Even with Aaron Hernandez ruled out again today — more on that tomorrow — there are a few critical game-time decisions to watch throughout the day. I’ll add updates to these early thoughts here and on Twitter as news breaks this morning.
Julio Jones’ ankle injury worried me on Monday and I’m not surprised that he’s a game-time decision today. You’ll have the benefit of the early afternoon game time to assess reports on his pre-game warmups and see the Atlanta inactive list to make your decision. If Jones is active, there’s a strong chance he’ll be limited during the game and may miss more snaps and see fewer targets than he usually would. However, the bulk of those targets are likely to be high leverage. The ankle injury is less likely to hamper him when running straight line patterns and they’re more likely to use him in the red zone than between the twenties. Fantasy recommendation: Jones cannot be benched if he’s active, but he’s a much higher variance play than usual.
Ryan Mathews is a game-time decision after being limited by a neck injury all week. I didn’t like the tone of Norv Turner’s comments mid-week, when he hinted that a player who doesn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday wouldn’t have a big role on Sunday. Turner was more optimistic on Friday, but it’s not certain that Mathews will see his usual workload if he’s active. Descriptions of Mathews’ injury early in the week seemed most consistent with a muscle strain, but a stinger is also possible. If he’s cleared to play on Sunday, there’s a chance of an in-game aggravation with either injury, but neither should be too limiting. It’s the workload that will drive Mathews’ ultimate production. Fantasy recommendation: Mathews may not have more than a mid-RB2 ceiling if he plays. If you’ve got a reasonable hedge and no other early game option, wait on Mathews. If not, sit Mathews in favor of another top 20-25 option.
The Packers limited Jordy Nelson in practice this week, but his ankle injury looked to be minor two weeks ago and he showed no signs of being limited by his hamstring injury before the ankle injury. Fantasy recommendation: Start Nelson with confidence today.
It looks like Darren Sproles missed last week’s game due to pain and swelling in his hand rather than the inability of the medical staff to get him into a small enough cast to allow him to both be effective and protective his surgical site. He’s much closer to playing this week but still dealing with swelling in his hand. If he plays, expect to see him in certain packages only and he’ll likely sit if the Saints get a big lead in Oakland. Fantasy recommendation: Consider him a flex with upside in PPR leagues and err on the side of not starting him in other league setups.
Pierre Garcon will reportedly try to play this week. Garcon and Mike Shanahan both continue to say that the wide receiver is still limited by pain, which suggests that the torn tendon in Garcon’s foot has yet to fully heal. Garcon wasn’t effective playing through pain earlier this year and there’s a significant risk of aggravating the injury if it’s yet to heal. I doubt we see Garcon in every personnel package and it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to separate easily if less than 100%. I also think we could see Garcon shut it down for the season at any time. Fantasy recommendation: Avoid Garcon until he shows he can play effectively and convert a significant percentage of his targets.
While you can never be 100% certain of what’s happening in the New England training room, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker look likely to play this week. Lloyd has followed his usual recent practice script and can be expected to play full time without limitations. Welker is more iffy with his ankle sprain, but there’s been nothing to suggest he’s on the doubtful side of questionable. There’s some small risk with Welker given the late afternoon game time, but he should also be safe to use. Fantasy recommendation: Consider Lloyd (WR4++) and Welker (WR3+) healthy during your lineup deliberations.
Owen Daniels is listed questionable, but looks probable to play. His injury was reportedly toward the back of his hip and not a true hip pointer last week. Though an injury in that location is still painful when hyper-extending your back to block or sinking your hips to get out of a break in a pass route, it’s not likely to linger as long as a hip pointer might. Expect Daniels to play with a little extra padding this week, but I doubt he’ll be severely limited unless he takes another hit to the same area. Fantasy recommendation: Daniels is safe to start this week.
There’s not much decision to be made on the three quarterbacks who were concussed last week. Michael Vick won’t play this week. Jay Cutler and Alex Smith have still not been cleared and both play on Monday night. Neither backup is a great bet for success against the strong Chicago and San Francisco defenses. Fantasy recommendation: Don’t wait to see if Cutler is active. None of the other potential MNF hedges are worth the risk.
Rashard Mendenhall will reportedly start tonight. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the Steelers held him out for an extended period to ensure that any residual Achilles inflammation resolved rather than risk another cascade injury or re-injury. His three full practices this week are also reassuring. Still, I expect to see the Steelers rotate Mendenhall out frequently and keep him under 15 touches. Fantasy recommendation: Mendenhall is a flex play only, with more upside in non-PPR leagues.
Donald Brown looks likely to play after limited practice reps this week. He’s very likely to rotate heavily with Vick Ballard again and is a risky start against the sometimes strong New England front seven. Fantasy recommendation: Brown is a risky flex play at best.
Categories: Sunday Expectations