We'll mark the halfway point of the fantasy season for most leagues this week. Naturally, each and every owner has been faced with at least one struggling or injured performer. In some cases, such as those owning the Packers' Brett Favre, owners can only wonder who will fall to injury next. The Packers are joined by the Titans, Ravens, and Raiders with a crazy number of injuries. Owners have been left to scramble to the waiver wire for any player expected to handle the ball at all. Will Julius Jones sit out again, or will he push Marion Barber back to the bench? How about Joe Horn? Can he play a full game on that injured hamstring? And can Steve McNair stand in for a full game in a sea of injuries in Tennessee?
That's where we'll begin this week – a quick tour around the injuries that are impacting our fantasy fortunes and those players who are in search of a Week 8 audition for a long-term roster spot.
Let's break down the stories, stats, and issues that make up Fantasy Football This Week .
Joe Horn moved well in his first practice in several weeks and is expected to return to action this weekend. His hamstring remains a concern for the possibility of a setback, as he did several weeks back. However, those thin at wideout would be wise to consider this true No. 1 in his return to the field. Thousands of Horn owners feared that the injury would linger, and subsequently cut him loose.
Steve McNair will return to the huddle this week against the Raiders barring any setbacks. He missed the Week 7 loss to Arizona with a sore back, but will start this week against the 25th-ranked Oakland pass defense.
New Green Bay starter Tony Fisher missed Wednesday's practice after undergoing minor surgery to repair his retina. The Packers don't expect the procedure to impact his availability for Sunday, and he's penciled in to start against the Bengals.
As expected, Julius Jones continues to be held out of practice by Dallas. Marion Barber assumes the top spot for this week's game against the Cardinals.
Corey Dillon remains questionable for Week 8 against Buffalo with the ankle injury that kept him out of the last game against Denver, but locked into many fantasy lineups. He failed to practice on Wednesday, so fantasy owners will need to proceed with caution. Perhaps the addition of Patrick Pass to a bench slot would be wise for owners looking to avoid getting caught by the switch again.
Antonio Gates missed part of Wednesday's team drills with a thigh injury and is now listed as questionable on the official injury report. He's still expected to play against the Chiefs, whose pass defense has been prone to big plays.
Bernard Berrian of the Bears had been increasing his role and serving as the No. 3 receiver. He's now forced to the sidelines for 6-8 weeks with torn ligaments in his thumb. Fantasy owners probably aren't looking this far down the Bears depth chart, but Justin Gage will step into his role.
After sustaining a sprained knee in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, Brandon Jones will join fellow Tennessee receiver on the sidelines for Week 8. That means additional opportunities will open up for Ben Troupe, Erron Kinney, and Tyrone Calico.
Randy Moss continues to recover from the groin injury that limited him to 14 plays in Week 7. He had the doubtful tag last week and still caught three balls for 43 yards and a score. Unless he's ruled out, Moss is a must-start this week against the Titans.
Staying in Oakland, starting guard Langston Walker was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding on Tuesday night. It appears that he will be lost to the Raiders for the rest of the season. Walker's loss on the line deals a slight blow to the running game and LaMont Jordan, and it leaves Kerry Collins vulnerable on his blind side.
Ken Dorsey will be under center for the 49ers in place of injured rookie Alex Smith this week, and he might have another receiver to aid his efforts in Arnaz Battle. Battle hasn't seen the field since Week 3 when he caught six balls for 68 yards and a score. He's been gone long enough that he's likely been sent to the waiver wire in your league.
Coming off of the bye week, Jacksonville has listed Fred Taylor as probable for this week's tilt against St. Louis. With the problems experienced by the Rams on the defensive side of the ball, Taylor is a solid play this week if he doesn't experience any setbacks.
Torry Holt finally acknowledged the extent of the damage to his knee after he sat out last week's game. He's listed as doubtful for Week 7 against the Jaguars and has yet to test his leg on the practice field.
After missing several games due to injury, Carnell Williams has been running well at practice this week and expects to start against San Francisco. The total domination demonstrated by Washington makes both Williams and Michael Pittman (who will still be a factor in this one) solid plays this week.
Antonio Chatman, WR, GB: With his third touchdown in four games, Chatman is flying up the waiver wire charts this week. The loss of Ahman Green leaves Green Bay with a bevy of receivers, including new starter Tony Fisher. Chatman had his busiest game of the year on Sunday, catching five balls for 31 yards.
Travis Henry, RB, Ten: The Titans are confident that Chris Brown will be ready to start on Sunday against Oakland after sustaining a shoulder stinger last week, but the return of Henry means that a split in the backfield is in the offing. Unfortunately, that split means that neither player stands apart as a fantasy starter this week.
