The kickoff is hours away and the first official injury reports are out. That changes everything when it comes to how teams discuss injuries, but nothing about how medical staffs manage injuries.
Words like "day to day" and "probable" now have meanings backed by rule and consequence, but we also get the benefit of teams being required to disclose all injuries. That information helps, but it doesn't often give us much more than the short-term, required information.
Injuries all have context and that's what I'll try to avoid. When one player goes down or has any sort of deficit, the mantra of "next man up" echoes throughout the NFL, but it's not that simple. The effect injuries have are both short and long term, but the ripple effects can change seasons, roles and values.
Be sure to check back on Sunday for the last-minute updates, but here's a quick tip: 95 percent of injuries are predictable by the Thursday status. That's why the amateur who drafted lucky can set his lineup before he turns off his work computer on Friday and still manage to win. Real players like you want to have that five percent advantage, the one that separates us and wins us trophies.
Let's take a look around the league as we get ready for another great season.
UPDATE: Welker had a great Broncos debut in Thursday's NFL opener, catching nine balls for 67 yards and a pair of scores. Meanwhile, Rice struggled on the ground to the tune of just 37 yards rushing, but did find the end zone once.
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Real football! Both of these playoff contenders come into the season like you'd want out of the preseason—relatively healthy. There's some minor concerns with Champ Bailey out, but he's not as key to the Broncos defense as he used to be. Dennis Pitta is out long-term, which puts more pressure on Ray Rice, both in running and passing, but that could actually be a positive.
I told you on Wednesday about how strong Peyton Manning should be this season and how he's come back from spinal fusion, but having Wes Welker might make him look even better. Welker is quick and should have no deficits remaining from his ankle sprain. Those quick slants and screens he thrives on don't overtax Manning's still-weakened arm.
Welker's role is going to be much bigger than Brandon Stokley's was, but there are also other guys around to take targets (and defenders).
INJURY: calf strain, inflamed back
STATUS: will start (15.28 points, courtesy NumberFire)
Gary Kubiak talks a good game about balance. He's wanted to have Ben Tate take some of the workload off Arian Foster since Foster took the starting slot. (Remember, Foster was slotted behind Tate and Steve Slaton just a couple years ago.) Same with finding a second wide receiver to go with Andre Johnson.
In Week 1, the fact that Arian Foster didn't play in the preseason and came out saying how "rested" he was—which some have taken as code for "I took the preseason off and my back wasn't as bad as some thought"—gives Kubiak a bit more incentive to actually balance the carries. The Texans have two healthy backs, something they haven't had much of at the same time.
The worry is less about Week 1 and more about how to keep Foster (and to a lesser extent, Tate) healthy and productive through the long season. Foster hasn't avoided contact in the past, while the zone-blocking scheme rewards quick blasts through the middle. Once again this season, the medical staff's work could be the difference between taking the next step and another year that ends in early January.
While Foster will give up some carries, I still doubt he'll give up many to Tate. Foster is a good play in most formats while Tate remains a weak flex option, but only as a pure pair with Foster to hedge those carries and only if you don't have a better option.
INJURY: post-microdiscectomy, surgery on fractured forearm, infection
STATUS: will not play Week 1 (0 points)
Rob Gronkowski is making progress, but in the latter stages of recovery, this is what you expect to see. Gronkowski is right where he should be, given the normal eight to 10-week rehab process for this kind of surgery. Seeing him in pads is nice, but the light contact is the more telling fact.
I've thought all along that Gronkowski would be toward the end of the range given conditioning concerns and the Pats' general conservative nature. Even with a sudden shortage at tight end and big turnover in the passing game, they usually take the long view.
From what we can see and what my sources are telling me, there's more of a chance Gronkowski is back in Week 3 rather than Week 4 as I've been saying is the likely return. That makes keeping him off the PUP a smart play, giving them two or three games in exchange for a roster spot.
Next week, we'll be looking for Gronkowski to up the physical contact. When we see him taking hits, we'll know he's close to ready, but there's a chance we won't actually see that until he's on the field.
INJURY: post-surgical hip inflammation
STATUS: will start Week 1 (12.13 pts)
UPDATE: Outside of Cincy's A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall was the top receiving threat in the Bears' 24-21 victory over the Bengals Sunday afternoon. Marshall led Chicago with eight receptions for 104 yards and the game-winning TD in the fourth.
