This week's Thursday night matchup has the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Carolina Panthers in the most anticipated matchup of the season (hint: sarcasm intended). There's not even a lot to get excited about from a fantasy perspective. Thankfully, most of the relevant fantasy players are not on the injury report this week, with the exception of one or two notables.
For the Panthers, running back Mike Goodson may have helped you a few weeks back but he has not been a fantasy factor recently. Nonetheless, for those who might have raised their eyebrows when they saw his name on the injury report, Goodson did not practice Tuesday because of illness, not injury. He returned to full practice Wednesday and listed at probable, is expected to play. Still, Jonathan Stewart remains the primary running back for the Panthers as he has been since DeAngelo Williams was placed on injured reserve.
On the Steelers' roster, defensive leader Troy Polamalu has already been ruled out for Thursday night. This does not come as a huge surprise as there were hints when Polamalu missed Week 15 that he could miss additional time. The All-Pro safety is listed on the report with an ankle injury, but the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports Polamalu is dealing with a strained right Achilles, an injury he originally sustained in mid-November. Polamalu continued to play with the injury, but it worsened after the Week 14 game against the Cincinnati Bengals when quarterback Carson Palmer fell on the back of his leg. The Tribune-Review cited sources saying Polamalu could miss the remainder of the regular season. Officially, he has been ruled out for only this week but fantasy owners should keep an eye on his practice activity early next week for further clues.
Meanwhile Steelers tight end Heath Miller, who has missed the past two weeks following a concussion, is off the injury report and is expected to play, barring any late setback.
Here's who else you might be concerned about heading into Week 16:
• Alarms are sounding in Jacksonville after Maurice Jones-Drew sat out Wednesday and Thursday's practices because of his sore knee. The Florida Times-Union asked coach Jaguars head coach Jack del Rio if there was any chance Jones-Drew might not play Sunday and his answer was not definitive. "I hope not," del Rio said. "We're just, the way I look at it, we're always optimistic. ... We get the information to go through the week, get the feedback from the player, from the trainer, from the doctors and all that, then make a determination." Even Jones-Drew acknowledged he did not "look too good" in last Sunday's contest. It's worth remembering that there was some question about a knee issue for Jones-Drew as far back as the preseason. Jones-Drew missed some preseason practice and game time and has quieted concerns, especially recently, with his strong output. With a significant drop in performance in Week 15, however, coupled with the news that his knee is bothering him, there is reason for fantasy owners to keep an eye on Jones-Drew's Friday activity and reason to pick up Rashad Jennings, just in case. Meanwhile, teammate Mike Sims-Walker also missed practice Wednesday and Thursday to rest his ailing ankle. According to the Jaguars' official Twitter account, the status of both players will be announced Friday.
• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was a surprise scratch Monday night and has not shown much improvement since. Peterson had something to say about his status Tuesday on Twitter writing, "I'm rehabbing. Fully expect to go on Sunday." It's worth noting that Peterson was optimistic in advance of Monday night's game as well, and fantasy owners saw how that turned out. Peterson did not practice Wednesday, and according to Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier described his situation this way: "Very, very sore, lots of pain and makes it difficult to turn, twist and do the things Adrian Peterson does." Not the most encouraging words to start the week. Insurance is the best strategy here and if Toby Gerhart is available, he won't be for long. Although Peterson returned to limited practice, Pelissero noted that he seemed to be favoring his injured thigh. Both Frazier and Peterson indicate he is much improved over last week but also acknowledge he has a ways to go. This may come down to another game-time decision.
• Houston Texans running back Arian Foster gave fantasy owners a scare when he left last week's contest early with what he described as a muscle spasm in his "glute." Foster was a full participant in Wednesday's practice, though, and appears on track to start Sunday. Head coach Gary Kubiak, while reassuring in his assessment of Foster's status, sounded the alarm bells when he referred to wide receiver Andre Johnson as a game-time decision. According to the Texans' official website, Kubiak followed up by saying, "We'll do our normal deal this week and see where he is at." Johnson has had little to no practice most weeks since injuring his ankle, which typically has allowed him to play Sunday. So far he has missed Wednesday and Thursday. We'll see if Johnson tests the ankle at all Friday.
• Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be back running the offense this week, assuming all goes well between now and Sunday. Rodgers missed Week 15 after suffering his second concussion of the season but was back in full practice Wednesday. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Rodgers "threw the ball with authority" in the portion of practice open to the media. Rodgers will be wearing a different helmet going forward, but it should be noted that no helmet is concussion-proof. In fact, some helmets have demonstrated better resistance to impact (and controlled studies on helmets have only studied linear or straight-line impact, not rotational, which is often how players are concussed) but the brain is injured when it moves within the skull, something no helmet can control. Still, Rodgers has passed all necessary tests to resume physical activity and barring any return of symptoms, is expected to start against the New York Giants this weekend.
• The New York Jets announced Wednesday that quarterback Mark Sanchez suffered a "slight cartilage tear" in his throwing shoulder, something that was revealed on MRI. The New York Daily News reported that Sanchez injured his arm landing awkwardly in the first quarter of last Sunday's game, yet he was able to finish. Soreness in his shoulder led to this week's MRI, but no one seemed particularly concerned about Sanchez's potential availability for Sunday's game. Until Thursday that is, when coach Rex Ryan suggested Sanchez would be a game-time decision. USA Today reported that Sanchez was limited again in Thursday's practice. His throws lacked velocity and he could not have played if the game were today. The issue is not so much whether the injury will worsen, but rather effectiveness. If Sanchez cannot start it will be Mark Brunell at the helm.
• Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes is also less than 100 percent healthy with a turf toe issue that kept him out of practice Wednesday. Holmes returned to limited practice Thursday, suggesting the injury is not of the most serious variety, but it still remains to be seen whether he can be fully effective pushing off and running routes.
• Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis was not in practice Wednesday, getting a day of rest, according to the Browns. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported Hillis was seen limping in the locker room Wednesday, suggesting the body part noted on the report (knee) might be more injured than tired. Hillis seemed to dismiss the concern, telling the Plain-Dealer, "I feel great. ... It is a long season. It's tough on your body, but I think my body's holding up well." He returned to some form of practice Thursday, easing many a fantasy owner's concern. While he's not necessarily out of the woods, this is definitely an encouraging sign. Hillis will need his strength to face the Baltimore Ravens, who no doubt would like to erase the memory of his stellar performance against them earlier this season.
• Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton knows he will be on the sideline this weekend as Tim Tebow continues to start. But what about running back Knowshon Moreno, who left last week's game early with a rib injury and was not on the practice field Wednesday. Bruised ribs are painful and even breathing hard when running can be excruciating. Moreno did return to limited practice Thursday. If he is able to do the same or more Friday, it would hint at him being available for Sunday.
• Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber was a full practice participant Wednesday, lending more support to the idea that he could be back on the playing field Sunday. Barber has been out since injuring his calf on Thanksgiving Day. Teammate Felix Jones has a shin contusion, which also kept him out of practice Wednesday. There seems to be less concern about Jones' availability; the challenge for fantasy owners will be trying to predict how the touches are distributed if all three backs (Barber, Jones and Tashard Choice) are active. Meanwhile, teammate wide receiver Roy E. Williams was in limited practice Wednesday, a week after suffering a groin injury which kept him out of the Week 15 game. Fantasy owners should wait to see how Williams fares as the week progresses.
• Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap has been sidelined with a hamstring injury the past two weeks but returned to limited practice Wednesday. He is by no means a lock to play, but this is a good first step.
• New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham was questionable last week because of a hip flexor strain but delivered a solid performance (despite his team's stunning loss). Manningham appeared on this week's injury report because of his heel. He went from limited work Wednesday to full practice Thursday, however, hinting that he will be fine come Sunday.
• The San Diego Chargers are trying to dry out from all the recent rainfall and trying to determine who will be available to play the Cincinnati Bengals. Running back Ryan Mathews missed Wednesday's practice due to illness but was back on Thursday. Tight end Antonio Gates has not practiced and is not expected to appear again in the regular season. Fantasy owners who have not yet made the move to replace him on the roster can do so with confidence now. And the biggest question heading into this week is the status of wide receiver Malcom Floyd, who has been beset by another hamstring injury that kept him out of last week's game. The North County Times reports that Floyd sustained an injury to the opposite hamstring in practice Dec. 14. Floyd summed it up by saying, "It isn't as bad as the other one, but it is a disappointment that I'm dealing with another injury just after getting healthy again." Floyd has yet to practice this week and his status is certainly murky heading into Sunday's contest.
• After sitting out last week's contest and undergoing a platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injection, New Orleans Saints running back Chris Ivory thinks he is about 90-95 percent recovered, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Ivory told the Times-Picayune he could still not run at top speed Thursday but hopes to be able to play Monday night. Given the fickle nature of recovering hamstring injuries and the late game, this may be a fantasy situation to avoid.
• And finally, the Indianapolis Colts continue to watch players end their seasons prematurely. Wide receiver Austin Collie has been placed on injured reserve following his Week 15 concussion. Despite losing a receiver, they may be gaining a running back. Joseph Addai was a full participant in Wednesday practice and according to Associated Press reports, if the game were Thursday he could play. Let's make sure he's not getting ahead of himself and that he feels as good or better at the end of a full week of practice. It sounds as if Addai could return, but how much work he would see versus recent starter Donald Brown is unknown.
Have a Merry Christmas and we'll have the latest injury updates affecting Week 16 in the Saturday morning blog!