We're just about halfway through the season and it's a key time for fantasy football teams to rally. Almost every team, no matter how poor the performance has been so far, has a shot to make the playoffs. So for those of you struggling out there, don't give up! Go make some trades, hit the waiver wire, dodge the injured players (and right now this may be the biggest challenge) and get your team back in it!
Once again there are six teams on bye this week -- Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins -- so fantasy owners continue to scramble to find worthy replacements.
Here are some status updates to help you shape your roster as we look ahead to Week 8.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: Last time we were discussing Stafford, there was some question as to whether he was getting a second opinion on his ailing right knee. No matter what happened in the background, Stafford has continued with a conservative treatment approach and returned to practice on a limited basis with his team this week. The good news here is that he has been able to practice three days in a row. When Stafford tested his knee in light practice two weeks ago, his knee did not respond favorably and he could not practice the following day. If Stafford continues to practice daily and is able to increase his activity through the remainder of the week, there is a good chance that he will return as the starter when the Lions host the St. Louis Rams this weekend.
The biggest challenge following a patellar subluxation (Stafford's reported injury) is regaining adequate quadriceps strength to allow normal mobility while minimizing swelling. The two go hand in hand as swelling around the kneecap will effectively shut down the function of the quadriceps muscle. Stafford, even if he plays, may not yet be at full strength, which may be reflected in his overall mobility. As long as he is mobile enough to protect himself and make plays and as long as he is not regressing in response to activity, it seems likely that he will be back under center.
Trent Edwards, Buffalo Bills: Edwards is still on the mend from his concussion, although he did make a return to some limited practice Wednesday. The Bills are planning to have Ryan Fitzpatrick start and have indicated that Edwards will not even dress as the emergency quarterback. The Bills have a bye in Week 9, so this will extend Edwards' opportunity to recover. Whether he returns as the starter after that point remains uncertain.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Rodgers again appears on the injury practice report this week because of a sprained foot that continues to cause him some discomfort with certain movements. Obviously the foot did not limit him in last week's contest and the expectation is that he will start against the Minnesota Vikings this week. The team is no doubt limiting his practice time to ensure that the condition does not worsen in advance of the game. Fantasy owners can count on him playing on Sunday, as if there were really ever any doubt.
Eli Manning, New York Giants: Manning is worth including here simply for the fact he has been removed from the Giants' injury report and he has returned to full practice with the team. Manning, despite some offensive struggles, has maintained that his foot has been improving over the past few weeks, which is a credit to how the team's medical staff has helped him manage his plantar fasciitis. While it is perhaps too optimistic to say the condition is entirely behind him (there is always the possibility that it can flare up again at some point), this is certainly encouraging news. It also removes any questions about his status as a starter for this week.
Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles: Westbrook has not practiced this week since suffering a concussion Monday night and is looking doubtful to rejoin the team for Sunday's big divisional matchup against the New York Giants. While Westbrook's status is being evaluated daily and the team has not yet ruled him out, they are certainly going to use every precaution when determining his availability. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Westbrook still reported headache symptoms Wednesday, and as is protocol, will not be cleared to exercise until all of his symptoms resolve. Once he resumes aerobic exercise, he will continue to be monitored for any return of symptoms. If all goes well, his activity will be progressed accordingly.
Philadelphia head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder serves on the NFL concussion committee and provided some excellent insight as to how players are managed following a concussion. Burkholder told the Daily News that once Westbrook's symptoms clear, his response to exercise will be monitored and his cognitive testing scores will need to return to baseline levels. Perhaps most importantly, Burkholder reiterated a couple of very important points. First, the loss of consciousness that Westbrook suffered is not the determinant of whether or not he will play this week, but, as Burkholder points out, his status is "really based on the symptoms." Concussions can occur without loss of consciousness and that factor alone does not provide an estimate as to how significant the injury actually is. It is truly in retrospect, based on how the athlete recovers from such an incident, that a level of seriousness can be established.
This serves as an important reminder that all concussions are brain injuries and, as such, warrant serious treatment. There is no "toughness" meter on an athlete when it comes to return to play following such an injury; it is a medical decision based on a collective measure of the aforementioned factors. While Westbrook has shown time and again that he can perform well despite the presence of various joint ailments, this injury simply does not fall into the same category. At this point fantasy owners should prepare for LeSean McCoy to see the majority of the action against the Giants.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants: By now fantasy owners have noticed a pattern with Bradshaw, limited practice early in the week followed by showing up and playing well on Sunday. In this column, we have talked about Bradshaw's ongoing management of an ankle injury that he has dealt with since his college days, but that ankle injury has been compounded by a foot injury he sustained earlier this year.
This week that foot injury resulted in a visit to North Carolina to consult with Dr. Robert Anderson, one of the country's leading foot and ankle specialists and a team physician for the Carolina Panthers. The Newark Star-Ledger reports that Bradshaw announced that he has a crack in the fifth metatarsal (the long bone of the forefoot that connects to the base of the pinkie toe) of his right foot. The crack was not a new discovery (Bradshaw indicates that X-rays about a month ago revealed the crack, which he reportedly injured in March); the important result of the consultation was support of Bradshaw's current treatment plan. Bradshaw has been in a walking boot during much of the week, then sheds the boot for Friday practice and game time.
