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Keep close eye on injured running backs

12/23/2010

Some would argue this is without a doubt the most important, most critical week of the calendar year. Tensions will be high, stress levels go way up ... oh, it's Christmas on Saturday, too? Well yeah, of course. I knew that. But it's also fantasy football championship week for many owners, and obviously there is plenty on the line. Luckily for many they get to spend this critical time with family. OK, I jest. Well, kind of.

But while many will be traveling to faraway places and therefore must need to set lineups -- in the most important week of the season -- well in advance of Sunday's games, the fantasy news about lineups and injuries will just keep on coming. Here are five situations to keep an eye on leading up to Sunday because, as we saw last week, you might need some last-minute adjusting to get your best stocking stuffers, er, fantasy options, out there.

Be reminded that the week starts Thursday night with the potentially one-sided Pittsburgh Steelers-Carolina Panthers game, and there's another game on Saturday night between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals before the fun really gets going the day after Christmas.

Yo, Adrian: If you checked out the Flex Rankings blog, you know how roughly half of the top seeds in the fantasy playoffs in ESPN standard leagues have already been eliminated. Not to cast stones, but I would think Adrian Peterson played more than a slight role in those results, being ruled out of the Week 15 Monday night game with a bad thigh so soon before kickoff. Many fantasy owners simply had no warning, and were unprepared in terms of alternatives.

Peterson might not play again this week in Philadelphia, but you've been warned that Toby Gerhart is a must-add just in case. Naturally, what complicates matters is that again this is not an early Sunday game. Fantasy owners relying on Peterson must have a bench option -- and I would definitely use him if he's active, ranking him 11th at running back -- they can move in at the last minute (Sunday night) from this game or the Monday night tilt (New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons). I'd say if you own Peterson then Gerhart is that fellow, but consider Chris Ivory (no lock to play either) or the underachieving Reggie Bush as well. As for that Brett Favre guy, there's no way I would activate him in a fantasy league. I mean, I'd rather go with John Skelton. Point made?

Bronco busting: It's not all about Tim Tebow in Colorado. Knowshon Moreno is a potentially top-10 running back with a terrific matchup against the Houston Texans, but he left the Week 15 game early with sore ribs and did not practice Wednesday. Unlike the Vikings -- and the Texans with the Arian Foster-Derrick Ward situation -- there's little reason to think the backup would provide intriguing stats. Lance Ball rushed 15 times for 20 yards in relief of Moreno on Sunday. And we've seen Correll Buckhalter's act before. If Moreno plays, he's a top-20 option; I barely ranked Ball in the top 50, in case he is summoned. As for Foster (glute), I'm confident he will play and continue his path to the league rushing title. He's the No. 1 running back this week in the rankings.

Three is a crowd: Cowboys coach Jason Garrett claims he will get Marion Barber (calf) touches if the running back is active, and it sure looks like Barber will be active. This would be bad news for Tashard Choice, who before hearing about how this duo with Felix Jones could become a trio, was one of my interesting sleeper flex options. Choice was basically ignored for the first three months of the season, as Barber was force-fed touches. Jones' touches have been consistent. Choice has done well with his limited touches, especially near the goal line. If Barber plays, I wouldn't adjust Jones' rank, but Choice would not be a wise choice anymore.

What can Brown do for you?: Donald Brown might be doing very little for you if reports of Joseph Addai's newfound health are correct. The Indianapolis Colts would love to have Addai's services, so even though Brown comes off his career game, I don't think there's much intrigue about how the touches would be split up. Brown is a strong flex option if Addai does not suit up, but you know the fantasy lords can't let fantasy owners off that easy. I would not place Addai among the top 30 running backs, like I did with Brown, by the way. The guy hasn't played in months.

All torn up: Alas, it's not all about the running backs! We know Aaron Rodgers is active, and Shaun Hill likely will be, and I don't see any other potentially usable quarterbacks still questionable. Also, despite reports of a slight cartilage tear in his throwing shoulder, there appears no concern that New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is going to miss the game in Chicago. But why would you use Sanchez? He's averaged seven fantasy points in his past four contests, and the Bears are good. As more concerning information leaks about every Sanchez move, I'd be less likely to trust Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. Holmes is limping around with a turf toe injury; I ranked him 24th at wide receiver, but now think that's too generous.

Best of luck to everyone this joyous weekend ... for family and fantasy purposes! ESPN Fantasy will have its normal Sunday morning lineup online (chat, inactives) and on the air ("Fantasy Football Now"). Merry Christmas to all!