Biggest injury concern: Orton, Turner, Brown or Benson?

Last week, several teams’ playoff hopes took major hits as key players all left their respective games due to various injuries.

The Broncos (Kyle Orton), Falcons (Michael Turner), Dolphins (Ronnie Brown) and Bengals (Cedric Benson) seem to be bitten he hardest by the injury bug but which injury should concern their respective teams the most? Let’s break down all four situations.

Broncos: Without Orton, Denver stands little chance of beating the Chargers at home this Sunday and even less of a chance of winning the AFC West. Orton isn’t Peyton Manning, but he might as well be the Broncos’ version of the star Colts’ QB because Chris Simms proved last week that he isn’t capable of keeping Denver afloat if Orton misses significant time. Now maybe with more preparation Simms will be better, but chances are the Broncos’ hopes of making the playoffs will fall flat with him under center. Orton says that he will play this weekend, even though he has torn ligaments in his left ankle. He admitted last year that he shouldn’t have tried to grit out a right ankle injury when he was playing for the Bears, so there’s a chance that he’s about to make the same mistake twice. This Sunday will be a good indication of how severe Orton’s injury really is.

Falcons: After getting off to a slow start, Turner was back in 2008 form the past couple weeks and even compiled 111 yards on only nine carries against the Panthers last Sunday before suffering a high ankle sprain. Usually those types of injuries take months to heel, but the Falcons don’t seem concerned about Turner missing more than a couple of weeks. The problem is that the Falcons are in the midst of a Wild Card chase in the NFC and they need their bruising back on the field – especially as Matt Ryan continues to struggle in his second year. Atlanta has capable backups in Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, but the latter can’t stay healthy and the former doesn’t have much experience. If Ryan can step up and prove he can lead the Falcons through the air, then Turner can rest up and be ready in time for a late-season run. If Ryan falters again like he has been, then Turner might feel the need to rush back from his injury sooner than he (or the team) intends.

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Fantasy Football Quick-Hitters: Benson, Westy, Orton, DeAngelo, Ronnie and Norwood

Cedric Benson did not practice on Thursday. Rotoworld reports that Bengals players who don’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday usually do not play on Sunday, but that an exception might be made for Benson, who is the league’s 6th-leading rusher. Cincy’s game against Oakland is at 4:15 PM, so fantasy owners with Bernard Scott can simply wait it out and see if Benson is active on Sunday. Those without Scott have a tough decision to make.

Brian Westbrook should make a full recovery. This is great news for Westy, but his 2009 is still in doubt. The doctors are recommending he be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks, which makes his return in Week 13 at the earliest. The Eagles were told to take a conservative approach, so even if he’s healthy enough to play, I’d expect the team to shut him down if they fall out of the playoff hunt. Fantasy owners should hold onto him in the event that he comes back for the fantasy playoffs, but if there is a good option on the waiver wire, it might be time to cut bait.

Jerious Norwood returns to limited practice. It looks like Michael Turner will be out this week, but he’s optimistic that he’ll be back soon. It’s not inconceivable that Norwood would get some work with Jason Snelling in a RBBC against the Giants, though he’s been out a while with a hip injury.

Kyle Orton has torn ligaments in his left ankle. Brandon Marshall owners should keep an eye on this. If Orton isn’t able to play through this injury, it’s a big blow to Marshall. Orton isn’t great, but he’s a lot better than Chris Simms right now.

Ronnie Brown reportedly has Lisfranc injury. This generally requires surgery and recovery takes a while. If this is indeed the type of injury he has, he will enter the 2010 season as a question mark.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both expected to play tonight. Williams sat out practice on Wednesday just to rest, nothing more. He’s a good RB1 play and Stewart is a solid RB2/flex play in most formats.


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Fantasy Football Quick-Hitters: Bowe, Julius, Hightower, Benson and Ronnie

Dwayne Bowe suspended for four games. Apparently, he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Believe it or not, this makes Chris Chambers a viable fantasy option as the Chiefs don’t have much else going for them at WR. Lance Long may see more targets as well.

