Only two games remain on the 2014 NFL regular season schedule, but divisional races, wildcard berths and reality in general can take a back seat for a moment. It's championship week in most leagues across the fantasy football landscape, and whether you're gunning for that pot at the end of the rainbow or playing for pride in the consolation bracket, week 16 is the definition of crunch time for managers everywhere.
With a slew of injuries around the league impacting football from both a fantasy and reality standpoint, here is your championship week roundup to help set the table for this week's slate:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Roundup
Despite their season representing a model of inconsistency and disappointment, the 5-9 Atlanta Falcons are right in the mix for the NFC South division crown with a huge matchup against their arch rivals, the New Orleans Saints looming in week 16. Whether or not the Dirty Birds will have the services of stud wideout Julio Jones (hip) remains a giant question mark. Jones missed the Falcons' week 15 loss to the Steelers after going down late at the end of his team's defeat at the hands of Green Bay last Monday night. Coach Mike Smith expressed some optimism that Jones will be able to go against the Saints on Sunday, but his practice availability and progress will need to be monitored throughout the week. Jones had a short week working against him going into the Pittsburgh game, but a full week to heal should greatly enhance his chances at being available for a tasty matchup against the suspect New Orleans defense. The game figures to be a high-scoring affair, as was the case during Atlanta's week 1 overtime triumph, so expect big things from Julio even if he has to lock horns with Keenan Lewis all day. Jones saw 9 targets in that game, reeling in 7 grabs for 116 yards and came just inches away from finding the end zone. An Atlanta win would put the Falcons back in control of the league's most underwhelming division.
Sky-high after a big week 15 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Buffalo Bills still have a chance at a playoff spot. The potential return of RB C.J. Spiller (collarbone) would give 8-6 Buffalo a huge boost in their attempt to sneak into the postseason. Spiller has been missing since week 7, and was officially activated off the team's reserve/designated for return list on Monday. The Bills have been eyeing week 16 as a potential return date for Spiller, though his role against the Raiders will be cloudy to say the least. Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown have all combined to keep Buffalo's run game firmly on the tracks in Spiller's absence, so a committee approach will limit the ceilings of all the above. The matchup is good, and Buffalo will surely look to utilize Spiller, but the 27-year-old projects as a low-end Flex play in week 16. Jackson should be the safest play in the Bills' backfield. C.J. Spiller should be available for Buffalo in week 16.
Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton injured his hamstring during his team's division-clinching win over the Houston Texans in week 15. Coach Chuck Pagano said that an MRI on Hilton's hammy came back negative, though the fact that the speedy wideout needed a scan on the injury should not be taken with a grain of salt. Hilton was able to finish the game against Houston, but with the division and a subsequent playoff berth in hand, the Colts could always choose to take a cautious approach with the 25-year-old with their eyes on making a postseason breakthrough. If Hilton can not suit up, look for rookie Donte Moncrief to take on a bigger role.
DeMarco Murray had surgery on Monday night to repair a broken bone in his hand on Monday night, but the Cowboys' star runner is still hoping to play against Indianapolis in week 16. Dallas is still looking to clinch their division, and will hope to have the NFL's leading rusher available this weekend. Murray was injured during the team's win over the Eagles on Sunday night, but despite going under the knife, there is optimism that the right-handed 26-year-old may be able to play with a soft cast or extra passing on his injured left hand. Murray will be a game-time decision per ESPN's Ed Werder, so owners will want to monitor his status through the week. Backup plans should be in place in the event that Dallas elects to sit Murray for one game to ensure proper healing, a similar approach they took with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith several years ago when their former star sustained a similar injury. Smith missed a game, and although the ailment is expected to take up to 6 full weeks to heal correctly, it is feasible to play with extra padding, especially given the fact that the injury occured on Murray's off hand. If he can't suit up, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar would become fantasy relevant in week 16. The NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, is shaping up to be a game-time decision.
