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The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16: Key injuries come at worst time

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The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16: Key injuries come at worst time

Twas the week heading into Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, because he was too busy checking his iPhone for the status of his most hallowed fantasy stars.

The fantasy playoffs are winding down. Leagues around the country are heading into their semifinals and finals. The participation of key NFL players would be considered optimal. But across the league, a combination of injury and COVID has rendered prominent players unavailable.

The lumps of coal are especially dark in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers have suddenly run into an injury pandemic that endangers their chances for a Super Bowl two-peat.

The worst injury has stricken wide receiver Chris Godwin, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.. WR Mike Evans is considered week to week, and revived RB Leonard Fournette is also likely to miss some time.

That’s bad news for the Buccaneers, but it might be fatal news for fantasy mavens who need help, like, immediately.

On the plus side, RB Ronald Jones and WR Antonio Brown might be available on the fantasy waiver wires for folks who aren’t concerned, say, with the authenticity of players’ vaccination cards.

Outside of Tampa Bay, other key players have become dicey prospects for the holiday week:

Travis Kelce (Chiefs TE) – The world’s greatest tight end, who reminded the world of his status last week in Los Angeles, has landed on the COVID list and could miss Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh. You should wait until the last second before ditching him. But we’re expecting that ditch him, you must.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) tries to avoid being tackled by Los Angeles Chargers Drue Tranquill (49) after Kelce caught a pass for a first down during overtime of an NFL football game against the Chargers, Thursday, December 16, 2021 in Inglewood, Calif. The Chiefs defeated the Chargers 34 to 28. (John Cordes/AP Images for Panini)

Austin Ekeler (Chargers RB) – Same goes for Los Angeles’ top running back. That’s especially painful since L.A. is facing the Texans on Sunday. But that could make Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley that much more appealing as late replacements.

1640197121 884 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16 Key injuries come
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, left, hauls in a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Joe Mixon (Bengals RB) –Mixon injured his ankle in the Bengals’ victory in Denver last week. But both Cincinnati and fantasy folks may be able to replace him adequately with Samaje Perine. While it’s not an ideal matchup against Baltimore, Perine ain’t chopped liver.

1640197122 202 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16 Key injuries come
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon is assisted after an injury against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Lamar Jackson (Ravens QB) – The big injury issue in the Bengals-Ravens game is the status of Baltimore’s hobbled quarterback. Watch closely the status of his injured ankle. If it looks like No. 8 will be unavailable this week, immediately check out our Deepest Sleeper later in this column.

1640197122 534 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16 Key injuries come
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson sits on the Ravens sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Julio Jones (Titans WR) – The Loop finished well out of the money in our league this year, in part, because of the meager contributions of this borderline hall of famer, who returned briefly last week before being injured again. Can A.J. Brown come back quickly for Tennessee? We wait with bated breath.

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Tennessee Titans wide receiver Julio Jones (2) warms up before an NFL football game, Sunday, December 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

SITTING STARS
Green Bay will have so many defenders in the box on Christmas night that it could be a rough night for Cleveland’s Saint Nick Chubb. … If Kyler Murray looked so pathetic against the lowly Lions, we wouldn’t count on him against playoff-hungry Indianapolis. … New England won’t be moving against Buffalo’s defense, whether there are more gale winds this week or not, so pass on Mac Jones and company.. … Chicago’s defense that made the Vikings look so ordinary Monday night will help continue the Russell Wilson abyss. … Dallas’ Dak Prescott was mostly ineffective two weeks ago against Washington, so look for a repeat this week in Jerryworld. … Other QBs who are likely to come down to earth this week are Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger against Kansas City and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa against the suddenly-stingy Saints.

