Backfield Brittleness

The status of star running backs has fantasy owners who are in the throes of championship matchups panicking. Week 15 saw Joseph Addai, Brandon Jacobs and Frank Gore sitting on the sideline. Marion Barber played but perhaps should have rested. Will any of them return this week? Based on early reports, here's what we've heard on the injury front so far:

Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: The Colts travel to Jacksonville for Thursday night's matchup, and early signs suggest Addai will play. He was held out of Sunday's contest with a sore shoulder, and as noted in Monday's blog, coach Tony Dungy said it would have been doubtful for Addai to have managed to play two games in five days. The rest allowed every sore body part some recovery time, and Addai returned to practice Tuesday. After practice, Dungy said he expected Addai to play and see his usual playing time (meaning roughly a 60-40 split with Dominic Rhodes, perhaps with a little splash of Chad Simpson thrown in). Colts team president Bill Polian later told the NFL Network that Addai was "questionable," raising concern about Addai's true status. On Wednesday before practice, Dungy confirmed Addai's official status as questionable but hinted he would play.

According to Tom James of the Terre Haute Star-Tribune, Addai and teammate safety Bob Sanders, who also is listed as questionable, are excited to play. James quotes Dungy as saying, "My sense is they'll [play], but we'll see what happens in the next 36 hours." In other words, both players ultimately will be game-time decisions. Dungy has been very clear since Addai originally injured himself two weeks ago that if there were any question at all about his readiness, the Colts would err on the side of caution. If Addai is able to practice without a setback before Thursday night, the Colts likely would give him an opportunity to see the field. Because it's an early game, fantasy owners should be cautious and check the inactives list just before kickoff.

In other news out of Colts camp, James also reports that receiver Marvin Harrison is questionable with a hamstring injury. Apparently, Harrison sustained the injury when the Colts faced Detroit and did not practice Tuesday. Harrison underwent an MRI on Wednesday (results are not yet known), and Dungy said he is questionable for Thursday night's game. A hamstring strain and a receiver are never a good combination, especially during a short week. With the Colts emphasizing their cautious approach, it would not come as a surprise if they were to hold Harrison out of Thursday's game. Fantasy owners should plan on using someone else in place of Harrison.

Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: Even Jacobs has announced he'll play this weekend, according to the New York Daily News, which quoted Jacobs while in attendance at a local high school event. Jacobs, who sat out Sunday's game to rest his knees, hopes to practice Wednesday and return to the lineup for Sunday's game. Jacobs hinted that his knees felt good enough to play Sunday but that in the interest of the impending playoffs, the decision was made to rest him. This will turn out to be a wise decision as Jacobs is nursing a PCL injury in his left knee and has a history of an MCL injury on the right. Even if Jacobs plays Sunday, he will share some time with Derrick Ward and perhaps even Ahmad Bradshaw, and the manner in which he is used may depend on how the team fares. Naturally, his participation in practice bears watching throughout the remainder of the week, but fantasy owners should expect Jacobs in the lineup.

Some other players to keep an eye on as the week progresses:

&#8226 49ers feature running back Frank Gore is still dealing with soreness in his ankle. As disappointed as he might have been not to be able to suit up in his hometown of Miami on Sunday, the fact that he was limping all week is enough to confirm that resting was a smart move. The next question is whether he will be ready for a favorable matchup Sunday against the Rams. At this point, he is very questionable, and fantasy owners should prepare a backup plan. But if he makes major progress with the ankle, we will upgrade his status.

&#8226 Cowboys running back Marion Barber may have aggravated his injured pinkie toe. ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that Barber was seen limping from the team's locker room toward the part of the building where MRIs are performed. Werder also reported that team owner Jerry Jones said in the locker room that Barber felt something pop. The team was not clear whether this was a setback or some scar tissue tearing. So far, there has been no official word from the Cowboys as to any test results or updating of Barber's status. Tuesday was the players' day off, so whether Barber can participate in practice won't be known until Wednesday afternoon. Stay tuned for updates, but at this point, nothing in this report spells good news for Barber. If anything, it casts further doubt on his availability for Sunday.

&#8226 Matt Forte left Thursday's game with an injured toe. He returned to the game eventually but played in only a limited capacity. A source close to the team in Chicago confirmed that the affected toe was Forte's right big toe but added that Forte says he's fine. No one in Chicago seems too concerned, even though Forte did not practice Tuesday. Apparently the Bears decided to proactively rest a number of their players Tuesday in advance of a planned day off Wednesday. In the meantime, Forte has tried to get treatment for his toe because, as he said on the team's Web site, "A lot of people think it's just a toe. But a toe's very important when you're a running back because you have to make cuts and things like that." He expects to be at full strength when the team plays Monday night, and the extra few days of rest between contests has to help.

&#8226 In Tampa Bay, coach Jon Gruden is hopeful that Jeff Garcia will be back under center this week after sitting out Sunday with a calf strain. The St. Petersburg Times reports that Gruden wants to make a decision on his starting quarterback by Wednesday, so fantasy owners should get some lead time. Because Garcia was somewhat able to practice by Friday, he should be ready to play this week, barring a setback in practice.

Don't forget that the Colts face the Jaguars on Thursday, so get your lineups in early. We'll have the latest injury updates affecting the Week 16 Sunday and Monday contests and any postmortem on Thursday injuries in the Saturday blog.