appears to be a typo, Graham is listed on the NFL official injury report as probable. There are multiple reports out of Houston, however, that Graham is not expected to play, including one from ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli. Supporting that notion, Graham never appeared in practice this week after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. Fantasy owners should have already made other plans.