Uh-oh, it's fantasy crunch time. Playoff scenarios are starting to shape up, and victories in the next couple weeks are critical if you're on the bubble. Every player in your lineup has a crucial contribution to make to help you jockey for position in those divisional playoffs. You certainly don't want to accidentally leave in somebody who is going to be a gameday scratch, but there are a lot of question marks on the Friday NFL injury report.
So who will play this weekend? Here's what we know as we head into the Week 11 contests.
Kyle Orton, QB, Bears: What a difference a week makes. Orton has all of a sudden risen to a "probable" designation and by all accounts appears ready to take the field as the starter for the Bears on Sunday. Orton's injured right ankle has been faring better, and although it is still wrapped for support and he is not yet 100 percent recovered, he is doing just about everything in practice to convince his teammates and coaches that he is ready to play.
Initially, Orton's injury was reported as a high ankle sprain, and it certainly appeared at first that he would miss more time. But all sprains are not created equal, and Orton is certainly proving that with his speedy recovery. Coach Lovie Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times that Orton has "gotten better each day [and] there's no reason to think that won't continue [through] Sunday." His biggest challenges will be rolling right on the still-tender right ankle, and the unavoidable tangles that he is destined to be a part of during a game. If he can handle those obstacles, there's no reason to think that he cannot be essentially healthy going forward.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins:
Portis is listed as questionable, and his status remains a game-time decision for Sunday night. It's really not looking good for Portis, especially when you consider the nature and severity of the injury (grade 2 MCL sprain), his limitations this week (he could not fully bend or extend his knee at the start of the week), and his inability to practice through Friday. That being said, Portis was earnestly doing everything he could from a treatment perspective, and coach Jim Zorn wanted to see how he would fare in the Saturday walkthrough.
From a fantasy perspective, despite how outstanding Portis has been this year, look elsewhere for your running back this week. Even if he does play, which would come as a surprise, Zorn has already indicated that he would only use Portis in a limited capacity. Ladell Betts (probable) is hopeful to return after missing several weeks himself with a knee sprain, and beyond Betts, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright are available for the Redskins to sprinkle into their running back mix. Assume that Portis will take a while longer to get his knee fully healthy before he can perform up to the high standard he has set this year.
Other noteworthy items
• Tony Romo (probable) is expected to start for the Cowboys. Romo is returning after a four-week absence due to a broken pinkie in his throwing hand. His only discomfort remains with taking snaps under center, but according to coach Wade Phillips, Romo has been throwing well in practice. The Cowboys have to be excited about their deep-ball option returning to the game plan this week. And Romo has to be excited that he will be able to throw to his buddy Jason Witten, who is expected to return to the field this week despite a still-healing broken rib. Witten may not feel quite 100 percent, but he has been able to practice on a limited basis, and with some extra rib padding for insurance, along with his rep as the toughest guy on the field, he provides a boost for his team.
• Wide receiver Matt Jones has a potential suspension looming over him, but that won't be what keeps him off the field this week. If Jones can't suit up for the Jaguars on Sunday, it will be because of a thigh injury that has kept him out of practice most of this week. If Jones is on your team, it's probably best to secure a backup given that the Jags have a late game, and even if Jones plays, he is not expected to be at full strength.
• "Fast" Willie Parker is off the injury report and will be on the field for the Steelers on Sunday. Sure, he may be in a harness to protect his shoulder, but that should not interfere with his function as a running back. He is bound to experience some soreness if he takes hits to the shoulder, from a defender or the ground, but more important for Parker is that his knee appears healthy and he's running well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is also off the injury report, so expect him at least to start for the Steelers. If he experiences another late game decline however, don't expect Tomlin to hesitate to pull the switch and insert Byron Leftwich.
• Ravens receiver Derrick Mason injured his shoulder during last Sunday's game. On Monday we talked about how soreness and swelling is often worse in the first few days post-injury and how Mason's practice activity would go a long way to indicate what his chances of playing this week really are. Well, Mason did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and did only a limited amount Friday. He is wearing a harness to protect his left shoulder but coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal regarding Mason's availability, telling the Carroll County Times, "We'll see how he is on Sunday." Hmmm. A less than fully healthy Mason who is a game-time decision versus a tough opponent? You may want to consider another fantasy option.
