As we wrap up the football season, many owners are dreading over injuries and questionable labels going into Sunday’s and Monday’s games. Fear not, I’m here to help you keep track of a few key injuries and some sneaky plays that could be the difference this week. It’s nice to write on offense once in a while, as it is a change of scene from a writer’s perspective. With so many key injuries hitting fantasy teams this season, owners in the Championship Round are keeping an eye to the wire and an ear to ESPN or another site that covers all the NFL injuries, news, and whatnot. There are numerous big injuries to RBs and WRs worth eyeing real closely as we wind down the fantasy season. The good news is most of these players should be able to go. Injuries are the bitch though, especially in the playoffs. I’ve found that out the hard way in almost all my years of fantasy, and currently have 2 of the names on this list as well (Hopkins and Edelman).
Peyton Manning – Yeah, if Manning can come back from fused neck surgery and dominate, there should be no fear that a thigh injury will keep Manning out Monday Night against the Bengals, as the Broncos are jockeying for home field throughout the playoffs. After all, do you really think Manning would ever sit out a game with playoff implications for something as minor as a sore thigh? Didn’t think so.
Drew Stanton – The Cardinals pass game has been a train wreck since Palmer went down for the remainder of the season in the Week 10 tilt against the Rams, with a torn ACL. Stanton had been mediocre at best, posting a 5 TD:5 INT ratio since taking over for Palmer, before going down with a knee injury last week versus the Rams. Now the Cardinals turn to Ryan Lindley, a veteran with 181 pass attempts, 0 TDs, and 9 picks. No thanks. Steer clear of the Cardinals pass game until further notice. Hopefully Cardinals fans will see Logan Thomas tomorrow.
Replacements – For those who are in a pinch at QB and need a solid play tomorrow look at Alex Smith (@ PITT), Andy Dalton (vs. DEN), or Kyle Orton (@OAK). Smith plays a soft Steelers secondary that can be exposed, ranking 28th against opposing signal callers. Dalton squares off against Peyton Manning in what figures to be a shootout. He is the riskiest of the 3 options, however, as he has been incredibly hit or miss lately, including a lackluster 117 pass yard, 1 INT line last week against division rival Cleveland (credit to them for having a stout, aggressive defense). Orton has an especially favorable matchup, drawing the Raiders defense that got pasted last week by Alex Smith for 297 yards and 2 scores. (Photo courtesy of eatdrnkslpsprtz.com)
DeMarco Murray – The biggest running back questionable label going into the final Sunday of the fantasy season is the status of Murray’s hand. He had surgery on his broken right hand this past week, and looks iffy to play against the Colts. Reports from Dallas are that he will play, but in a limited capacity. Even if he does, look for Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar also to see touches against a Colts defense allowing 4.3 yards/carry.
Shane Vereen – Not much of a runner in New England, but he is vital to the New England pass game and PPR owners, as he has accumulated 421 receiving yards on 48 receptions and 3 TDs. The last time he faced the Jets, he only went for 2 receiving scores on 5 receptions for 71 yards. He is currently questionable with an ankle injury, but signs appear as if he may try to go tomorrow. Jonas Gray is the best back to own, but I wouldn’t start any pure runner against the stingy Jets run defense. Vereen is worth a look if he starts, however, given his PPR appeal.
Replacements – As discussed above, and earlier in the week by Bryan Robinson, Joseph Randle is a strong play if Murray is out, as he is averaging over 7 yards/carry and goes into a great matchup against the Colts defense, which allows 4.3/carry. Andre Williams (vs. StL) will start in place of Rashad Jennings (ankle) again this week, but should only be looked at in leagues that start 3 RBs, or 2 RBs and a flex as the Rams defensive line is big, nasty, and extremely hard to run on. The Rams defense has limited both Charles and Lynch to under 70 yards this season, so, unless you really need an RB, do you trust Williams to produce more than 50 yards? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Doug Martin is starting to turn a new leaf after last week’s 96-yard performance against the Panthers. He’s not RB2 material this week, but he does have some flex appeal against an improving Packers defense that has shut down the run since Week 10. As lead back on a struggling Bucs team, look for him to get around 15 carries this week and vulture a garbage time score. Last, but not least, we have Isaiah Crowell, who has seemingly supplanted Terrance West as the Browns lead back. He may not always produce, as he was held to 17 yards on 7 carries last week against the Bengals (AKA Johnny’s Debut), but he will also have his moments. The Panthers just allowed 96 yards to Martin last week, so it’s not inconceivable that Crowell could get over 100 yards and a score. (Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com)
Julio Jones – Once more, we are waiting to see whether or not Julio Jones (hip) will go against the Saints, in what could be a winner-take-all game for the NFC South. Jones didn’t play last week, and the Falcons looked lost on offense (I was at the game) versus the Steelers. Matt Ryan figured out how to utilize the explosive Jones against the Packers, and then Jones goes down (yet again). For Falcons and fantasy owners’ hopes, let’s hope he goes against the division rival Saints with playoff hopes on the line.
