Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! The joy and wonder of the holidays could only be enhanced by a fantasy football championship -- a little bonus to help kick off the new year. So take a break from the gift opening, the toy assembly, the food preparation, the (ahem) sports watching to get your fantasy lineup set. Don't forget that the Dallas Cowboys face the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday! And be sure to note the injury status of some of your key players, as some of those who helped you get here cannot help you now.
Here are some updates on key players heading into Week 16.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, (P): It appears that fantasy owners will be able to count on Rodgers this weekend. He did not play in Week 15 after suffering his second concussion of the season. He was back in practice to start the week, though, and has had a solid series of workouts with the team. Barring any late setbacks, Rodgers is expected to start for the Packers when they host the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos, (Q): Orton's sore ribs kept him out of Week 15, and Tim Tebow got the start in his place. The ribs still hampered Orton and he had limited work in practice each day. Tebow is expected to start again Sunday. Coach Eric Studesville told The Denver Post that he is taking the situation week-to-week, leaving the door slightly ajar for Orton to start in Week 17. The only question for Orton this week is whether he'll be the backup to Tebow or the No. 3 quarterback, as he was last week.
Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, Detroit Lions, (Q): Both quarterbacks have injuries, yet both spent time with the first-team offense this week, making it a bit unclear which one will start. Stanton has been the starter the past few weeks but he had a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder injury in Week 15. Hill has been recovering from a broken index finger on his right (throwing) hand for the past three weeks, which resulted in Stanton's turn leading the offense. Hill had taken some reps in practice leading up to Week 15 but still had trouble making certain throws because of the finger. According to the Detroit News, Hill has worked on adjusting his delivery by putting less pressure on the finger and is getting more comfortable with the technique. This week Hill's practice time has increased and, most notably, he led the team in Friday's practice. The Detroit Free Press reports that Hill appears on track to start Sunday but that both quarterbacks will be ready to play.
Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings, (D): A concussion cut short Favre's surprise start Monday against Chicago and he has not been able to resume practice yet this week. While coach Leslie Frazier has left some wiggle room for Favre to return by calling him "doubtful" as opposed to "out" (lessons learned from a week ago, perhaps), it appears that this will be the week Joe Webb gets the start.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets, (P): On Thursday we outlined the concerns around the injury to Sanchez's throwing shoulder, the biggest of which centered on his apparent lack of velocity in practice throws, according to head coach Rex Ryan. As Rich Cimini of ESPN New York wrote, however, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed more optimistic about Sanchez, suggesting that Ryan's observations were related to warm-up throws. Said Schottenheimer, "... I think as he got going a little bit, he looked pretty good." Sanchez participated in limited practice every day and, as the probable tag suggests, looks to be in line to make the start Sunday in Chicago.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, (D): The knee ailment that limited Jones-Drew in advance of Week 15 appears to have taken a downturn. He did not have a stellar performance in that game, something even he acknowledged this week. Jones-Drew then proceeded to sit out practice every day, leading to the doubtful tag in advance of Sunday's game. As Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union reports, no Jaguars player missing a Friday practice has played in that Sunday's game this season. And remember that preseason knee concern? "There was a bunch of talk about [the knee] at the beginning of the year, but it wasn't hurt to the point that I couldn't play on it," Jones-Drew told the Times-Union on Friday. "But we knew that if I did play on it this could happen." While Jones-Drew has not revealed any specifics regarding the injury itself, he went on to tell the Times-Union that his knee is still swollen after the pounding he took on the turf in Indianapolis last week. He is unsure whether he will require offseason surgery but plans to consult with doctors once the season is over. For the immediate future, it looks as if the plan is to try to manage Jones-Drew's knee pain and swelling to return him to play. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it does not appear that his return to play will be this week. Rashad Jennings would get the start if Jones-Drew sits.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, (Q): Peterson is listed as questionable on the injury report because of his knee (note: the ankle has been removed from the report). Peterson's status sounded grim earlier in the week but coach Leslie Frazier sounded more optimistic as the week progressed. After returning to limited practice Thursday and Friday, Peterson apparently showed enough to suggest he could play. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Frazier said of Peterson after Friday's practice, "I think he'll probably make it. We'll have to see how he feels tomorrow but it seems like we're headed in the right direction." The concern for fantasy owners will be how effective Peterson can be even if he plays. The injury, a thigh bruise just above his knee, has made his leg tight and painful. Although he made some progress during the week, another blow to the area might be enough to set him back or even knock him out of the game. To further complicate matters, this is a night game, so the decision on whether Peterson even starts won't come until late. Weigh your options carefully.
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts, (Q): After weeks of Addai's status not really fluctuating, there was some movement in a positive direction this week. Addai returned to full practice Wednesday and continued at that level throughout the week. He declared himself ready to play and it appears the team agrees with him. Despite the persistent questionable tag, it looks as if Addai could play when the Colts travel to Oakland this weekend. The question, naturally, is how much will he play? That's a big unknown, given that he has missed eight games now with a nerve injury in his neck. Donald Brown has been the starter for the past few weeks and is coming off a strong performance. Mike Hart, out for an extended period with an ankle injury, also returned to limited practice this week.
