With the fantasy playoff season upon us, a barrage of injury-related comings and goings is changing the fantasy landscape. Let’s take a team-by-team look at how these key injuries and recoveries are affecting player value.
Eagles — A lot of fantasy owners are watching the RB situation in Philly with great interest. LeSean McCoy owners who managed to secure rookie sensation Bryce Brown as a handcuff would just as soon see McCoy take the rest of the season off. Brown, who has rushed for 347 yards and four TDs in his last two games, can be a difference-making RB1 for as long as McCoy remains out. But if McCoy is soon cleared to return from a concussion, Brown owners won’t be pleased, dual McCoy-Brown owners won’t be pleased, and even those who own McCoy but not Brown won’t exactly be thrilled by the prospect of a value-killing platoon arrangement. Brown might at least retain RB2 value if McCoy returns, since "Shady" would be destined for kid-gloves treatment. McCoy himself might not even have flex value in that scenario.
Packers — Greg Jennings returned to action last week after missing nearly two months with a groin injury, but Jordy Nelson reaggravated a hamstring injury and figures to miss at least a game or two. Considering that his ailing hammy has twice forced him to leave games early, it would be awfully hard to trust Nelson in your lineup at any point in the weeks to come. Jennings played a limited number of snaps last week but made it through his first game back without issue. We know what Jennings is capable of, and with Nelson out, Jennings is worth consideration as a low-end WR2 or flex play, at minimum. Randall Cobb continues to be a must-start. James Jones’ fantasy outlook would be bleak if Green Bay had a full complement of wide receivers, but with Nelson out, Jones has WR3 or flex value in standard leagues as a low-volume target with TD upside. At running back, James Starks is likely out for the season, and I’ve seen it suggested that Alex Green now is an appealing pickup. Ack! No, he isn’t. Green had the RB job to himself just a few weeks ago and wasn’t a productive fantasy performer then; he won’t be one now. The Packers simply don’t generate enough RB value for you to put Green in your lineup in a do-or-die game. Green Bay running backs rarely score touchdowns, even at the goal line, and they don’t catch many passes. The Packers haven’t squeezed a 100-yard rushing day out of a running back in eons (since Brandon Jackson in Week Five of the 2010 season). Don’t be tempted.
Patriots — High-volume target Rob Gronkowski continues to be out with a broken arm, and now New England’s Welker-on-training-wheels, Julian Edelman, is on injured reserve with a foot injury. Their absence should mean that Tom Brady will be throwing a ton of balls in the direction of Wes Welker and the now-healthy Aaron Hernandez, who both figure to be fantasy jewels down the stretch, especially in PPR leagues. And as disappointing as Brandon Lloyd has been this season, he could be an interesting flex option down the stretch, particularly for any fantasy team facing long odds against a powerful opponent. As lethal as Brady is, if opposing defenses focus on trying to bottle up Welker, Lloyd could jump up with the sort of monster game his fantasy owners have been waiting for all season.
Raiders — The return of Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson from ankle injuries kills Marcel Reece’s value in standard leagues and severely dents it in PPR leagues. But what to make of McFadden? He looked surprisingly mortal in the eight games he played before he went down, producing only two 100-yard rushing games and two TDs. He’s a risky play this week in his first game back, with Oakland facing a strong Denver defense. But if McFadden shows signs of life on Thursday and makes it through unscathed, he’ll be an attractive option in Weeks 15 and 16, when the Raiders face the Chiefs and Panthers, who rank 26th and 25th, respectively, against the run.
Steelers — Antonio Brown returned last week, and Ben Roethlisberger is expected back this week, making all the principles of the Pittsburgh passing game viable again. Note that I said “viable,” not “attractive.” Roethlisberger still has to worry about iffy protection from his offensive line, and his rib injury has stripped away his aura of invincibility. Brown has been a disappointment, with no 100-yard receiving games and only one TD this season. Wallace is a hit-or-miss enigma. Only TE Heath Miller, enjoying the finest pass-catching season of his career, seems like a reasonably safe option.
Lions — Ryan Broyles has gone on I.R. with a knee injury, and temperamental Titus Young has been banished to Siberia (a slight downgrade from Detroit). Calvin Johnson is still going to get 12-20 passes thrown his way every game, of course, but the interesting fantasy gainers here, I think, are the tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. You probably would have to be in a deep league (14 teams or more) that requires you to start more than one flex player before you’d consider starting Scheffler in a playoff game. But Pettigrew is interesting. He stands to get a significant bump in targets, and he was a decent TE option to begin with. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a top-five tight end the rest of the way. WR Mike Thomas might get enough targets to be a desperation flex option in PPR leagues, but if you’ve earned a playoff spot, it’s highly unlikely you’d be in a situation where you’d need to consider starting Thomas.
Jaguars — Injuries to Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele have left the Jaguars with a motley collection of soup-kitchen running backs from which to choose. There are no Bryce Browns here. Expect the Jaguars to throw about 70 percent of the time unless either MJD (foot) or Jennings (concussion) comes back. Parmele is already on I.R. with a groin injury. With a manageable schedule ahead, Cecil Shorts (assuming he’s cleared after sustaining a concussion last week), Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis could be effective plays, and Chad Henne is a reasonable option in two-QB leagues or for the most QB-needy of fantasy teams. If Shorts isn’t able to play this week, Jordan Shipley could frequently be targeted on short passes, making him a desperation PPR option.
Cowboys — DeMarco Murray returned from a foot injury last week and had 23 carries for 83 yards and a TD, so he looks good to go. Consider him a solid RB2 against Cincinnati this week, a flex option against San Francisco in Week 15, and must-start against New Orleans in Week 16. Felix Jones’ fantasy value has been given last rites.
Vikings — To paraphrase the late great Marvin Gaye, “Oh Percy, mercy me.” Harvin’s ankle injury has landed him on I.R., a crushing blow for fantasy owners (like me) who were hoping to get him back for a fantasy playoff run. Kyle Rudolph owners could benefit from Harvin’s absence. With Harvin out, Rudolph merits a lineup spot as the only target Christian Ponder even bothers to look at inside the red zone.
Rams — Danny Amendola was out with a heel injury last week, and his chances of returning in Week 14 don’t look good. Amendola can be a PPR stud when healthy, and with the Rams facing the Bills, Vikings and Buccaneers in the coming weeks, Amendola merits a lineup spot in PPR leagues (and possibly standard leagues, too) upon his return. Rookie Chris Givens has been earning Sam Bradford’s trust lately. Givens is risky, but he warrants consideration as a WR3 or flex play for as long as Amendola is sidelined.
Colts — Vick Ballard had already seized the starter’s role at running back, but an ankle injury to Donald Brown gives Ballard’s fantasy value a slight nudge upward. Meanwhile, the return of Coby Fleener drives a stake through the fantasy value of fellow rookie TE Dwayne Allen.
Panthers — Jonathan Stewart is close to coming back from an ankle injury. If he remains out for another week, DeAngelo Williams has marginal flex value. When Stewart comes back, we’ll see more of the same value-crushing time-share arrangement that the Panthers have used all season, and neither of the Carolina backs will be worth your while.
Bengals — Just as the Bengals welcomed back PPR specialist Andrew Hawkins from a knee injury, rapidly improving rookie Mohamed Sanu went down with a season-ending foot injury. With A.J. Green gobbling receptions and Jermaine Gresham enjoying a solid season, neither Hawkins nor Sanu were likely to be viable fantasy options had they both been available. But with Sanu out, Hawkins is a palatable WR3 or flex play in PPR formats.