With RB Fred Jackson out for the season, owners of C.J. Spiller can count on a full workload for the final three weeks. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Fantasy owners know that injuries are an inevitable part of football, especially this late in the season, but that doesn't mean it makes them any easier to deal with. And when an injury happens to the biggest breakout star of the season, Robert Griffin III, you can bet there were more than a few fantasy owners holding their breaths.
Griffin, who hurt his right knee late in Sunday's win against Baltimore, has vowed to play in Week 15. His MRI reportedly showed no ligament damage, and the injury is being described as a “sprain.” While that's all well and good, he's not a lock to suit up, and even if he does, fantasy owners will be wondering if he'll be 100 percent. A less-than-100-percent Griffin, even in a favorable matchup against Cleveland, could be considered a risky play.
He shouldn't be, though. If Griffin's real-life team determines that he's OK to play, fantasy owners should follow suit. Even in the middle of a playoff push, the Redskins won't take an unnecessary risk with their franchise QB, so we can reasonably assume he'll be operating without many limitations.
Of course, Griffin's wasn't the only potentially needle-moving injury last week. Let's focus on some of the others while also looking at players who improved or hurt their stock at each offensive position in Week 14.
Jay Cutler struggled through another up-and-down day against the Vikings, putting up 14 fantasy points before eventually getting benched late in the fourth quarter because of a neck injury. Early reports indicated that he might have suffered whiplash, but Bears' officials believe Cutler will be OK.
While Cutler likely isn't starting for many fantasy teams at this point, Brandon Marshall owners might be worried about a potential downgrade from Cutler to Jason Campbell. Marshall actually fared well in Week 10 when Cutler left the game early because of injury (six catches for 86 yards), and he caught a 16-yard touchdown with Campbell in there last week (though that did come in garbage time). In the full game that Cutler missed, Week 11 against the 49ers, Marshall caught two passes for 21 yards and a TD. He's still a must-start even if Cutler is out against the Packers.
Notable Riser: Cam Newton, Panthers. Newton is finishing the season on a high note, putting up at least three TDs and 35.1 fantasy points in each of his past three games. His late-season surge has vaulted him into the top six among fantasy QBs, and with a couple more big games, he could easily finish in the top three. Newton has been more accurate with his passes over his past three contests (62.2 percent completion percentage compared to 57.2 in his first 10 games), and he's been running better (two of his top three rushing games have come in the past two weeks). Newton is a must-start against anyone right now.
Notable Faller: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and even Andy Dalton disappointed for the second straight week, but we're going to focus on someone who actually put up good numbers. Roethlisberger's box score (285 yards, 3 TDs) made it look like he didn't miss a beat after returning from rib and shoulder injuries, but anyone who watched the game knows that's misleading. Roethlisberger looked rusty most of the afternoon, and according to Sporting News' garbage-time tracker, 85 of those yards and two of those TDs came in garbage time. Roethlisberger has proven in his career that he can put up good stats against anyone, but he has a tough assignment next week in Dallas (Cowboys allowing the 10th-fewest fantasy points per game to QBs). He's a risky start if you're still in the money rounds of your fantasy playoffs.
Owners who were worried about C.J. Spiller's recent decline in production won't have to worry anymore, as Fred Jackson suffered a right MCL sprain and will likely miss the rest of the regular season. Jackson had received more carries than Spiller in each of the past two weeks, but Spiller will become a must-start once again with Jackson out.
Two other big-name RBs, Ray Rice (hip) and Ahmad Bradshaw (knee), both were on and off the field last week because of injuries. Both guys are expected to play in Week 15, but owners would be wise to grab Rice's backup, Bernard Pierce, and Bradshaw's backup, David Wilson, just in case. Wilson is a potential flex-back even if Bradshaw is active after rushing for 100 yards and scoring three total TDs last week.
Notable Riser: Darren McFadden, Raiders. McFadden really only had two good plays last Thursday -- a 36-yard run and a six-yard touchdown reception on a misdirection play -- but he at least looked healthy. He suffered a late-game ankle “tweak,” but he's expected to be ready for this week's game against the Chiefs. While McFadden still hasn't done all that much this season, he should be considered at least an RB2 for next week's matchup. Plenty of other intriguing players emerged last week, like Wilson, Bilal Powell, Joique Bell, Montell Owens, Darren Sproles and DeAngelo Williams, but McFadden is a safer play than all of them because of his upside and high amount of touches.
