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Injury Analysis: Cowboys, Eagles Lose Key Skill Guys

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.

Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray

Austin left many fantasy owners with a zero in the scoring column after the receiver limped off the field during Dallas' Thanksgiving Day loss to Washington. Austin was diagnosed with a right hip strain, an injury that could be particularly bothersome given his history.

Austin missed six games during the 2012 season with strains to both his left and right hamstrings. After focusing on improving his flexibility in the offseason, Austin had remained injury free before going down in Week 12. While his latest injury is not a hamstring strain, a hip flexor strain can directly limit an effected individual while indirectly putting strain on the hamstrings. The hip flexors and quadriceps muscle have a functional relationship with the hamstrings. The hamstring is the antagonist muscle to the quads, meaning it acts in the opposite direction to the specific movement generated by the agonist, in this case the quads. The two muscle groups harmoniously work together to accelerate and decelerate the leg during walking and running. If one is weakened due to injury, the other can be overworked and as a result vulnerable to an injury of its own.

Basically if Austin attempts to play with a weakened hip flexor or quad, he's increasing his already susceptible hamstrings to injury. While reports out of Dallas are encouraging and suggest Austin could return to practice by Wednesday, understand he will be a risky play. The Cowboys play Sunday night against the struggling Eagles so have a contingency plan ready in case he's a late scratch.

The same approach should be taken with Murray who has returned to the field but not in the capacity some would have hoped. Murray completed rehab on the practice field Monday but has yet to participate in a full practice. The Cowboys are hopeful he can suit up but the late start puts fantasy owners in a tough situation. Given the difficulties Dallas has had running the ball, even a healthy Murray wouldn't be the best available option.

DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Michael Vick

Across the field, the Eagles will be without Jackson who was placed on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs on Monday night. He finishes the year with 45 catches for 700 yards and two touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will see an increase in targets but questions remain on who will be in the backfield for the Eagles.

Vick and McCoy continue to recover from concussions sustained in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively. Vick has made more progress than McCoy but the chances of either playing against Dallas remain slim at this point. Both need to clear several hurdles in the NFL concussion protocol and neither one of the players has taken the field since suffering their concussion. The play of Bryce Brown could buy McCoy some extra time to recover and fantasy owners should pounce on Brown if he remains available.

Ben Roethlisberger

The Steelers are hoping to have their Pro Bowl quarterback back under center when the team takes the field against the rival Ravens. Roethlisberger suffered a dislocated rib and sternoclavicular sprain in Week 10. He was a spectator in Week 11 as the Ravens had their way with Byron Leftwich, sacking him three times and breaking his ribs in the process. Roethlisberger and Leftwich both sat in Week 12 and were forced to watch as the Browns stole a win from the Charlie Batch led Steelers.

With their season hanging in the balance reports out of Pittsburgh have hinted Big Ben could return to practice this week with an outside chance of playing against Baltimore. Batch remains the starter but Roethlisberger could take over if he is able to function without any limitations in his shoulder. Regardless of his status, I would be leery of starting Roethlisberger in fantasy. The shoulder and ribs will remain painful and a hard hit by the aggressive Ravens defense could put him right back on the bench. I also suspect his arm will be less than 100 percent just three weeks after the injury. The injured ligaments likely need more time to fully heal and we shouldn't forget he entered the season with rotator cuff damage as well. The issue is compounded by the struggles along the Pittsburgh offensive line. It's probable that Roethlisberger once again defies medical odds but I'm not gambling with him in my lineup.

Matt Forte

Forte reinjured his troublesome right ankle and his status for Week 13 remains uncertain. He sat Week 3 after spraining this ankle and briefly left the team's Week 4 win over the Cowboys. He's played in every game since but may be sidelined once again if the ankle does not improve as the week progresses. His availability in practice will be key in determining if fantasy owners can count on having him back. A full practice on Thursday or Friday is a good indicator he will play against Seattle. If he remains limited in practice, expect to see a healthy dose of Michael Bush on Sunday.

Turf Burns

Andre Brown: Brown has been placed on the IR after fracturing his fibula against the Packers. Rookie David Wilson will serve as the primary backup to Ahmad Bradshaw.

Greg Jennings: The Packers will welcome back their Pro Bow receiver after an eight game absence. Jennings underwent surgery to repair a tear in his adductors (groin). His return could help bolster a Green Bay offense that struggled mightily against the Giants. Barring a midweek setback, plan on Jennings being a viable fantasy option in Week 13.

Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams: The 49ers lost two young players in their win over the Saints as both Hunter and Williams are done for the year. Hunter suffered an ankle injury while Williams tore his ACL.

Darren McFadden: McFadden hopes to practice this week to avoid missing his fourth consecutive game. Sidelined by a high ankle sprain, McFadden has to be an active participant in practice to earn the trust of fantasy owners. The ankle must be stable enough to make hard cuts as well as hold up in blocking situations. Monitor his level of activity throughout the week to help make your final decision.

Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.