Stevie Johnson and EJ Manuel have both been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. Johnson is taking time off because of his mother’s death. Manuel’s knee has limited his mobility, and both players are likely to return for the season finale next week. Thad Lewis will return to prove himself again. The promising young quarterback has a 1-2 record as a starter, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and two picks. Robert Woods will serve as Buffalo’s top target this week.
Jonathan Stewart will miss another game with his torn MCL. There must be something in the Carolina water, because the team now expects Stewart’s return as early as Week 17. Apparently that is humanly possible, just three weeks removed from a seemingly catastrophic injury. Still, it remains light years beyond this writer’s comprehension, so let’s stay focused on what we do know. Since 2008, DeAngelo Williams has played 15 games without Stewart in the lineup. In those games, Williams has averaged 17 touches for 95.2 total yards and 0.4 touchdowns. With Stewart on the field, the eight-year veteran gets 19.7 touches for 103.1 total yards and 0.7 scores per game. This week will give Williams another opportunity to lead the backfield without his counterpart.
Marc Trestman said Thursday that he may consider benching some starters for Sunday Night Football. That obviously brings large fantasy implications, especially when taking into account the late kickoff. At the time of publication, the latest line has Green Bay and Detroit each favored over their respective opponents. The Lions will be at home against the Giants, as Green Bay will host the Steelers. Stay tuned, but it seems logical to expect each of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte to play 60 minutes in Philadelphia. Cutler made his return last week, after missing four consecutive games. He completed 71 percent of his passes for 265 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Marshall caught six passes for 95 yards and a score and Jeffery had one touchdown while making five receptions for 72 yards. In the nine games that Cutler has started this year, Forte has averaged 21.9 touches for 108.3 total yards and 0.7 scores. Without Cutler, the Pro Bowl back has produced a mean of 25.4 touches for 149.4 total yards and 0.6 touchdowns. Even with Cutler, Forte had a good game last week, rushing 24 times for 127 yards. Start all Bears as you would, but be mindful of Trestman’s decision.
Jordan Cameron (concussion) will not play Sunday against the Jets. Hard to imagine a bigger role for Josh Gordon, but that’s pretty much all the Browns have left. They’re certainly not going to win games on the legs of Chris Ogbonnaya or the arm of Jason Campbell. Expect a heavy dose of Gordon, who should prove he’s elite enough to outplay double-coverage. The second-year receiver already has 74 catches for 1,467 yards, after playing in just 12 games so far. Next year will be the real test for this young stud, after defenses have had eight more months to study his 2013 tendencies.
Denver will be playing in Houston and Oakland for their final two games, against the 25th and 29th ranked defenses, respectively. Wes Welker is still recovering from his second concussion of the year, which he suffered in Week 14. Chris Mortensen reported that Welker is not expected to return until the postseason, as the Broncos attempt to preserve the greatest slot player in NFL history. Julius Thomas will play his third straight game after missing two with knee problems. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas has run 120 routes in the slot this year, good for third on the team behind only Welker (400) and Eric Decker (158). Expect Decker and Thomas to play major roles in Denver’s divisional showdown against the Texans.
Aaron Rodgers was ruled out for the seventh consecutive game as the team remains focused on rehabbing his broken collarbone. Matt Flynn will make his fourth start for Green Bay this year. With the Packers in 2013, Flynn has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for six scores and three interceptions. He also averages 228.5 yards in games that he has thrown 20 or more passes. Downgrade Jordy Nelson and James Jones while Rodgers remains sidelined. A lot of speculation surrounds the value of Eddie Lacy as it relates to his starting quarterback. The rookie back has played six games in which Rodgers threw at least 20 passes. In those games, he has averaged 20.7 touches for 87.3 total yards and 0.5 touchdowns. When Flynn has thrown 20 or more times, Lacy earns a mean of 22.8 touches for 114.5 total yards and 0.8 touchdowns. In some ways, that’s counterintuitive, but in others, it makes complete sense. Keep the former Alabama back in your lineup, no matter.
Ben Tate is in the final year of his rookie contract. As early as September, Cleveland spoke up to express interest in the impending free agent. Houston placed Tate on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his season. That means the former Auburn Tiger has likely played his final snap as a Texan. A lot of writers suggested Dennis Johnson as a speculative pickup as soon as Arian Foster was shut down. This marks yet another victory for the forward-thinking owners, who may have already had him on their benches since week eight. Johnson will start the final two games for the 32nd best team in the NFL. Houston is poised for the number one overall pick in May’s draft. It will be hard to compete with Houston in the race for the top pick, especially without Garrett Graham (hamstring) or Case Keenum (thumb). Graham will be a game-time decision Sunday, and Keenum has already been ruled out with a sprained thumb suffered last week. Matt Schaub will return to Reliant Stadium’s chorus of boos when he makes his first start since week six. Interim head coach Wade Phillips said, “I know our real fans are going to be cheering for our team and also for him because he’s had a rough year like all of us.”