• Raiders' quarterback JaMarcus Russell was able to move around much better in practice this week. Russell has been contending with a bone bruise in his knee along with tendinitis. Although listed as questionable, he is expected to play. Meanwhile, running back Darren McFadden had quite an improvement in his status this week. His tag remains "questionable," but if you take into account that McFadden was able to practice all week -- albeit on a limited basis -- and that he is feeling more comfortable and confident in his new shoes, his chances of playing Sunday look much better. According to the Contra Costa Times, McFadden has been running and cutting without pain and has tossed his protective boot. McFadden even went so far as to say that he had "a different pep" in practice. It's unclear how much playing time he'll see, but expect him to be out there.
• The Seahawks will enjoy the return of their signal-caller, Matt Hasselbeck, who has been disabled by weakness in his leg as a result of sciatic nerve compression linked to a bulging disc. Pain was never the issue for Hasselbeck, weakness was, but gradually the nerve function, and thus his muscle strength, has improved. Hasselbeck was able to practice all week, is listed as probable, and is expected to start. Joining him on the field will be Deion Branch, who after making an impressive return from ACL reconstruction was almost immediately sidelined again, this time with a bruised heel on his opposite leg. Branch has finally been able to get back on the practice field. He, too, is listed as probable but is expected to play. Expect both to be a little rusty, but nonetheless welcome additions to an otherwise anemic offense.
• In Tampa, there is much excitement about the return of Carnell Williams to the roster after missing nearly a year with a torn patellar tendon, but don't expect him to see much, if any, playing time just yet. The Bucs will be cautious with Williams after such a severe injury; his first contact drills took place just this week. But Earnest Graham is still ailing with a sprained knee suffered before the bye week, and Warrick Dunn, although able to practice all week, is just returning from a pinched nerve in his upper back. Graham is listed as questionable and may play, but in a limited capacity. Dun is listed as questionable but based on his ability to practice, looks to be the more sure bet to go. The idea that Williams can contribute soon has to make coach Jon Gruden happy. For fantasy purposes though, don't count on Williams or Graham this week, but do expect Dunn to get the start and get the bulk of the work.
• Ten players listed as questionable this week? The Colts made liberal use of the designation in Friday's injury report but have strongly hinted that two of the key fantasy players on that list, Anthony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne, are likely to suit up Sunday. Gonzalez had a hamstring strain that kept him limited in practice this week, but it is reportedly minor. Wayne had an ankle ailment that was bothering him, and after recently tweaking his knee, the Colts were no doubt trying to preserve his overall health by limiting his practice reps early on. Both Gonzalez and Wayne went through full practice Friday, so it does appear that they will be available for Sunday's matchup against the Texans.
Out: This is a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are officially listed as additions to the "Out" listing for Week 11.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Jackson's thigh is not healing as fast as anyone would like, including Jackson himself, who stayed behind while his teammates traveled to San Francisco so that he can confer with a specialist. Jackson ran fairly well in practice Wednesday but was then unable to do anything the remainder of the week because of persistent stiffness and soreness in his thigh. Antonio Pittman gets the start again for the Rams.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Schaub will miss another week, at least, with his sprained knee (MCL), and Rosenfels will again start in his place.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: The Cowboys were hoping to get Jones back from a hamstring injury after the bye week along with teammates Romo and Witten. The nature of Jones' particular injury, though (distal hamstring, near the knee), makes it a tough one to heal, and a little extra recovery time is not unexpected.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Despite doing some limited work in practice Wednesday, Bush did not practice later in the week, and coach Sean Payton decided to hold him back. No reason to hurry back from meniscal surgery, especially given that this is the same knee in which Bush suffered a sprained posterior cruciate ligament just last year. His return will likely take place when the Saints host Monday Night Football in Week 12.
Arnaz Battle, WR, and Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: Battle remains out with a foot sprain and is joined this week by Morgan, who has a groin injury. Jason Hill, who showed that he could connect with Shaun Hill, is an interesting receiver option.
Javon Walker, WR, Raiders: Yet another injury ends Walker's season early. This time it's his ankle, and he's already undergone surgery to implant some hardware in his injured leg. What will his future hold? That has yet to be determined, but this latest setback doesn't help.
Good luck in Week 11! Be sure to check out our site Sunday for pregame chats and Fantasy Football Now at noon ET.