With the fantasy football playoffs now here, owners are going to be anxiously awaiting the potential returns of several valuable players to their lineups. Notably, Christian McCaffrey's second long-awaited return of the season could be coming, while Joe Mixon and Devonta Freeman are officially eligible to come off IR. These injuries and potential returns could have a massive impact on our Week 14 fantasy RB rankings.
Is Christian McCaffrey playing this week?
UPDATE: Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Monday he's "hopeful" McCaffrey will return this week.
McCaffrey (shoulder) hasn't played since Week 9, but it appears that he should have a chance to suit up this week. Before Week 12, the last time the Panthers played, coach Matt Rhule referred to McCaffrey as "week-to-week," and while he practiced on a limited basis in the lead up to that contest against the Vikings, he ultimately didn't play.
That said, the Panthers had a bye in Week 13, so the team was probably just being extra cautious with McCaffrey to ensure he didn't suffer any long-term injury. After all, the Panthers aren't really in the playoff picture and McCaffrey has played in just three games this season, so with one game left before the bye, Rhule was probably just playing it safe.
McCaffrey should have a chance to return in Week 14 barring a setback. He did practice every day for the Panthers before Week 12 and with a full week off to heal up more, he should be good to go against the Broncos. McCaffrey's practice status will need to be watched, but if he can log a limited -- or even better, full -- practice on Wednesday, that will be a sign that he's ready to go.
On the off-chance that McCaffrey isn't ready, Mike Davis will get the start for the Panthers and fall into RB2 territory. It would also be a slight stock up for Curtis Samuel, as the wideout would handle more carries out of the backfield.
Is Joe Mixon playing this week?
Mixon (foot) has been battling an injury since Week 6 and hasn't been able to practice since October. The Bengals kept him on the active roster for a few weeks after the injury before moving him to IR just ahead of their Week 11 game against Washington. Now he's eligible to return, but it's uncertain if he will.
As ESPN's Ben Baby pointed out at the time of Mixon's placement on IR, Bengals coach Zac Taylor was noncommittal about Mixon returning this season and declined to predict if Mixon would return. That doesn't exactly seem like a stellar endorsement of a Mixon return.
With the Bengals well out of the playoff race and without top overall pick Joe Burrow, they could opt to keep Mixon on IR the rest of the season. At the very least, if he is going to return, the Bengals will need to designate him to return from IR and he'll need to practice before owners can trust him. At this point, it doesn't seem likely that will happen.
Continue to hold onto Mixon in case something changes, but for the time being, it seems like Giovani Bernard will continue to be the main back for the Bengals with Samaje Perine mixing in to complement the veteran. Bernard can be trusted as a solid RB2 in a great matchup against the Cowboys in Week 14.
Is Devonta Freeman playing this week?
Freeman (ankle/hamstring) is eligible to return from IR for the Giants this week, but it's unclear whether he will do so. He is also facing another obstacle in his potential return to action.
According to the Giants' official website, Freeman was placed on the COVID list. It's unclear if Freeman tested positive or if he was a high-risk close contact, but either way, he'll be on the list a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10. The latter timeline would render him unavailable for Week 14, so this will be a situation to watch.
It seems likely that Freeman will miss at least another week due to the complications that will arise from him being on the COVID list. Plus, it's unclear whether he's fully healthy again. At the point, it's hard to trust Freeman anyway with Wayne Gallman emerging as the clear lead back for the Giants in the absence of both Saquon Barkley and Freeman. Keep Freeman around as a handcuff stash and potential PPR flex play, but don't plan on starting him until he's back on the practice field.