Marion Barber, RB, Dal: Julius Jones will likely sit out again this week ahead of Dallas' bye, meaning that the rookie Barber will again shoulder the load for the Cowboys against Arizona. He rushed 22 times for a strong 95 yards in relief of Jones against Seattle. The Cardinals have allowed 103 yards per game on the ground, and have ceded eight rushing touchdowns.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Det: He failed to score via the air, but Garcia found the end zone with his legs and led the Lions to a win in his first game back on the field. The Lions are set to welcome back Charles Rogers from his suspension, and Roy Williams will be back into the mix shortly. Those receivers, combined with rookie wideout Mike Williams and TE Marcus Pollard, give owners hope for the mid-year spark that Joey Harrington couldn't provide.
Bobby Engram, WR, Sea: Engram returned to the practice field after missing three weeks with injured ribs. He's participated in individual and team drills, and will resume his place in the starting lineup. Engram contributed three games of more than 75 yards in four starts before succumbing to injury. He caught nine balls for 106 yards in the week prior to the injury.
Tony Fisher, RB, GB: Fisher has been a huge pickup this week as owners seek to stabilize their backfields and recover from a pile of injuries. With the season-ending injuries to Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, Fisher assumes the starting role. It remains to be seen whether he can shoulder a heavy workload (only four games with more than 10 carries in his career), but he will most assuredly be a factor in the passing game.
Travis Taylor, WR, Min: Taylor was a hot property after his three-catch, two-TD performance in Week 3. Since that time, his role has been reduced with the return to action by Nate Burleson and the further integration of Koren Robinson into the offensive set.
Ricky Williams, RB, Mia: Williams has been back for two weeks and has yet to create a spark for the Dolphins. Though he did gain 22 yards on six receptions in Week 6, he's contributed only seven yards on 11 carries thus far. Fantasy owners have decided to seek out other players to sit on their benches.
T.J. Duckett, RB, Atl: Duckett missed the Week 7 game against the Jets with a sprained ankle, pushing Warrick Dunn into a huge workload. He is currently receiving treatment during the Falcons bye week in hopes of getting back on the field in Week 9. However, his total of seven carries for 35 yards in his previous two games was uninspiring, and now combined with his injury, he's been cast to the waiver wire.
Robert Ferguson, WR, GB: Ferguson sprained his knee and tore a ligament in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Vikings, injuries which will likely sideline him for several weeks. The load of injuries that have claimed Packers starters means more passing attempts for Brett Favre, and increased roles for Antonio Chatman and Jamal Jones.
Baltimore Defense: The Ravens still rank sixth in the NFL, allowing a mere 16.7 points per game. However, they've been unable to generate the turnovers and piles of touchdowns to which fantasy owners have grown accustomed. To date, they've accrued only five turnovers and will now enter Monday's matchup without stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Heath Miller, Pit, TE
Miller isn't going to pile up catches like Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, or even Erron Kinney, as Ben Roethlisberger has a limited number of throws to work with, but this guy knows how to find a space in the end zone. Miller has scored in four of the five games in which he has appeared, and has seen his workload increased tremendously in the last three weeks (including three straight weeks with a touchdown). With injuries to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed keeping them out of the Monday night game, look for Miller to find space and turn in another big day.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Brandon Stokley, Ind, WR
The bye week for Indianapolis provided the perfect excuse for fantasy owners to finally boot Stokley to the waiver wire. After his brilliant '04 season, Stokley has seen the biggest drop-off in the Indianapolis receiving corps. He's yet to score a touchdown and has only one game with more than 60 receiving yards – all the way back in Week 1. The defense shows no signs of slowing down, and the ground game with Edgerrin James is humming along. As a result, the need to pile up points has dissipated in Indy.
HOT AND COLD
LaMont Jordan, RB, Oak: Jordan has turned it on in the past three weeks, literally carrying the Raiders offense on his back. The injury to Randy Moss greatly increased Jordan's workload, and he's responded with six scores. After a slow start, Jordan is back on pace to top the coveted 1,000-yard mark.
Drew Brees, QB, SD: Since the Chargers brought LaDainian Tomlinson back into the passing game, Drew Brees has picked up his game. He's thrown multiple TD passes in three of the past five games, and threw one TD pass in each of the other two outings. The Chargers secondary remains susceptible to the big play, and that keeps Brees throwing.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Hou: He has become the go-to receiver with Andre Johnson's injury, and one of the few reliable components for the Texans. After a 10-catch performance in Week 6, his workload dropped against the Colts (Domanick Davis rules the day) but he did find the end zone for the first time. Johnson is doubtful to return against the Browns this week, making Gaffney a No. 3 option in deeper leagues.