There is always the risk that the crack becomes a complete fracture (where the bone breaks all the way through), but that risk is no greater now than it has been since the injury occurred. That no doubt was a consideration in determining that Bradshaw could continue to play. If it takes a turn for the worse, then Bradshaw will require immediate surgery. If it continues as is, then Bradshaw can continue with the current routine and will likely face the prospect of surgery at the end of the season. Fifth metatarsal fractures are not uncommon in athletes, given all the stress placed on the outside of the foot with running, pivoting and cutting. Many athletes have surgery and go on to a complete and uneventful recovery, so ultimately this should not be a huge issue for Bradshaw. Based on how he has managed so far, fantasy owners should continue to expect the same production out of Bradshaw and hope that he is able to proceed without a setback.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts: At this point, Brown's shoulder appears as if it will keep him sidelined this weekend when the Colts host the San Francisco 49ers. Team president Bill Polian has already said that he does not expect Brown to play this week. Brown suffered what the team called a very painful left shoulder contusion and has since been referred to as a sprain. Brown told the Indianapolis Star earlier in the week that he had dealt with this injury previously in college. Despite Brown's optimism that he would return to practice Wednesday, that clearly did not happen and it does not seem that he will be ready to take the field. Early in the week, Polian hinted at this when he spoke on his radio show about running back Mike Hart "playing a big role" if Brown were to be out. As of now, fantasy owners should expect the Colts' running back one-two punch to be Joseph Addai and Hart.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: Johnson's right knee has benefited from an additional week of rest and the early murmurings are that he will return this weekend. Johnson did not practice early in the week, which suggests that he is not fully healed from his injury (the specifics of which have not been disclosed by the team). He did, however, do some side work on those days and was then able to return to at least some level of practice Thursday. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com reported that Johnson was participating in some drills during the portion of practice open to the media Thursday and did not appear "hobbled" by his knee while running routes and catching passes. As always, the next step is assessing his response to activity. If Johnson is back in practice Friday, it is a good sign that the Lions plan to have him on the field Sunday against the struggling St. Louis Rams' pass defense.
Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts: Despite suffering a strained groin in Week 7, Wayne hopes to be able to play this week against the San Francisco 49ers. He did not practice Wednesday, but that was expected. If he does practice this week, it may be on a limited basis so as not to risk exacerbating the strain, in the hopes that he can run full speed when Sunday comes. There is a good chance that his availability will not be determined until Saturday.
As far as Gonzalez goes, he has yet to return to team practice and is not expected to play this weekend. It is worth watching to see if Gonzalez can get some light practice in before the week is through and if he responds well, it may signal that a return is possible in Week 9. It is too early to count on that by any means, so fantasy owners should continue to plan accordingly.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: Johnson is not lacking confidence in his ability to return this week, telling the Houston Chronicle, "I feel like I'll be out there unless they cut my leg off." Johnson was held out of practice Wednesday but was able to do some running, telling reporters that his breathing felt normal. Johnson then returned to practice Thursday, and coach Gary Kubiak told the Texans' official Web site that he took "probably pretty close to almost all the reps he normally takes and didn't seem to have any problems." Johnson will have some follow-up tests to ensure that his bruised lung is healing and potentially he may have to wear some extra padding if he does suit up Sunday. Johnson summed up the primary concern when he told the Chronicle, "I think they're scared of me taking another hit in that spot." The fact Johnson is not having pain and is already practicing at a high level is certainly encouraging and if all continues well, it looks as if he could be available Sunday.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles: After an outstanding first-half performance Monday night, Jackson was limited in the second half with a foot sprain. He did not practice Wednesday but did return to some level of practice Thursday. The fact Jackson was able to continue to play Monday night after the injury, even on a limited basis, was a good sign. Returning to practice Thursday is an even better one. Fantasy owners should expect that he will be in the lineup to face the New York Giants this weekend.
Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith and David Clowney, New York Jets: Wow. Three of four primary receivers for the Jets are on the practice injury report this week. So who will be out there Sunday when the Jets host the Miami Dolphins? For starters, Cotchery's strained hamstring that caused him to miss Weeks 6 and 7 looks as if it will not keep him out in Week 8. Cotchery returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis and looked "sharp" in the portion of practice open to the media, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. We know from past experience that return to full speed is a gradual progression following a significant muscle strain, but there are good early signs that Cotchery will be available this weekend.
Teammate Brad Smith, who has been nursing a strained quad, was also back in practice on a limited basis this week. The team has not given many hints as to Smith's status, but we should have a better idea after Friday's practice. Meanwhile Clowney, who has had the opportunity to start opposite Braylon Edwards while Cotchery and Smith have been hurt, came out of Week 7 with his own ankle injury. Clowney did not practice Wednesday but did return Thursday, making it appear as if he will be available Sunday.
Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: Berrian strained his left hamstring in Week 7 and did not practice Wednesday. Berrian missed some preseason time with a right hamstring injury and it seemed to hamper his development as a target for Brett Favre. Sidney Rice was the beneficiary and has been clearly the more productive deep receiver for the Vikings. Even if Berrian proves well enough to play this weekend, it's hard to imagine those roles changing much.
Harvin has been challenged by a shoulder injury but it hasn't seemed to affect his ability to have an impact on the field. The good news for the Vikings is that Harvin is off the injury report this week meaning there is no doubt he will be on the field when the Vikings visit the Green Bay Packers.
Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals: Boldin was limping by the second half of last week's game as his right ankle sprain clearly became problematic. Boldin was limited in practice Wednesday but if he played last week there's no reason to think he'll be out this week, unless his ankle takes a turn for the worse.
Be sure to check back on Saturday for post-Friday NFL injury report updates on all your fantasy players heading into the weekend.
See you at the injury chats (Tuesday 11:00 a.m.-noon, Friday 11 a.m.-noon and Sunday pre-game (10:00-10:30 a.m.). And check out Fantasy Football Now on Sundays at ESPN.com from 11:30 a.m. ET to kickoff for last minute inactives, rankings and more!