Notable Faller: Mikel LeShoure, Lions. LeShoure opened the game strong against the Packers, but he quickly faded, then saw his touches dwindle because of the presence of Bell. LeShoure finished with two more carries than Bell, but Bell seemed to play more in the second half because of his superior receiving skills. LeShoure will still start next week in Arizona -- and he'll likely be used as the goal-line back -- but it's clear that Bell will eat into LeShoure's fantasy production. The same is true with the Jets, where Powell will likely continue to steal some points from Shonn Greene.
Dwayne Bowe looked to be on his way to a big game after posting 70 yards on two catches in the first quarter against the Browns, but a rib injury sidelined him for the rest of that contest – and will also sideline him for the rest of the season. It's a shame with Oakland and Indianapolis coming up in the next two weeks, but owners should be looking elsewhere if they were counting on Bowe. His injury could open the door for Jonathan Baldwin to become Kansas City's primary receiver, and he's worth an add given Kansas City's favorable upcoming matchups.
Other WRs who are worth stashing for the final two weeks include Oakland's Rod Streater, Philadelphia's Jason Avant, St. Louis'
Notable Riser: Kenny Britt, Titans. In last week's preview, I noted that Britt hadn't done much outside of two TD catches in his past two games, which is why I was leery of him heading into this past week. But Britt looked like his old self against the Colts, catching eight-of-nine targets for 143 yards. Quarterback Jake Locker still has accuracy issues, but if Britt can continue getting that many targets, he can be a difference-maker in the fantasy playoffs.
Notable Faller: Greg Jennings, Packers. Jennings didn't do much two weeks ago, but at least he got eight targets. Last week, he received just four looks against Lions, catching one of them for 25 yards. It appears that Randall Cobb (seven targets last week) is going to be continue to be Aaron Rodgers' primary option, and Green Bay has enough other talented receivers that Rodgers doesn't need to force it Jennings' way. He's still a high-upside WR3, but he's certainly not a must-start at this point.
Two low-end TE1's, Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) and Philadelphia's Brent Celek (concussion), both missed the final three quarters of their respective games last Sunday. Pettigrew claims he'll be fine for next week's contest, but the Lions have no reason to rush him back. With Tony Scheffler already playing almost every snap as a slot receiver, Will Heller would ultimately step in and take Pettigrew's place. Don't count on him for much fantasy production.
For Philadelphia, Clay Harbor would take over for Celek. He has some upside after catching six-of-six targets for 52 yards and a touchdown last week. The Eagles' next two matchups (vs. CIN, vs. WAS) are both favorable for tight ends, so Harbor is worth an add.
Notable Riser: Martellus Bennett, Giants. Bennett seems to be ending the season the way he started it, catching TDs in each of the past two games after opening the season with a touchdown catch in three straight games. Favorable matchups have helped his cause, but with 15 targets over his past two contests, it looks like he'll continue to be part of the Giants' game plan.
Notable Faller: Brandon Myers, Raiders. Myers has been one of this season's breakouts at TE, but he caught just one-of-two targets for seven yards in a very favorable matchup against Denver last Thursday. Myers ranks sixth among all TEs in fantasy points this year (96.8), and has the fifth-most targets (90), but it's worth noting that he's done a good job padding his stats in garbage time, leading all TEs with 26.2 “garbage-time” fantasy points. He's still worth a start most weeks because of his frequent looks, but Myers is no sure thing.
Bengals at Eagles
Stat to know: Nick Foles and his receivers have looked better over the past two games, but this week they face a Bengals' defense that ranks 10th against the pass (222.5 yards allowed per game) and allows the seventh-fewest FPPG to WRs (18.6). Start any Foles, Avant and Jeremy Maclin at your own risk.
Sleeper: WR Andrew Hawkins (Eight targets each of the past two weeks; Eagles allowing sixth-most FPPG to WRs).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.