Az-Zahir Hakim, WR, NO: Hakim posted his third straight big performance in relief of injured teammate Joe Horn against the Rams. Over the past three weeks, Hakim has tallied 17 catches for 293 yards and celebrated his first score against the Rams. Horn may return to the lineup this week, so the roles of both Donte' Stallworth and Hakim must be re-evaluated by Jim Haslett.
Steven Jackson, RB, STL: Injuries throughout the passing game, from Marc Bulger to star receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce have elevated Jackson's status. Jackson has scored in four of the past five games for the Rams, despite never hitting the 100-yard mark. Those injuries in the receiving corps have also forced Jackson deeper into the passing game, and he's responded with 24 catches thus far.
Antwaan Randle El, WR, Pit: Even with Hines Ward out, Randle El was a virtual non-factor in the Steelers attack. He's failed to record more than three receptions in any single game, and hasn't scored since Week 1 against Tennessee. Randle El should be back in the mix against the depleted Baltimore defense, but the low number of passes thrown by Ben Roethlisberger limits his potential.
Trent Dilfer, QB, Cle: Dilfer is still the starter in Cleveland, but rookie Charlie Frye is waiting in the wings. He's tossed four interceptions in the past two games against zero interceptions, and managed a miserable 73 passing yards against the Lions. Dilfer should be able to contribute more this week against Houston, but the injury/bye situation has to be pretty rough to insert him into any fantasy setup.
Marty Booker, WR, Mia: Since his standout Week 1 performance, Booker has been a silent partner to Chris Chambers in the Miami passing attack. He's had more than 25 receiving yards just once in the past five games, and has not caught more than three passes during that stretch.
Marshall Faulk, RB, STL: As Steven Jackson's star continues to rise, the career of Faulk has officially entered the "mentor" phase. He is averaging under 40 yards per game (rushing and receiving), and has not handled the ball more than nine times in any single game.
Greg Lewis, WR, Phi: Lewis turned in a solid performance against Oakland in Week 3, but hasn't been a fantasy factor since. Obviously, the Philadelphia offense is stymied by the lack of a running game, which is also serving to bottle up the passing attack. Lewis scored a touchdown in Week 2, but has since taken a backseat to Brian Westbrook. With Denver and Washington next up for the Eagles, the struggles in the passing game may be extended.
Goal-Line Backs: Swooping vultures
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
Willie Parker had his first big game in a month in a big statement game against the Bengals. Jerome Bettis got back into the mix for 13 carries (56 yards), but didn't have the opportunity to resume his vulture role. Ben Roethlisberger's connection with rookie TE Heath Miller will serve to limit Bettis' vulture value.
T.J. Duckett remains on the shelf with a high ankle sprain after two rough and ineffective outings (and a Week 7 DNP). He sits out this week on a bye and is eyeing a return in Week 9 against Miami.
Rock Cartwright got a chance to pile on in the Week 7 burial of the 49ers. He carried the ball five times for 14 yards and joined teammate Clinton Portis in the end zone. He's not a vulture in the truest sense of the word for now, but has become a valuable role player for the resurgent Redskins.
Zack Crockett took advantage of the Bills iffy run defense and joined LaMont Jordan in running them over. He scored his first touchdown of the season and gained 33 yards on the ground as the Raiders worked to ice Buffalo.
Tight Ends: Surveying the Safety Valves
The Tight end is often the young or struggling quarterback's best friend. Sometimes, he's so dominant that he can't be denied. Here are several players making noise at the position.
It's tough to depend on the arm of Michael Vick on a weekly basis, but Alge Crumpler remains the big target when he does air it out. Crumpler has caught three or more passes in every game this year, and averages just a shade under eight Looks each week.
Inefficiencies in the Baltimore running game keeps increasing Todd Heap's role in the offense. He scored in two straight games in Weeks 5 and 6, and then had his biggest reception output in Week 7 (seven catches, 71 yards) against Chicago. His presence on the field gives Anthony Wright the safety valve and sure-handed target he desperately needs.
Erron Kinney continues to pile up catches in the Tennessee passing game. The Titans continue to be plagued by a veritable laundry list of injuries, leaving Kinney and fellow TE Ben Troupe to carry the receiving corps. Though he hasn't scored yet (blame Troupe), Kinney has caught four or more passes in six games.
After early struggles in the passing attack and nagging injuries, Desmond Clark has become a favorite target for Kyle Orton. He was targeted eight times in the Bears 10-6 victory, catching four passes for 50 yards. This performance came on the heels of his four-catch, two-TD output against the Vikings, meaning that he's achieved the role of safety valve in the Bears offense. You can't ask for more than opportunities.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
A huge game by Clinton Portis, including three TD runs, gave team KFFL Deliminator a much needed win over FantasyGuru.com. The TD pass from Carson Palmer to Chad Johnson early in the Week 7 game against Pittsburgh that was nullified due to penalty proved to be the difference in that contest.