If you're playing this week, you have two big challenges: You have to decide who might be healthy enough to play in this final week of the NFL regular season, then you have to gauge whether the coach will actually utilize that player enough to warrant a spot on your fantasy roster. This represents perhaps the biggest strategic second-guessing you are faced with all season. Hopefully we can help by giving you a few hints in the injury department.
Joseph Addai, RB; Dominic Rhodes, RB; Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: Addai has sat out the past two games to rest his sore shoulder. He has benefited from the rest and Tom James of the Terre Haute Star-Tribune reports that coach Tony Dungy says of Addai, "I think he'll be ready this week." The Colts will monitor how he does in practice, but it looks as if Addai will see playing time, but how much? With your fantasy championship at stake, is he worth a start? Probably not. Even if Addai gets on the field to get some reps, it is unlikely that he plays for an extended period of time. Don't get too excited if you think you've got it made with Dominic Rhodes as your handcuff. Rhodes has already been ruled out of this week's game with sore ribs. Dungy has already indicated that the Colts have some younger players they would like to see get some more game experience. For instance, rookie Chad Simpson, who managed to get in the game briefly a couple of weeks ago, may end up with more extended playing time this week. There's a good chance he's still available in your league.
Colts receiver Marvin Harrison has missed some time recently with a hamstring injury. Despite the fact that the strain was in the distal part of the hamstring, nearer the knee, which usually hints at a longer recovery time, Harrison is reportedly feeling much better and could be ready to play this weekend. That being said, with the Colts being cautious, don't expect Harrison to see much playing time, even if he is active.
Brandon Jacobs, RB; Derrick Ward, RB, Giants: Brandon Jacobs looked good last weekend, and proved that his strength helps him compensate for any residual knee instability. Jacobs was limited in practice Wednesday, however, and it would not be a surprise if he is limited to a very short amount of playing time, if any, this weekend. Ward, who has a sore ankle, has been running very well when called upon, and is not far from reaching 1,000 yards on the season himself. He was a full participant in practice and should play plenty on Sunday.
Marion Barber, RB, Cowboys: If you watched either of the past two Cowboys games, you don't need me to tell you that Barber is still having trouble with his recently dislocated toe. Those problems continue into this week as Barber missed practice Tuesday and was limited on Wednesday. His persistent problems prompted coach Wade Phillips to tell the Dallas Morning News: "Maybe we shouldn't have played him at all. Maybe he would be well by now." Well, maybe. But it's clear that the Cowboys likely won't make the same mistake three times. It looks as if Barber will rest this week and Tashard Choice will once again see the bulk of the work.
Some other players to keep an eye on as the week progresses
• Although the 49ers' practice report was not yet in as of the writing of this column, it is still sounding as if running back Frank Gore will be able to see the field this Sunday. Although he is no lock to play the entire game, it would seem that Gore will be allowed to go as long as the ankle permits. We should have a better idea of what to expect once the week of practice is complete.
• Expect Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin (sore shoulder) to be back on the field this weekend as Arizona tries to get in sync before the playoffs. Boldin was held out of practice Wednesday but should see some practice time late in the week.
• In Green Bay, both Donald Driver and Greg Jennings left Monday night's game with injuries. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Driver sustained a knee contusion (bruise) and Jennings suffered a concussion. Driver was able to return to the game following his injury, always a good sign, but was held out of practice Wednesday. We will check back this weekend but he should be able to go by Sunday. Jennings was limited in practice Wednesday, and the fact that he is back out in practice already is a great sign. He should be able to play Sunday.
• Both Calvin Johnson (knee bruise) and Kevin Smith (ankle) were in practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Expect both to be available Sunday as the best hopes for a team trying to avoid a winless season.
• In Philadelphia, Kevin Curtis was kept out of last week's contest with a calf strain. The good news is that Curtis was a full participant in practice Wednesday and it sounds as if the Eagles expect to have him available this weekend, assuming there are no post-practice setbacks. Hank Baskett is still limited by his medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain and it is too early to predict whether he will be available. Even if he is, you should look elsewhere for another fantasy option. And by now you should know not to worry too much when Brian Westbrook doesn't practice early in the week. Westbrook has overcome knee and ankle injuries early in the year to provide a much-needed spark for the Eagles' offense. That should continue this weekend as the Eagles need a win and will count on his contributions.
• In Dallas, it's not just the running backs who are hurting. Quarterback Tony Romo missed Wednesday's practice because of illness but is expected to return to practice late in the week and play this weekend. Tight end Jason Witten, who clearly aggravated his ankle injury in the Cowboys' game Saturday, was held out of Wednesday's practice as well. Make no mistake though, Witten will be in the lineup in this all-important game for the Cowboys. Even if his ankle is bothering him, Witten proved in Week 16 that he could still get open and make plays. Fantasy owners can count on him in Week 17 also.
• Marshawn Lynch was not in practice Wednesday after aggravating his shoulder last weekend. According to the Bills' official Web site, coach Dick Jauron expressed optimism that Lynch would indeed play this weekend, but fantasy owners need to be aware that Fred Jackson may see a larger-than-usual workload.
Guys whom you should NOT expect to see this weekend
Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals: The hamstring strain that kept him out during Week 16 will likely cause him to miss the final game of the season as well.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: His back has been an issue for him all season long and there is zero reason for him to return this week in a meaningless contest for the Seahawks.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Browns: Winslow is still recovering from a high ankle sprain, and there is clearly no reason for the team to risk putting him back on the field this weekend.
Here's wishing everyone a very happy, restful and peaceful holiday. We'll update the latest player injury status on Saturday and be sure to stop by the injury chat on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET!