Injuries, injuries, injuries. They are the name of the game at the moment. I'll break down a host of the situations that are the most pivotal for the first week of the fantasy playoffs. I'll also discuss how a recreational drug has potentially cost a player millions of dollars before turning my attention to a discussion about a group of players who may or may not be solid plays in the fantasy playoffs because of concerns about how often they are on the field and touching the pigskin.
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Puff The Magic Dragon
Please forgive me this little digression...
I like to have a good time as much as the next guy (just ask the illustrious Jeff Mans), but come on now. It looks like Fred Davis and Trent Williams are done for the rest of the 2011 season because of a love of marijuana. I'm not the morality cops, so if they players want to puff away on their free time that's there business. However, I'm furious if I'm a Davis owner (which I am). Even more than that though, what were these two goof troops thinking? It appears that both players have failed three separate drug tests. The result of three failed tests are many including these two main issues. (1) If either fails another test, they are automatically suspended for a year. (2) Their value as players are greatly diminished. Will any team be willing to invest millions upon millions of dollars on a guy who is one joint away from a one year suspension? Puffing on that doobie likely cost Davis millions of dollars. Moron.
Oh, and while I'm talking about getting stoned, please, and this it to everyone in the media, PLEASE stop the incessant Brett Favre talk (some have suggested that there might be a fit with the Bears). Favre is retired and he's no longer capable of playing at an elite level. Did any of you see his 11 scores, 19 interceptions and 193 passing yard a game in 2010? Those numbers are Tarvaris Jackson like.
DeSean Jackson is a whining wussy. There I said it. An immensely talented football player, D-Jax has totally given up on his teammates (I don't care what Andy Reid says, I have eyes an I can see exactly what is going on). Still, I fell like I would be remiss if I didn't point out some things that I bet hardly anyone is aware of. (1) With 43 receptions, Jackson is only four catches behind his total from last season. In fact, he's on pace for 57 receptions this season, just behind the 62 and 63 receptions he posted his first two seasons. (2) Jackson is on pace for 931 receiving yards, certainly a somewhat disappointing total, but all he really needs to do is to have two big games the rest of the way to push that number right up to the 1,112 yards he averaged the past two years. (3) The scores are down, he has only two, but don't forget that he only scored twice in 16 games as a rookie and that the past two seasons he averaged just 7.5 receiving scores a year. Add that all together and you have a guy who averaged six receiving scores his first three seasons. He's been a disappointment to everyone, but his numbers really aren't that far off from his “normal” levels – as shocking as that is to think.
Lance Moore had a big Week 12 with five catches and two scores, and though he only caught two passes in Week 13 one of them went for six points. Still, he remains a risky play, even in PPR setups, in the fantasy playoffs. Moore, simply, isn't on the field enough. In each of the last three weeks he's had less than 20 snaps, and you just can't be productive when you're on the field on a third of your teams offensive plays. Remove the scores, something you know you can't count on, and Moore has eight receptions for 105 yards, an average of three catches and 35 yards a game. Moore is a huge risk, it's just as simple as that.
Ben Tate has been the 35th most valuable running back in PPR setups this season, despite the fact that he hardly ever touches the ball. Kudos to Tate for being so productive with such a limited workload. Still, with Arian Foster averaging 31.5 touches a game the past two weeks, Tate continues to see his touch count be mild. In fact, since Week 4 of the season, Tate is averaging nine carries a week. Even with his stupendous 5.5 yard a carry mark, we're still talking about a guy who is looking at 49.5 yards a week on the ground. Since he's only scored two times since Week 1, there just isn't much value with the Texans' backup back. I know some people are using him as a weekly flex option, but I have to question that line of thought.
Pierre Thomas has been a solid flex play in recent weeks, but there are limits that should be recognized. In one of the odder streaks of the year, look at his up/down nature in the rushing yards column this year: 31, 41, 28, 36, 18, 11, 57, 23, 66, 29, 63 and 10. Obviously he's going to run for at least 50 yards in Week 14 against the Titans (I'm of course joking). Thomas is averaging a stout 5.0 yards a carry on the year, but that's likely an unsustainable number in the long run. Moreover, in his last two 60-yard efforts he's averaged 8.3 and 7.9 yards a carry. I know those numbers are not sustainable. Thomas also saw his snap count recede to 14 as Mark Ingram really asserted himself (16 carries on 25 snaps). With the rookie starting to rumble Thomas, who obviously will also lose work to Darren Sproles, has to be looked at as a very dubious flex play because there really is no way to know if/when he will touch the ball, and with his average workload of late, if he doesn't get into the end zone or average seven yards a carry, his value could easily be muted.
Who isn't beat up at this point of the season? Still, with the fantasy playoffs ready to begin, getting as accurate a read on injuries as possible is key (even if teams continually operate as if the injury report is as important as an outline for a finger painting).
Miles Austin (hamstring) is practicing on Wednesday and the team believes he should be able to return to action this weekend against the Giants. Meanwhile, Laurent Robinson (shoulder) isn't going to practice today, but he also is expected to be able to go in Week 14. It's hard to know how the snap count will be divvied up amongst the duo, especially with the health issues that both are dealing with, but for my money the better play will be Austin who should slide back into the WR2 spot alongside Dez Bryant making Robinson possibly the best WR3 option in the game. Robinson, at the moment, is therefore no more than a WR3 option in a standard 12 team league this week.
Josh Freeman (shoulder) is said to be day-to-day. He's not really cut a pass loose since injuring his shoulder only doing some light type thrown. Backup Josh Johnson (shoulder) also has an injury to his wing as he suffered a subluxed shoulder in Week 13 (that's fancy talk for a separated shoulder that was only temporary). Both quarterbacks are beat up at the moment so don't go expecting too much from the Bucs' passing attack in Week 14 against the Jaguars who are currently allowing the 4th fewest passing yards in the game per week (192.6).
Matt Forte (knee) received a platelet rich plasma injection to hopefully speed the recovery from his injury. Still, think about this. What incentive does Forte have to return before he is fully health? The answer is none. “I'm just treating it, just like any other injury. I'm going to wait until I get 100 percent out there, because I don't want to hurt myself." Forte further went on to say this in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I'm not saying I'm holding out, but I'm also not saying I'm going to try to go out there tomorrow and try to run.” I applaud Forte for saying that, but I don't believe it, at all. If your Forte, and you feel like the Bears haven't treated you well by not extending your contract, why would you rush back onto the field? Beyond that, since the Bears didn't extend his contract, what incentive does he have to return early to try and gut it out to help the team? The answer is none. If he goes out and blows out his knee, he costs himself millions, multi millions, of dollars. If the Bears had just done what they should have three months ago and given him his contract, this would be much less of an issue. Because they played hardball with Forte it will likely be the team that pays the price. Marion Barber is the back to own here and he makes for a decent replacement come the playoffs, though he is obviously not a direct replacement for Forte.
Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) is expected to play this weekend against the Cowboys, but keep an eye on the reports. It may not really matter anyway since Ahmad Bradshaw is back.
Andre Johnson (hamstring) will not practice on Wednesday. It's already looking like Johnson will be a game time decision as an MRI showed a mild strain. The good news is that this is not the hamstring that required surgery. The bad news is that he appears highly questionable to play this weekend. Since Week 4 of the season Johnson, you're first round selection if he's been on your roster since Week 1, has four receptions.
Darren McFadden (foot) appears exceedingly unlikely to play in Week 14, and Raiders' beat writer Steve Corkran is already saying that DMC is only 85-90 percent certain to play in Week 15. This has been a disastrous situation for McFadden owners. The team has obviously been lying, or in a best case scenario not truthful, with the extent of his injury. As a result, owners have been left to scramble week after week to find replacement. Be angry with McFadden for not being able to go, but be furious with the Raiders for not being truthful about the injury that DMC suffered.
Adrian Peterson (ankle) says he is at about 70 percent right now. The Vikings stink, they are 2-10, so it doesn't seem likely that AD will be back out there in Week 14. There have been rumors that the team might shut him down but the team, and player, continue to say that such a scenario has not been discussed. Peterson could play this week, his participation at practice on Friday could be key, but it's looking like you had better have a strong fallback option in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Christian Ponder (hip) is sore and he won't practice on Wednesday, but the expectation is that he should be able to play on Sunday (if he can't go, Joe Webb will be under center). Ponder is coming off his most productive fantasy performance of the season with 29 completions, 381 yards and three touchdown passes against the Broncos.
Kevin Smith (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. He also didn't practice last Wednesday, but he did suffer that setback with his ankle in Week 13. At this point, you had better have a different option to roll with (Maurice Morris isn't an awful choice in PPR leagues).
Michael Vick (ribs) will start against the Dolphins in Week 14 unless he has a setback between now and game time. He should return to being a low end QB1 this week, though there are certain concerns. To be clear, Vick has taken a major step back from his performance from last season (as I predicted to anyone who would listen heading into the season). Vick has seen his completions percentage go down, his TD rate go down, his yardage rate go down, his rushing scoring rate go down (nine rushing scores last year, zero this season), and his interception rate skyrocket. He can still do things that hardly anyone who has ever played the game could, but he's not a slam dunk top-3 option like so many people erroneously thought he was coming into this season.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.