Steelers injuries make projections difficult

The most likely to miss Pittsburgh starter is Hines Ward.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's the first round of the fantasy playoffs and the week opens with an important game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.

This game could very well be the key to your winning the week and advancing in the tournament if you correctly answer the questions regarding the Pittsburgh injuries. If you don't get them right, you could be left with a starter in street clothes and a zero in the points column.

The Pittsburgh lineup, which usually gives you six "fantasy-worthy" starters (Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, D/ST), is riddled with unknowns this week.

The most likely to miss Pittsburgh starter is Ward, the team's No.1 receiver.

Ward suffered a hamstring injury late in the game against Oakland and is listed as doubtful for the game. Ward missed both Monday and Tuesday's practice. He's an important weapon in Roethlisberger's arsenal. So far this season, Ward hasn't missed a game and has grabbed 72 balls for 922 yards and six touchdowns. He's ranked as the No.10 receiver in my fantasy league with 164 points = 13.66 per game.

Ward's absence would help the fantasy totals for Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed. Holmes had a huge game last week, posting eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Wallace hasn't done much over the past five weeks, but with Ward out is capable of giving you double-digit points. The increase to Sweed's totals still doesn't make him a starter in fantasy lineups.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall, one of this year's pleasant surprises, has a sore ankle and missed Monday's practice. He was limited on Tuesday and the short week might hurt his ability to play on Thursday night. Mendenhall posted 103 yards and a touchdown last week (19 points) and is 18th among running backs in 2009. Not bad for the 39th running back selected in August's Draft. Former starter Willie Parker is healthy and this might end up being a shared situation if Mendenhall's ankle gives him trouble.

And of course there is the worrisome quarterback situation where "Big Ben" missed Week 12 with a concussion. He played well against Oakland (18-for-24 for 278, 2 TDs, 1 INT), but we all know that once you've suffered a concussion, it's much easier to experience a second one. How will he play without his No.1 target in the lineup?

On the defensive side of the ball, safety Troy Polamalu is listed as doubtful with a knee injury. The Steelers aren't the same with him out of the lineup (yielding 12.7 ppg with and 22.5 ppg without Polamalu) and it makes starting the Pittsburgh defense/special teams difficult, even against the inept Browns.

Whether you have any Pittsburgh starters in your lineup, or are playing against one of them, this is going to be a difficult game to analyze and predict. Getting it right, might just be the first step towards winning the championship.

Below you will find my Week 14 projections for the Steelers.

Player Pos Fantasy Pts
Ben Roethlisberger QB 20
Rashard Mendenhall RB 12
Willie Parker RB 6
Hines Ward WR 0
Santonio Holmes WR 19
Mike Wallace WR 11
Limas Sweed WR 3
Heath Miller TE 10
Defense D/ST 7

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