Just when fantasy owners are coming up on their playoffs, it's the time of the season when NFL teams start thinking about their playoffs. And then they start resting their players to save them for the postseason -- shame on them. Fortunately, there are still some tight playoff races around the league, so we won't see too much of that happening just yet. So who will play this weekend? Here's what we know as we head into the Week 12 contests.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Portis is listed as questionable, and his status remains a game-time decision for Sunday. Wait, isn't this what we were saying a week ago? Actually, it's exactly what we were saying when the Redskins were preparing to face the Cowboys. And, much to our collective surprise, Portis played. He didn't emerge any worse from that contest, or so he says, so why the questions about his status a week later?
Well, even though Portis played in Week 11 despite reporting a Grade 2 medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury, he was not Portis-like. In fact, he sat out the majority of the second half. Portis himself said he lacked burst and explosiveness and had difficulty shedding tackles. Portis said he would focus on those things this week and, according to the Washington Post, said, "No ifs, ands, buts about it, I'll be playing."
But then there's the matter of practicing what you preach. Portis didn't practice all week, doing only limited work Friday. Coach Jim Zorn didn't appear quite ready to hand Portis the reins, saying only that Portis would need to work out before the game Sunday and prove that he was ready to play. In fact, Zorn seemed to retreat a bit from Portis' assurance that he would play, telling the Post that Portis was still not at full speed and that as much as he would love for Portis to play, Zorn would need to see Portis go at game time.
Given that Portis did play last week, it's hard to imagine him a week later at least somewhat healthier and still sitting on the sideline. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he is playing in a late game, so the information about his status will come late in the afternoon. Ladell Betts is listed as probable and is expected to play, despite the fact that he himself practiced on a limited basis this week because of his knee, which was aggravated during Sunday night's matchup. It will likely be a mixture of Betts and Portis on the field, but it remains to be seen how their time will be distributed. When Portis plays, the Redskins' tendency has been to feature him, even when they say (as they did before last week's contest) that they plan to limit his use. If you can afford to wait until game time to set your lineup, that may be the best plan.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Bush is listed as questionable for the Saints' Monday night game and we likely won't have confirmation of his status until just before kickoff. It seems as if the team is hopeful that Bush will be able to play on Monday, which would mark a five week return after surgery to address a torn meniscus.
Bush tore the meniscus in his left knee in Week 7 and did not make the trip to London with his teammates so that he could stay behind for surgery. This knee is the same one in which he suffered a partial tear of his posterior cruciate ligament last year, an injury that forced an early end to his 2007 season. Given his injury history, the initial projected timetable for Bush of two to four weeks seemed a bit ambitious. Most meniscal procedures require closer to four weeks of recovery, and there is the issue of Bush already having had some trauma to that knee. Even a small amount of instability in his knee requires that Bush compensate for that deficit with improved quad and hamstring strength as well as excellent directional control, especially given his style of frequent lateral running and cutting. Therefore, it came as no surprise last week that the Saints opted to hold Bush out a little longer to have him continue to focus on the high-level skills that would prepare him to return to play.
Bush himself said earlier this week that with the extra day going into this game, he felt confident that he had enough time to do "all the things necessary" to help him be 100 percent for Monday. According to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Bush even looked better this week as compared to last, running more fluid routes in practice. But the fact remains that Bush saw only limited action in practice throughout the week. Bush did not practice Friday but this was apparently a planned rest day since the Saints have an extra day before their game. He did some work Saturday, but again was limited.
The questionable tag is appearing more questionable than it did just 24 hours ago. The fact that Bush has not yet seen a full practice is of some concern. Nonetheless, I still think there is a chance that Bush is active, barring some episode of swelling or other such last-minute setbacks. Even if he does suit up, expect the Saints to control his playing time, perhaps choosing not to have him return kicks straight out of the gate, and limiting his overall number of touches. It appears a risky play from a fantasy perspective because there is no way of knowing in advance of Monday night whether Bush will play, and how much time he sees.
Other noteworthy items
• All is not well with Brian Westbrook. He is officially listed as questionable because of his knee and his ankle, and -- you guessed it -- he is a game-time decision. This is not the same scenario of a Westbrook who rests during the week, then shows up Sunday and changes the entire Philly offense. This is an ailing Westbrook: His yards per carry has decreased in recent weeks, and he is dealing with not only a swollen knee (which he has managed for years), but also the lingering effects of an ankle sprain back in Week 3 (which looked as close to a high ankle sprain as it gets). Westbrook told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his ankle feels healthy enough to play each week but then gets "reinjured" during the game. He acknowledges that it limits him by affecting his ability to cut and avoid tackles. For his part, coach Andy Reid limits Westbrook's practice time when the team practices inside on the turf to try to minimize the stress on his joints. Despite the fact that the Eagles face a tough Baltimore run defense, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, Reid says that if Westbrook can go, he will play. In other words, this is not going to be a planned rest day for him. Reid also said, however, that he will call on Correll Buckhalter to do more Sunday. So here's your dilemma, fantasy owners: Westbrook may be active and yet may play very little. The game is early, so the best bet is to wait until game time to see whether Westbrook is even playing. But something tells me that this is the time to rest him, and that even if he sees the field, he will see a lot less of it this week than usual.