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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

MATCHUP GAME
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp has clawed his way into the MVP conversation this season, and the Vikings are likely to see why. … The 49ers will keep making Deebo Samuel a multi-position threat Thursday night against Tennessee. … Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury suddenly makes Tampa Bay RB Ronald Jones a must-start for the final two fantasy playoff weeks. … Speaking of multi-dimensional dudes, Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson will regain some of his recent luster against Detroit. … The bottom-dwelling matchup of the Jets and Jaguars will be fertile ground for their two running stars: James Robinson and Michael Carter. … The NFL’s biggest secret, Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow, will post more big numbers vs. Denver. … And two QBs who should come up huge this week are the Chargers’ Justin Herbert against Houston and Philly’s Jalen Hurts against the Giants.

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Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp makes a catch during warmups before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

INJURY WATCH
The Vikings could really use a return by Adam Thielen for their critical game against the Rams. He was a late scratch Monday night against Chicago. … San Francisco is likely going to have to do without rookie running back Elijah Mitchell for at least another week. … Tennessee really needs D’onta Foreman to continue his faux Derrick Henry impersonation, since the latter is still a ways away from returning. … The Giants’ Sterling Shepard saw his disappointing season end with a torn Achilles’ tendon last week. Top receivers Tyreek Hill and Tyler Lockett have landed on the COVID list. … The long list of the questionable includes quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Baker Mayfield), running backs (Saquon Barkley, Aaron Jones, James Conner, Damien Harris), wide receivers (MIke Evans, Antonio Brown) and several tight ends (Darren Waller, Zach Ertz, Pat Freiermuth).

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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) stands on the field before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

THE DEEPEST SLEEPER
A caveat: You must first make CERTAIN that Lamar Jackson is too injured to play this week for Baltimore against Cincinnati. If that proves true, then you should grab his backup, Tyler Huntley, who provided some Jackson-like thrills last Sunday against the Packers. The former Utah Ute either has zero fantasy value this week, or he can be a playoff winner. How many other guys on waivers have posted four-touchdown games recently (2 passing, 2 running)?

1640197125 104 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16 Key injuries come
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley (2) runs the ball for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

THE THURSDAY PICK
49ers at Titans (+3½):
Pick: Titans by 3

THE SATURDAY PICKS
Browns at Packers (-7½):
Pick: Packers by 11
Colts at Cardinals (-1½):
Pick: Colts by 3

1640197126 140 The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16 Key injuries come
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in action in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

BREAKING NEWS
We’ll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday’s kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Eduardo Escobar showing signs of heating up; Brandon Nimmo dodges an injury

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Eduardo Escobar showing signs of heating up; Brandon Nimmo dodges an injury

Eduardo Escobar watched a Steven Matz changeup sail into the center of the zone on Tuesday at Citi Field. His bat remained frozen just above his shoulder. Escobar was behind 0-1 in the count, but he didn’t waste time attacking the next pitch. Another changeup from Matz, but this time it moved outside. Escobar got to it before the catcher could, and he watched the ball glide past the infield dirt, then beyond the outfielders, before it finally landed in the opposing bullpen.

Escobar lifted his right arm in the air as the ball touched down. It was only Escobar’s second home run of the season, but his arm was raised because the monkey was off his back. Escobar went 3-for-7 with a home run, an RBI and a walk across both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I felt good just because I’ve been working a lot with the hitting coaches,” Escobar said of what was going through his mind after that homer. “To have that moment after the tough times that I’ve been having this season, it really felt good. I’m just trying to go out there every day to improve and try to help the team win and that’s what I’m going to try to do every single day.”

Maybe all Escobar needed to heat up at the plate was to face Matz. The third baseman is 5-for-10 with two home runs in his career against the former Mets southpaw. But Escobar is hoping the adjustments he’s made at the plate will make a long term impact against the rest of the league.

Escobar has been working with hitting coaches Eric Chavez and Jeremy Barnes in an effort to return to the approach that worked for him earlier in the season. In his first 20 games of 2022, Escobar hit .268 with a .839 OPS and an impressive 14 walks. The free passes Escobar received in those first 20 games were a product of his patience, which was a different, more successful approach than what we’ve seen from him lately. Entering Tuesday, Escobar posted an abysmal .118/.196/.177 slashline with only five walks in 13 games in May.

