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Injury Analysis: Injury Update

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

With the playoff picture in the convoluted AFC unclear, fantasy owners are ensured that teams fighting for the final two spots will start their healthy stars in attempt to secure a decisive victory. Things are less complicated in the NFC, but five teams are still battling for seeding, leading to some intense matchups that will require marquee names to suit up. However not all owners are looking forward to Week 17, as serious injuries have prematurely ended several players' seasons.

Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith is done for the year after fracturing a bone in his forearm while hauling in a touchdown catch in Week 16. Smith recently underwent surgery to repair the broken left radius. The radius is one of two bones located in the forearm and articulates with the elbow at its proximal end and the wrist at its distal end. The fractured radius was re-set and Smith has been placed on injured reserve. While he will be unable to finish the season, Smith will likely be available for mini-camps for next year and could return strong after developing some impressive chemistry with new quarterback Matt Moore.

Moore has started at quarterback for Carolina over the past four weeks after incumbent starter Jake Delhomme was placed on the injured reserve with a broken finger in his throwing hand. The fracture occurred to his middle finger but was fortunately a non-displaced break, and surgery will not be required. However the fracture is slow-healing and painful, directly affecting the quarterback's grip on the ball. Despite playing with a sore shoulder of his own, Moore has performed well, leading the Panthers to a 3-1 record while throwing for 828 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. Delhomme's finger will eventually heal, but Moore's success makes the Carolina quarterback situation an intriguing storyline heading into next season.

The injury woes don't stop there for the Panthers as running back DeAngelo Williams continues to nurse an ankle injury. Williams sprained his left ankle against the Vikings in Week 15 and continues to have difficulty weight-bearing and cutting. Backup Jonathan Stewart has performed well in Williams' absence rushing for 315 and two touchdowns but is battling an injury of his own. Stewart is suffering from a sore Achilles' tendon in his left foot. The Achilles' tendon is the strongest tendon in the body and is the conjoined tendon of the gastrocnemius, plantaris and soleus muscles. These muscles are responsible for plantar flexion (pointing of the foot) and are easily strained and susceptible to tendonitis. Planting the foot is difficult when the Achilles is strained, but Stewart's injury does not appear to be serious. With the Panthers out of the playoff race expect Williams to once again be on the sidelines and Stewart to be active in the backfield.

Saints running back Pierre Thomas injured his ribs in the first half of his team's overtime loss to the Buccaneers. X-rays were fortunately negative, but bruised ribs remain a painful injury, and Thomas' availability for Week 17 is in doubt. Minnesota's loss on Monday night guaranteed the Saints the number-one seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs making it likely that Coach Sean Payton will elect not to play Thomas. If he does return to action, the protective padding Thomas will be required to wear is bulky in the midsection and will increase the possibility of fumbles. Lynell Hamilton received the majority of the carries after Thomas went down and should see the bulk of carries in Week 17 if Coach Payton elects to protect Thomas as well as Reggie Bush and Mike Bell.

One week after catching seven passes for 126 yards against Green Bay, veteran wide receiver Hines Ward was limited in the Steelers' win against the Ravens. A hamstring strain, initially incurred in Week 13, flared up and caused Ward to take himself out of the game. Ward felt he could not perform up to his ability and elected not to play. He will likely miss practice and could be a game-time decision for Week 17. Ward's decision may not have been popular with fantasy owners embattled in championships but was a wise one. If a player attempts to play through an injury they are making themselves more susceptible to a more serious one. Pain and stiffness naturally alter the normal biomechanics of the body causing other areas of the body to become vulnerable. If Ward cannot go, Santonio Holmes and rookie Mike Wallace will see an increase in targets.

St. Louis running back Steven Jackson was inactive for his team's Week 16 loss to Arizona with a back injury. Jackson confirmed he has been battling a herniated disk for a majority of the year. When a disk in the lumbar portion of the spine herniates, the soft center known as the nucleus pulposus bugles out of the thicker, outer portion of the ring, the annulus fibrosis. This bulge can irritate nerves in the back, resulting in shooting pain and radicular pain in the lower extremities. Jackson has stated that his injured back will not require surgery, but it is hard to imagine the lowly Rams would risk further injury to their lone offensive weapon. Jackson has not practiced for the past five weeks so don't expect him to take the practice field this week. The former Pro-Bowler hopes to play in the season finale and will see how he feels in warm-ups before making a final decision. However the first-round fantasy pick unfortunately remains a risky start for Week 17. Kenneth Darby, who rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries in Week 16, will get the start if Jackson is not active.