• Brandon Jacobs seems to have recovered nicely from the minor injury to his knee that forced him to leave last week's game early. After an MRI early in the week came back negative, Jacobs minimized the injury and said that he was feeling good. By the end of the week he had practiced fully and insisted that he had no pain and was ready to play. But will he play? Jacobs is listed as probable and therefore is almost certain to start. But you have to wonder how long the Giants will leave him in the game when they certainly don't want to risk any major setback and can be secure in their backfield depth in Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. After all, Jacobs suffered an MCL sprain that kept him out for three weeks last year. When he said initially that this injury was similar to last year's (although he said he knew right away it was not as serious), the Giants had to be holding their collective breath until the test results came back negative. Fantasy owners can take a chance here. Jacobs is indeed expected to start. But I don't see him playing much, if at all, in the second half, especially if the Giants are faring well. Then again, he can rack up some nice first-half numbers. Let's put it this way: His knee will not be limiting him heading into Sunday.
• Fellow Giant Plaxico Burress was a midweek addition to the injury report with a hamstring strain. He did not practice Thursday or Friday, is listed as questionable, and really is one of those 50-50 designations to play. The Giants will have him warm up before the game and see how his leg feels running routes. Burress seemed very cautious when discussing his leg injury throughout the week, so even if he is active, it doesn't appear he will be 100 percent.
• Tony Romo (pinkie) and Jason Witten (ribs) are both listed as probable, and you know they're playing. You should also know that both are feeling better, and Witten in particular should have better numbers this week.
• Matt Jones went through a full practice Friday, is listed as probable and is expected to play. Jones sat out last week with a bruised thigh and was limited in the early part of this week. The Jaguars want him back in their offensive lineup, though, because he has been their top receiver so far this year.
• Kellen Winslow is listed as questionable for the Browns this weekend after suffering what the team called a shoulder sprain Monday night. If anyone can tough it out through an injury in this league, it's Winslow, and this week should be no different. The fact that he returned to practice Friday improves his chances of playing.
• Derrick Mason played pretty well for having only one good wing last week. Nonetheless, the challenges of his injured left shoulder became apparent when he could not bring both arms overhead to catch what would have been a touchdown pass. Mason did not practice Wednesday because of soreness in the shoulder and was limited Thursday and Friday. He is listed as questionable, and his status will not come down until just before the game, but given that he managed to tough it out last week, you can probably expect the same Sunday.
• The potential return of Carnell Williams has created much anticipation. Williams is expected to see his first game action this week. Well, he was expected to, based on the hints coach Jon Gruden was tossing out all week, but surprisingly, he was an addition to the Friday injury report because of a hamstring problem. Williams has been out for 14 months recovering from a torn patellar tendon. He has made great strides -- so great, in fact, that the Buccaneers activated him from the physically unable to perform list and made room for him on the active roster. It seemed perfect timing to have him available Sunday with the loss of Earnest Graham to a season-ending ankle injury last week. Williams is listed as questionable, and it may come down to a game-time decision, but you can bet that if anything could compromise his recent tendon repair, the team will play it safe and sit him. Warrick Dunn is expected to remain the starter in Tampa.
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 12.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: The Rams decided to make it easy on fantasy owners, and Jackson himself, by making this announcement early in the week. There's still no telling when Jackson is expected to return from his lingering quadriceps strain. Antonio Pittman gets the start again for the Rams.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Early in the week, Texans coach Gary Kubiak hinted that Schaub could miss up to another month with his slow-healing MCL sprain. For fantasy purposes, it is probably worth dropping him to secure a playoff replacement.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: This week the Cowboys announced that although Jones' hamstring had recovered, during his rehab workouts he sustained a torn ligament at the base of his big toe that will require surgery, officially ending his season. It's a bummer for the rookie who had such a bright start to his year. Something about switching from the field at Arkansas to the pros has an effect on big toes; the Raiders' Darren McFadden and Jones will both have missed playing time as a result of their respective toe injuries.
Marty Booker, WR, Bears: Booker has a knee ailment that will sideline him this week. Brandon Lloyd, who has not been much of a factor since spraining his posterior cruciate ligament early in the season, is listed as probable (now with a calf strain) and should play. With Booker out, Lloyd should see some more targets this week.
Arnaz Battle, WR, and Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers: Not only is Battle still battling his foot injury, but now we also are hearing that Morgan is not expected back anytime soon because his groin injury is fairly severe. In fact, the Sacramento Bee reports that offensive coordinator Mike Martz said of Morgan's injury: "That was a pretty significant injury. I'm not sure we're going to get him back in the near future." Look for Bryant Johnson, who is now healthy (and who was a factor in the 49ers' receiving corps early in the season), to see some extra balls thrown his way.
Good luck in Week 12! Be sure to check out our site Sunday for pregame chats and Fantasy Football Now at noon ET.