T.Y. Hilton missed practice Thursday and was limited on Friday. He is struggling with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s big game in Kansas City. Donald Brown practiced fully all week, and is probable to play again this week. He hurt his neck last week, and left the game early. Trent Richardson received more touches than Brown in each of the last two games. It is difficult right now to trust either half of this committee. Move along; nothing to see here.
Jaguars beat writer Hays Carlyon expects Maurice Jones-Drew to sit again Sunday, in favor of the healthy Jordan Todman. Jones-Drew missed two practices this week, and was limited Friday. Last week in relief, Todman touched the ball 29 times for 153 total yards. What’s more notable is the number of twenty-somethings in the NFL named Jordan (e.g. Reed, Todman, Cameron). Michael Jordan had yet to win his first title when any of these three were born. If you won’t trust Todman against Tennessee’s 23rd ranked rush defense, your opponent may not hesitate to brag about the title he won “on the legs of Jordan Todman.”
When Miami backup rusher Daniel Thomas injured his ankle in Week 12, some thought he was out for the season. He surprised many by coming back after only one absence. And in Week 14, when starter Lamar Miller was sidelined by a concussion, Thomas stepped in to run 16 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Anyone who actually had Thomas on their roster most likely dropped him before then, and subsequently pulled out any remaining hair on their head. Miller retained his job without missing a start, and last week rushed 15 times for 61 yards. Thomas re-aggravated his ankle during Week 15’s win over New England, but is not currently listed on this week’s injury report. Look for the status quo to continue this Sunday, as Miami travels to Buffalo to face their 26th ranked rush defense. Miller can safely be expected to surpass his season average of 13 touches for 56.7 total yards per game. But that’s not saying a whole heck of a lot.
Adrian Peterson missed practice Thursday and was limited in Wednesday’s and Friday’s workouts. He is officially questionable, but said “As far as the foot goes, I’ll be ready to roll.” Cincinnati boasts the fifth-best rushing defense in the NFL, but no one is safe against the best player in football. Unfortunately for Peterson — but fortunately for Greg Jennings — Matt Cassel will get the nod once again for Minnesota. When Cassel has thrown 20 or more passes, Jennings has made 6.4 receptions for 84 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game. In the remaining games this season, the receiver has averaged 3.4 catches for 39.1 yards and no scores. Peterson’s success has been tied to Christian Ponder, however. During Ponder starts this year, the 2012 Most Valuable Player has garnered 26.3 touches for 121.6 total yards and a touchdown per game. With Cassel or Freeman starting, Peterson has averaged just 14.8 touches for 74 total yards and 0.5 scores. There’s still no way you would ever bench this guy; his name is Adrian Peterson. Toby Gerhart will return to his backup duties, as Matt Asiata fades into the night like a distant ship on the horizon. Remember Asiata as a great bar trivia answer in 2017.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are questionable for Sunday’s game in Baltimore after both missed last week’s contest. Rob Gronkowski is out for the season on injured reserve, and the only receiver who is not on the injury report is Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola is probable, and should dominate targets with Edelman and joker back Shane Vereen. What seems more weird, calling a running back a joker or being named Shane? In last week’s loss to Miami, Amendola caught 10 passes for 131 yards as Edelman made 13 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown. Vereen was held to his worst game of the year, registering a scant five touches for 21 total yards. One who recognizes Bill Belichick trends might expect Vereen to resume heavy involvement this week. He has averaged 13.8 touches for 96.7 total yards and 0.3 scores this year.
Darren McFadden hurt his ankle in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and has not played since. In his six year career, the former Arkansas Razorback has never played more than 13 games in a season, and at best, can play in 10 this year. McFadden is probable for Sunday’s game in San Diego. “Yeah, that’s the direction that we’re looking at right now,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. Marcel Reece should also be a factor in the rotation moving forward. Allen added, “Rashad Jennings would be our starting running back. and both those other guys would work in there.
Percy Harvin is not likely to play again until the postseason, and has been ruled out for this week’s game against Arizona. Mark your calendars for the weekly playoff challenge games, coming soon to an Internet near you.
Tavon Austin did not practice all week and is questionable for Week 16 against the Buccaneers. Look elsewhere for someone relevant to fantasy football. For the season, the rookie from West Virginia has averaged 3.8 touches for 43.8 total yards and 0.6 scores per game. Do you remember when owners were excited about Devin Hester? Don’t worry; no one else does.
Jordan Reed was placed on injured reserve this week, ending his season. Through the first ten weeks of the season, the rookie phenom was seventh among all tight ends in targets, and sixth in receptions. His freshman campaign will end with 45 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Keep him on your radar for next year, if Washington still has a team by then. Since Reed’s departure in Week 11, Santana Moss has been the second best receiver on the team, behind only Pierre Garcon in targets (20) and catches (15). For the season, Moss has made 38 receptions for 426 yards and two touchdowns. This Sunday, the Redskins will host Dallas and their 32nd ranked pass defense. In 13 years, Moss has scorched no team more. He has earned more catches (86) for more yards (1,231) against Dallas than any other secondary in his career. Oh, and he’s still available in 92 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, footballguys.com, and profootballfocus.com.