He has been chasing pitches out of the zone instead of doing what he knew would work, getting out in front of pitches like he did for Tuesday’s home run. Even Matz, who hardly shows any emotion on the mound, scrunched up his nose and stared into the opposing bullpen, looking completely baffled as to how his outside changeup traveled 391 feet to center for a home run.

Escobar is at his best when he’s baffling opposing pitchers, something he did very well for the Diamondbacks and Brewers last season, when cranked 28 home runs in 146 games. In 2019, Escobar had 35 homers with 10 triples, the best in the major leagues.

His teammates and skipper are anxiously waiting for that Escobar to show up, the one fans saw a glimpse of in April during his hot start. Those that know Escobar best on this team are not concerned about his May slump. His work, attention to detail and passion for his craft have all led Buck Showalter to believe it’s just a matter of time before he goes on a tear.

“He’s been working so hard,” the Mets manager said of Escobar. “That’s why it’s tough. Everybody’s got a little spot, just about everybody’s got an area where they can pitch to. And you go through periods where they’re getting the ball there in the right sequences. I think he is first or second in incorrect calls against, in baseball. Balls and strikes. That’s a lot. Do you feel like he’s been arguing a lot of balls and strikes? It’s been tough on him. He’s wore it. It makes you want to support him even more.”

SIGH OF RELIEF

Brandon Nimmo returned to the Mets lineup on Wednesday against the Cardinals, leading off and playing center as usual, and with the quad contusion he sustained in Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader mostly behind him. The center fielder tested out his quad hours before first pitch on Wednesday and said he was surprised with how good he felt, given how much pain he was in just the night before.

“If you’re not sure how that feels, go home tonight, take a hammer and hit it off your quad,” Showalter said of Nimmo’s contusion.

Nimmo fouled a ball off his quad during a seventh-inning at-bat on Tuesday, and immediately he hopped out from the box in obvious pain. Nimmo returned to the at-bat, though, and sprinted down the line on a routine grounder to shortstop. Once he reached the base, Nimmo limped off the bag and hunched over with his hands on his knees. He did not return to the field, but evidently the rest and ice he applied after the game helped him bounce back to the starting lineup on Wednesday.

MARTE COMING BACK

Starling Marte (bereavement list) is expected to rejoin the Mets on Thursday, but it’s unclear if he will be activated for their series finale against the Cardinals at Citi Field. It’s possible the Mets will wait until Friday, for their opener at Denver, to activate Marte and make a roster move.

Marte’s grandmother died, suddenly, earlier this week and he flew back to Dominican Republic to be with his family. His grandmother raised Marte after his mom died when he was just 10 years old. Wednesday was also the two-year anniversary of the death of his wife, who died from an unexpected heart attack in 2020.

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Joanna Vail, ‘greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota,’ dies at 93

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Joanna Vail portrait

Many colleagues considered Joanna Vail the “greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota.”

Joanna Vail (Courtesy of the family)

“At the Metropolitan Council, she was called ‘our legislative mortician’ because she would always kill off any bad legislation,” Todd Lefko, a longtime friend and president of the International Business Development Company, told the Pioneer Press. “She was a fixture, sitting in the front row of the legislative hearing rooms, knitting and staring at any legislator who might vote against her bills.”

Vail was also a former nurse, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leader and aide to the late Gov. Wendell Anderson.

But to Capitol insiders, she will likely be best remembered for her furious knitting during legislative committee meetings. A political foe once mailed her a pencil drawing of a guillotine over the message: “Are you knitting, Madame Defarge?” — a reference to the fictional character in Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” who sat outside her Paris wine shop during the French Revolution endlessly knitting a scarf listing people to be killed.

Vail died May 12 at Presbyterian Homes in Arden Hills, where she had been receiving memory care since 2020. A former longtime resident of White Bear Lake and later Mahtomedi, she was 93.