One week after sustaining injuries in a scary automobile accident, Panthers' QB Cam Newton (back) is hoping to return in week 16 after sitting out Carolina's week 15 win over the Buccaneers. History repeated itself when Derek Anderson stepped in for Newton and led the Panthers to a W over Tampa Bay, just as he did in week 1 when the 2011 rookie of the year was hobbled by rib and ankle ailments. Newton, dealing with two transverse fractures in his lower back, is hoping to throw this week in an attempt to be available when Carolina, still alive in the NFC South race, faces off with the Cleveland Browns. Carolina will likely give Newton every chance to be available for Sunday's game, but if there is any doubt over his health, the team should err on the side of caution with their signal-caller. Anderson has proven capable of winning games in this league, and the former Brown will hope to put one over on his former club, who are also still hanging on in the AFC wildcard race, if he is under center this weekend. Newton's status will be updated throughout the week, though owners may want to continue to explore alternative championship week options.
Rashad Jennings re-injured his ankle in Sunday's win over the Redskins, and his week 16 status is firmly up in the air as the Giants prepare to face the Rams. Coach Tom Coughlin was as tight-lipped as ever about his running back's status on Monday, and most signs are pointing to rookie Andre Williams continuing to operate as the team's featured back this weekend. Owners of Jennings should be looking elsewhere this week, while those who have Williams in their week 16 lineups should keep him locked in. Even with a difficult matchup against a tough St. Louis run defense, Williams should be started this week as a RB2. Jennings, himself, sounded unsure of his status after Sunday's win, so consider him questionable at best for the time being.
The 2014 season probably can't end soon enough for the San Francisco 49ers, but the status of their top two running backs will be a key talking point in the buildup to championship week here in fantasy land. Both Carlos Hyde (back/ankle) and Frank Gore (concussion) will be question marks for this week's Saturday night game against the Chargers, with both players having gone down in the week 15 loss at Seattle. Gore looked noticeably dazed when leaving the field, and is likely to spend most, if not all, of this week in the league's head injury protocol. Hyde, meanwhile, needed an MRI on his ankle and is simultaneously fighting to overcome the back injury that forced him from the week 15 loss to the Seahawks. A short week is at play here, further hindering the chances that either player will be available. If one or both miss out, the likes of Afonso Smith and Bruce Miller will be called upon, with practice squader Kendall Gaskins another option. Frank Gore will be in the concussion protocol this week.
Keenan Allen (collarbone/ankle) is looking like he may be done for the foreseeable future. The Chargers' second-year wideout sustained his injuries in his team's loss to the Broncos in week 15. A scan revealed a broken collarbone, which will almost certainly rule the 22-year-old out for the regular season's final two games. Allen has deemed himself "week-to-week," so owners will need to make other plans. Eddie Royal should absorb a greater role in Allen's stead. Philip Rivers (chest) should be good to go against the 'niners, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) remains a big question mark ahead of Saturday night's matchup. Mathews missed week 15, leaving backfield duties to Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Ronnie Brown.
Peyton Manning should be fine after battling flu-like symptons in Sunday's win over the Chargers. Denver takes on Cincinnati on Monday night. With Ryan Fitzpatrick (leg) out and Tom Savage (knee) looking very doubtful, the Texans may be forced to start former Bills QB Thaddeus Lewis under center this weekend against Baltimore. Case Keenum was re-signed on Monday. Whomever is under center should have the services of Andre Johnson (concussion), who is expected to return after sitting out week 15. Nick Foles (collarbone) has still not received clearance for contact, so look for the Mark Sanchez show to continue at least another week when the Eagles face the Redskins in Saturday's early game. Ryan Lindley is expected to start in place of Drew Stanton (knee) this weekend for Arizona, with the Cardinals already missing Carson Palmer (knee) for the season. Colt McCoy (neck) has been placed on season-ending injured reserve in Washington, leaving the door open for Robert Griffin III to start in week 16 and, perhaps, moving forward. RGIII cuts the figure of a cheeky waiver wire pickup heading into championship week. Ravens rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Blake Bortles (foot) is looking questionable for the Jags' Thursday night matchup against Tennessee who will be without Jake Locker (shoulder) in addition to Zach Mettenberger (shoulder). The short week does not help rookie Bortles' chances of suiting up. Chad Henne and Charlie Whitehurst would be the next men up. If you are forced to consider playing either of those two this week, may the force be with you.
As always, check back with Fantasy Knuckleheads for everything you need to get your team prepped for championship week. Good luck to all!