HC Mora admits that Julius Jones is “unlikely” to play in Week 11. This isn’t surprising considering that Jones was hospitalized on Sunday. Justin Forsett will get the start in a bad matchup with the Vikings. But from Week 12 on, Seattle’s schedule is pretty nice, so Forsett could potentially be a nice second-half pickup if Jones misses extended time. I wonder if the Seahawks are regretting letting Edgerrin James go.

Tim Hightower is still the Cardinals’ starter. This is going to be an interesting situation to watch down the stretch. The Cardinals have series of great rushing matchups, so will Hightower be as involved as Arizona tries to milk the clock? He seems to shine when Arizona is in catch up mode.

Cedric Benson may be a game-time decision against Oakland. The Raiders are terrible against the run, so whoever starts (Benson or Bernard Scott) should be a great start in Week 11. The team has already stated that the Larry Johnson signing has nothing to do with Benson’s injury, but the timing makes this hard to believe.

Ricky Williams will be the Dolphins’ every-down back with Ronnie Brown out. Brown apparently has two injuries — one to his ankle and one to his foot — and beat writer Omar Kelly says there’s a possibility that Brown will see a specialist. Williams’s value was already pretty high, but now it’s through the roof. Start him with confidence.


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Report: Larry Johnson to sign with Bengals

According to ESPN.com, Larry Johnson is close to signing a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. If the team does sign the troubled free agent, it is expected to be for the prorated league minimum.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday that if Johnson were signed that he would be inactive on game days. Cedric Benson (who suffered a hip injury yesterday in a win over the Steelers) would remain the starter and Bernard Scott would keep his No. 2 role. LJ would essentially be added as an insurance policy and would be the fourth tailback on Cincinnati’s depth chart.

This might not be a bad move for the Bengals just in case Benson’s hip injury is worse than originally thought. If Benson is healthy, then Johnson can rot on the sidelines for the rest of the year. If he isn’t, then Johnson can rot on the sidelines for the rest of the year unless Scott showed that he couldn’t handle the full-time rushing duties.

My question is whether or not LJ would ruin the Bengals’ chemistry. That might sound like a ludicrous statement given how dysfunctional Cincinnati has been over the years, but this appears to be a different Bengals team – one that plays together and could be affected by the addition of a cancer like Johnson.


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The Bengals have finally found the right blueprint for success

Last year, it was easy to view the Cincinnati Bengals as a joke. They were a mess on the field and an embarrassment off it. Their star player couldn’t stay healthy, their running back was a castoff from Chicago, one of their star receivers couldn’t match his off-field antics with quality on-field production and their head coach had no idea how to hold everything together.

But it’s amazing how one offseason can change everything. Carson Palmer is healthy again and playing extremely well, Cedric Benson has revived his career, Chad Ochocinco is still a circus act (but a productive circus act), and Marvin Lewis’ name keeps coming up as a coach of the year candidate.

The Bengals beat the Steelers 18-12 on Sunday and they didn’t use smoke and mirrors to do it. They held Rashard Mendenhall to 36 yards on 13 carries by dominating the line of scrimmage and forcing Ben Roethlisberger to beat them through the air. But Big Ben couldn’t and Cincinnati put the clamps on Pittsburgh’s offense inside the red zone and made the Steelers settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.

All in all, it was a complete effort by the best team in the AFC North. The Steelers and Ravens have often been highly regarded as the most physical teams in the division and the Bengals outplayed both of them not once, but twice this year. As long as Palmer and Benson (he left today’s game in the third quarter due to a hip injury) can stay healthy and the defense continues to play well, there’s no reason to think that the Bengals can’t make a deep run in the postseason.

The Bengals have finally figured out that chemistry can play a huge role in helping a team win. Gone are the days where the inmates run the asylum in Cincinnati; winning has a way of forcing players to shut up and fall in line.

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