Marion Barber and Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys, (P): It looks as if Barber will be active for the Cowboys when they travel to Arizona for their game Saturday night. Barber had shown progress from the calf strain last week but the Cowboys opted to give him some additional rest. After full practices every day this week, Barber, at probable, appears ready to return. The conundrum for fantasy owners will be what to expect from a three-pronged running back situation in Dallas with Barber, Felix Jones (who is expected to play as well after getting a day off earlier in the week because of a shin contusion) and Tashard Choice all potentially seeing work. Coach Jason Garrett has hinted all along that he favors a rotation of the three backs, and it is unclear how the responsibilities will be divided.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns, (P): The sight of Hillis limping in the locker room midweek was disconcerting, but he was able to do enough in limited practice Thursday and Friday to ease coach Eric Mangini's concerns. Both the team and Hillis suggested that the workload of a long season was the cause of his knee issue. It appears with the probable tag that Hillis will play. What is unknown is how the Baltimore Ravens will adjust for him this time.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos, (Q): Moreno bruised his ribs in last week's game but was able to get back to limited practice Thursday and Friday. According to The Denver Post, Moreno says he expects to play Sunday. It sounds as if the Broncos are encouraged about his status, but a final decision could come down to game time. This is a late game, so fantasy owners should have a backup plan.
Anthony Dixon, San Francisco 49ers, (Q): Dixon sprained his ankle last week and, after not practicing Wednesday, did only limited work Thursday and Friday. Although he will have had ten days between games, his ankle does not appear to be 100 percent healthy. There is a decent chance he plays, but the issues with his ankle could translate to more touches for Brian Westbrook.
Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints, (?): The Saints don't play until Monday night, so fantasy owners will not know Ivory's status until late. After sitting out Week 15, Ivory was a limited participant in practice Thursday and Friday. Although he sounded encouraged about his hamstring Thursday, he was still feeling "a little grab" in it. Enough, perhaps, to make fantasy owners nervous.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers, (D): Signs all week have pointed to Floyd sitting this game out now that he has injured his other hamstring. Now that the Chargers have tagged him as doubtful it is all but certain he will miss this game.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, (Q): Johnson might be one of the most-awaited fantasy game-time decisions of the week ... and it's not looking good. We've become accustomed to Johnson getting rest and treatment for his injured ankle during the week and then suiting up Sunday. In fact, the ankle has only forced him to miss one game all season. Unfortunately, a setback could lead to his second missed start this weekend. Early in the week coach Gary Kubiak suggested that despite calling Johnson a game-time decision, this was another standard week of resting him in advance of Sunday. Johnson acknowledged to the Houston Chronicle, however, that his ankle got "jammed up" last week and explained that he is now experiencing pain in the back of his ankle near the Achilles. He is having more pain with running, which is severely limiting him, and may ultimately keep him out Sunday. Johnson will test the ankle in warm-ups but does not sound overly optimistic, given how the week has gone. With the Chronicle indicating there is a "good chance" that Johnson misses this game, fantasy owners need to take precautions. Complicating matters, this is a late game against the Denver Broncos.
Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals, (Q): With Terrell Owens done for the year, it would seem as if Ochocinco would be the go-to receiver for the Bengals. Bone spurs in his ankle, however, may prevent Ochocinco from even taking the field this week. After not practicing Wednesday or Thursday, Ochocinco did return to limited practice Friday. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, coach Marvin Lewis called Ochocinco's status "iffy" and says he will be a game-time decision. It would come as no surprise if Ochocinco ended up missing this one, and even if he does go, clearly he is not at full speed.
Roy Williams, Dallas Cowboys, (Q): Williams sat out Week 15 with a groin injury and has only been a limited practice participant this week. There does not seem to be a lot of optimism about Williams' health in Dallas, and it could come down to game time. At least this one will get out of the way early.
Santonio Holmes, New York Jets, (P): Concerns about a turf toe injury for Holmes were compounded this week by worries over his quarterback's health. But now it appears that both his quarterback -- Sanchez -- and Holmes will take the field this weekend. Holmes was able to get back to limited work Thursday and Friday and apparently did enough to suggest he's ready to play. Turf toe injuries are always at risk for flaring up, but at least fantasy owners can expect Holmes to take the field.
Deion Branch, New England Patriots, (P): There have been some concerns about Branch's knee as he has been held out of practice quite a bit the past two weeks. The Patriots are skilled at managing the health of their veteran players, though, and the rest during the week helps Branch come Sunday. He is expected to play this week as the Patriots travel to Buffalo.
Mario Manningham, New York Giants, (P): Last week it was a hip issue, this week it's his heel, but Manningham continues to play. He put in full practices Thursday and Friday and will be on the field Sunday when the Giants attempt to erase memories of the past week's collapse.
Derrick Mason, Baltimore Ravens, (P): Mason is another veteran who gets down time during the week so he can play Sunday. After limited work Wednesday and Thursday, Mason put in a full day Friday and will face the Cleveland Browns this week.
Todd Heap, Baltimore Ravens, (Q): Heap returned to limited practice this week and is listed as questionable. There is still some concern about his recently injured hamstring.
Out: This space is intended for a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as "out" for the upcoming game.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: Gates has been ruled out already for this week's game due to his torn plantar fascia, and his status for future games remains in question.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday and Friday 3-4 p.m.). Be sure to check out "Fantasy Football Now" on Sunday on ESPN2 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for last-minute inactives, rankings, injury impact and more.