“Joanna loved cats, baseball, reading and spending time at her family camp on Agate Island in Ontario, Canada,” her son, David, wrote in a profile.

“Joanna was a combination of the Massachusetts culture and the Minnesota nice,” Lefko said. “This was reflected in her humor, which could be biting, but in the Minnesota tradition, always told the truth.”

Vail was born Nov. 16, 1928, in Waltham, Mass. She graduated from Waltham High School in 1945, and then earned a nursing degree from McLean Hospital School of Nursing in 1950. She worked as a registered nurse in Massachusetts and Maryland in the early 1950s.

After attending the University of Maryland, she served as head nurse at Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, Md., from 1952 to 1953 and was an instructor and director of nursing education at Rosewood State Hospital in Owings Mills, Md., from 1953 to 1956.

She married Dr. David Vail in 1956. They moved to Minnesota, where he became state medical director and she dove into politics.

After he died in 1971, she returned to work to support her four children. She became a staff assistant to Gov. Anderson, a post she held until 1973, when she left for a position as special assistant to the chair of the Metropolitan Council until her retirement in 1994.

A member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, Vail enrolled at Metropolitan State University in 1988 and became one of the first three area union members to graduate from the school’s labor studies program.

“I think people take for granted many of the things labor has fought and worked for. I don’t think they should,” she said later. “We can’t count on the benevolence of management without a strong countervailing force looking out for the interests of the workers.”

The Vails moved to White Bear Lake in 1959. She quickly became active in local politics but was soundly defeated in a 1961 primary election for a city council seat there.

She was elected Ramsey County DFL “chairman” in 1968 and Fourth Congressional District DFL “chairman” in 1970. Friends said she was the first woman elected as the top congressional district officer in either party in Minnesota.

In 1968, she was a strong supporter of Eugene McCarthy for president. DFLers elected her as a delegate to that year’s turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey defeated McCarthy for the party’s nomination. While walking back to her hotel one night Vail was tear-gassed by police who were battling violent protesters.

“I remember thinking, what the hell is this housewife doing in a riot in Chicago?” she later told Star Tribune reporters.

Her family said Vail, with the help of Anderson and others, “became sober in 1971 and remained clean and sober for over 50 years, until her death.”

She is survived by sons David Rand Vail (Anne), Garrett Murphy Vail and Michael Walsh Vail; daughters Sara Vail Palmquist (Dan), Rachel Vail Doran (Michael) and Martha Vail Spittal (Thomas), 14 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

Vail’s memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Aug. 27 at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, 328 Maple St., Mahtomedi. Memorials are preferred to Vail Place, a nonprofit organization that provides recovery service for adults with serious mental illnesses.

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Salvation Army seeks 1,000 volunteers to deliver doughnuts to local heroes

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Salvation Army seeks 1,000 volunteers to deliver doughnuts to local heroes

Do you know a first responder, healthcare worker, teacher, veteran or helpful neighbor who could use a doughnut?

On June 3, which is National Donut Day, the Salvation Army Northern Division is looking for registered volunteers to fan out across the east metro and deliver a dozen doughnuts to their “local hero” of choice. The 12,000 doughnuts, which are being donated by Cub Foods, can be picked up from one of six metro Salvation Army locations.

Last year, the event drew just under 700 volunteers. This year, the goal is 1,000. Prospective doughnut deliverers must register in advance at SalvationArmyNorth.org/free-donuts.

As for recipients…

“It’s at the choosing of the volunteer,” said Dan Furry, a spokesman for the Salvation Army Northern Division. “We started doing this last year, and it worked very well. We’ll probably do it every year for Donut Day.”

Why doughnuts? Back in 1938, the Salvation Army’s “donut lassies” served up morale-boosting doughnuts, coffee and more to soldiers stationed in France, near the front lines of World War I. June 3 was set aside as a national recognition of their sweet service to the American troops, who returned home with a hankering for the fried confections.

Their appetites earned the returning soldiers the title “doughboys” and popularized the doughnut in post-war America.

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