DeAndre Hopkins – Nuk (ankle) hasn’t practiced all week heading into the Texans tilt against the soft Ravens secondary, as the Texans keep the QB-Roulette going as Fitzpatrick has been lost for the season. His replacement? Case Keenum, who barely had chemistry with Nuk last season. Fantasy owners who have been reliant upon Nuk this season will have to sweat it out until kickoff tomorrow, when his availability will be clear. It looks more doubtful than not, so owners may be hurting to find a replacement. (Photo courtesy of independentmail.com)
Brandon LaFell – If it walks like a duck, smells like a duck, and acts like a duck, it must be a duck; or in this case the porous Jets pass defense that has allowed the third most TDs to opposing receivers this season. With Edelman (thigh/concussion) seemingly out for tomorrow, LaFell appears to be good to go, and is a must start, barring no setbacks from his shoulder injury.
T.Y. Hilton – Hilton (hamstring) is going to be one of the toughest calls of all for fantasy owners to decide on given the [4:25] kickoff. He hasn’t practiced all week, making his chances of playing more doubtful, but coach Pagano wants to wait until game time to decide whether or not Hilton plays. If he plays, and fantasy owners wait out the dreaded decision, it could be worth it against a tough Dallas secondary, as Luck is an elite QB and Hilton is his favorite target. If he doesn’t play, and owners wait it out, they’ll likely have squandered their title hopes. Keep tabs on this one, but have a Plan B ready right before 1 PM.
Andre Johnson has had a sub par season, but if Nuk does sit out, Johnson is a must start against the Ravens in his stead, even with Keenum at the helm. Remember, this is Championship week, so throw all the stats you want out the window and go for the gold. Perhaps one of the sneakiest plays this week could come from Vikings wideout Charles Johnson, who has emerged as a top target for rookie signal caller, Teddy Bridgewater since Week 11. With the sinking Dolphins secondary, the explosive and emerging Johnson is worth a flier as a fill-in for an injury or bad matchups play. What injury replacement list would be complete without 2 division rival wideouts in Kenny Stills and Devin Hester? Hester is coming off a 5/85/1 line last week against the Steelers and would be a fantastic start if Jones sits versus the Saints secondary that, like the Falcons secondary, is Swiss cheese, as Hester appears to be about level with Roddy White in terms of Matt Ryan’s progressions (had 85 yards versus White’s 58, albeit 2 less receptions). Unfortunately for Falcons fans, the Falcons secondary has been the softest in the league, setting up great for the speedster Stills to breakout. Stills is quickly emerging as Brees’ top target after Brandin Cooks went down in Week 11 versus the Bengals. (Photo courtesy of nflspinzone.com)
Fortunately, for how bad the injuries to RBs and WRs have been this season, tight end has been left relatively unscathed, with the only notable injury label being attached to the Vikings Kyle Rudolph (doubtful, ankle/knee), who had only 2 TDs and one game over 60 yards (69 last week versus the Lions). If you need a replacement TE for him, look at Scott Chandler, who has a phenomenal matchup versus the Raiders secondary. Other notable TEs to eye: Jace Amaro (NYJ, vs N.E) and Levine Toilolo (ATL, @N.O).
I hope all you fantasy owners and football junkies enjoyed reading the football articles here on Major League Fantasy Sports. Sure, we were wrong some of the time, but hopefully we steered you on the track to domination in your fantasy football leagues and you gained some insight from our experiences in playing fantasy sports. As always, everyone here is here to have a good, competitive time, trash talk, and then whoop you real good in these leagues. Until next football season, stay tuned here for all your baseball and (hopefully) basketball needs, as basketball season gets into full swing and MLB rosters are ever-changing as teams are gearing towards Spring Training.
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