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The worst case for Brandon Marshall's hip is that the surgery he had in January didn't work, or that he's deteriorated again from the cleanup before the season gets underway. That January scope was the second such cleaning done after hip labrum surgery, which is unusual. We don't have a big enough sample to say how unusual, but most come back well from the surgery.
The worst case sounds bad, but remember, it would put him right back where he was last year. Marshall was able to deal with the pain, and most fantasy owners would probably take the kind of production Marshall put up last season again. It's not their hip, after all.
The Bears, meanwhile, turned in a blank sheet for the first official injury report, meaning they think Marshall is just fine.
Marshall seems to be focused more on maintenance, and that's a positive. If anything works or just puts him in the right frame of mind, it can only help. There are more questions about the new offense for Marshall right now than his hip. Keep your eye on it, watching to see if the Bears are forced to make changes like holding him out of early week practices, but he's a start in all formats.
INJURY: sprained toe
OUTLOOK: will start Week 1 (8.88 pts)
Pierre Garcon's season was defined by one play. He caught Robert Griffin's pass and sailed for 88 yards, but just before he got to the end zone, he felt something. The toe injury he suffered plagued him all season, but now, Garcon gets another chance with Griffin and he says he's fully healthy.
Garcon is a speedy player. So far in drills and games, he's shown he's not having trouble with accelerating, stopping or hard cuts on the foot, all of the things that tested it last year. Part of it is because he appears to have found the right inserts to help protect the toe, and part is due to healing over time.
Garcon has the chance to be a No. 1 wide receiver with a very solid quarterback and no other real deep threats. If Garcon and Fred Davis are healthy, a healthy Griffin will be even more productive. This Washington offense could be special, but a lot of it comes down to health, just as it did last season.
INJURY: post-knee surgery
STATUS: will start Week 1 (9.83 pts)
Jordy Nelson had minor knee surgery at the start of camp. Now as Week 1 gets ready to go, he's not even on the injury report. But remember, the OIR is about whether a player is expected to play, not whether he's healthy or not. In this case, Nelson still seems to have some room left in his recovery.
The decompressed never in Nelson's knee was designed to help relieve discomfort and give him some more strength in his foot. He should get back some plantar flexion, which will help with acceleration and jumping. A quicker Nelson? That's a good thing as he looks to take on some of the targets the team lost with Greg Jennings' move.
Nelson will play and start, but don't take his first couple weeks as where he's going to be. Nerves take time to regenerate, just as I pointed out in Wednesday's article about Peyton Manning's continued recovery. Nelson's ready to contribute now, but there's still upside in him.
E.J. Manuel: If you really thought Jeff Tuel was going to be the Week 1 starter, you're the kind of guy I want in my fantasy leagues. Manuel was always going to be the starter if he was healthy enough, and his early looks back from that minor knee surgery are very positive. While the matchup isn't ideal, he has all his weapons, including a healthy Steve Johnson, so he could put up points anyway.
Mark Sanchez: Someday Mark Sanchez might be best known for "butt fumble." That's a tough fate for anyone, though Sanchez seems to have a pretty good life. The Jets aren't sure if Sanchez will even be active, though sources tell me the team is more likely to go with Brady Quinn as the backup in Week 1. Sanchez won't be cut and could have some fantasy upside given Geno Smith's tenuous hold on the starting quarterback slot in a bad offense. There's just no value at all this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Bradshaw may not start, but the "start" is one play. There's no question he'll get 15-20 touches, and perhaps more if his foot responds as the Colts think it will. Vick Ballard will get touches and there's questions about who gets the goal-line carries, but Bradshaw is both the most consistent, the most talented and has the most upside of all the Colts backs.
DeAndre Hopkins: Hopkins passed the final test of the NFL Concussion Protocol, meaning he's likely to play this week. We'll see whether the missed time hurts him in a complex Texans offense. It's not unusual to have the most issues getting past the last phase of testing, so don't read anything more into his concussion than there is. He is a speculative play this week, but has upside in a good offense lined up across from a guy who'll draw lots of attention.
Dennis Pitta: The Ravens made a surprise move, placing Pitta on the IR-Return list. He can't return before Week 8, but the fact the Ravens think he could come back at all is a bit of a surprise. Pitta injured his hip with a dislocation, fracture and soft tissue damage requiring surgery early in the preseason. This designation is an indication that he is starting to heal.