It's playoff time! At least that's the case in the fantasy football world in which we live. It's do or die every week, so every lineup spot is ultracritical. Injuries become even trickier to navigate now as some teams (read: Indianapolis Colts) are not shy about resting some of their nicked-up stars. Worse yet for your fantasy prospects, sometimes teams rest their stars just so they don't get added to the injury report.
What is a fantasy owner to do? Well, it's important to start with the actual injuries that might affect your players in Week 14. With that in mind, here's what we're following as we head into the playoffs this weekend...
Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Ward has a hamstring strain that is looking more and more as if it will keep him from playing Thursday night. Ward certainly has proved that he will play through pain, but he can't play if he can't run. Although the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has reported Ward's strain as mild, the short week allows for only four days of healing time, not typically enough to recover from even a minor strain. As coach Mike Tomlin told the Tribune-Review, those conditions are "not favorable" for Ward. It sounds as if the Steelers are planning for rookie Mike Wallace to start opposite Santonio Holmes if Ward cannot go.
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Turner sat out Week 13, as many expected he would. He is nursing a recently aggravated right high-ankle sprain and, after he skipped practice all of last week, no one really expected him in the lineup this past Sunday. But what about in Week 14? On Monday, Turner offered this insightful comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I'm better." Fantasy owners have two questions: Will Turner play? And, perhaps more importantly, will Turner be effective if he does go? Right now, Turner's status is very murky. Although coach Mike Smith hasn't ruled him out, Turner has done very little to provide any evidence that he will be ready to go. Let's face it, Turner's ankle is unlikely to be fully healed by Sunday. The issue will be whether he can do enough in practice to make a convincing case for putting him back out on the field (and putting him in your fantasy lineups) Sunday. By the time Friday rolls around, we should have more clues.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Jackson was also an absentee player in Week 13 as he recovered from a concussion suffered the previous week. Jackson does not want fans and fantasy owners to be in suspense, though. He announced on ESPN 950 on Monday that he plans to play Sunday against the New York Giants. That's great. The only catch is that he can't actually clear himself to play. That would be the job of the medical staff with whom Jackson is scheduled to meet Tuesday. If the medical folks clear him to return to practice, he will practice again Wednesday. If he can practice successfully without a return of symptoms, he will be closer to playing this weekend. The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that coach Andy Reid says he expects DeSean back this week "unless there is a setback here." It does look encouraging so far, but if the past few weeks have taught us anything, it's that recovery from head injuries -- perhaps more than any other -- is truly day-to-day.
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston Texans: Schaub certainly demonstrated his willingness to play through pain when he came back into the game Sunday after injuring his shoulder in the first quarter. Reports indicate that Schaub dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder, but according to the Texans' official Web site, coach Gary Kubiak said the medical staff was able to "get it back in and he wanted to come back out and play."
Bear in mind that this is the same shoulder Schaub injured (dislocated) in the 2007 season. Not only did that injury force an early end to his season but he subsequently underwent surgery to repair damaged tissue in the area. A second injury of this nature is of more concern with respect to long-term stability, but it might not present any greater risk in terms of his return. It's also possible that Schaub actually suffered only a partial dislocation, which would make it more likely that he could successfully return. To that end, Kubiak has already said that Schaub has a "good chance" of playing this Sunday, but naturally this week's practice will shed more light on his status.
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: Sanchez is doing his best to recover from his recent PCL sprain of his right knee. Although the rookie has yet to return to practice, coach Rex Ryan remains optimistic that Sanchez could still play Sunday. Naturally, he would wear a brace, which would mean Sanchez would have a brace on each knee; he has been wearing a supportive brace on his left knee since suffering a patellar (kneecap) dislocation in college. Braces have never been known for speeding a player up or enhancing his mobility, but it could mean the difference in allowing Sanchez to suit up for Sunday's contest. If he couldn't slide before, he most certainly will be challenged in that department now. The Jets will have to decide whether a limping Sanchez is better than a healthy Kellen Clemens. Fantasy owners should simply make alternate plans.
Other quick hits
• Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was active Sunday night after a week of uncertainty based on lingering effects of a concussion. Warner certainly didn't look compromised as he and his team dismantled the mighty Minnesota Vikings one play at a time. Although his head was fine, Warner did emerge from the game with a sore right hip. According to the Cardinals' official Web site, the team is calling it a hip pointer and reports that Warner was much improved already by Monday. It is also worth noting that this is not the hip Warner had surgery on in the offseason. With an extra day for recovery this week (the Cardinals face the 49ers on Monday night), the team sounds optimistic that Warner will be ready to go.
• Eagles running back Brian Westbrook continues to progress from his second concussion. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Westbrook could return to team practice Wednesday if he continues to feel well. Coach Reid told the Inquirer that the team has increased Westbrook's workouts and he has not experienced further headaches. Westbrook will still require medical clearance to return to play even if he does well in practice. It seems unlikely that he would make his return in Week 14.
• According to the Houston Chronicle, Texans running back Steve Slaton is expected to meet with spine surgeon Dr. Drew Dossett on Tuesday regarding his current neck condition. Slaton has been experiencing numbness in his right thumb and did not play in Week 13. Although a visit to a surgeon by no means indicates that surgery is imminent, it does underline the seriousness of Slaton's condition. Fantasy owners should not be counting on his return in Week 14.
• Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a setback to his previously injured left shoulder when he was driven into the turf Sunday. Stafford originally separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder two weeks ago. Coach Jim Schwartz is not sharing his thoughts as to who is likely to start for the Lions this week, but did indicate that the determining factor will be whether Stafford can be effective despite the injury. It would not be surprising if Stafford were rested this week.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday 11 a.m.-noon, Friday 11 a.m.-noon and Sunday pregame 10-10:30 a.m.), and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 14 in the Saturday morning blog!