Concussions are all over the news right now, and rightly so. The problem is most people discussing this have no background in the actual facts. I'm not a doctor, but I know how to get hold of the best in the business. With concussions, that's Dr. Robert Watkins, Jr., orthopedic surgeon and co-director of Marina Spine Center at Marina Del Rey (Calif.) Hospital. I asked Dr. Watkins what happens to the brain when there is a helmet-to-helmet hit. Is being hit by a helmet any worse that a shoulder or knee?
"The brain gets impacted against the skull with any significant blow the head. Spearing with the helmet delivers the strongest blow because the top of the head is in a direct line with the body," Watkins said. "The force vector goes directly from the legs through the trunk and out the head. Incidentally, the tackler who spears with his head is at risk of suffering a spinal cord injury because he absorbs an equal amount of force to the top of his head which gets transferred to his cervical spine."
So it's both dangerous and stupid. I also asked whether concussion symptoms are ever delayed? Can a decision be safely made in minutes on the sideline? "Concussion symptoms can be delayed," he said. "Players, coaches, athletic trainers, and medical staff need to be vigilant in monitoring for neurologic and mental deficits. Decisions can be safely made on the sideline if players with suspected injuries undergo repetitive neurologic exams to monitor for development of concussion symptoms."
So as we head into the first week of games after the NFL threw down the gauntlet on helmet-to-helmet hits, we'll have to see if just being 'on notice' changes anything. Will we see more hits to the head or will we see some big hitter pull up short and cost yardage because he "thought about it"? There's going to be a lot to watch Sunday, so let's take a look at the games:
UPGRADE: noneDOWNGRADE: none
I guess it's fitting the first listed game this week has only one significant injury -- DuntaRobinson, who has become Patient Zero in the debate on big hits. Robinson has not yet been cleared to play (as of Saturday afternoon) and is unlikely to play a week after his collision with DeSeanJackson. The Bengals have some depth issues in the secondary with RoyWilliams out and JonathanJoseph hurting, but that's it.
UPGRADE: noneDOWNGRADE: none
The Dolphins' big injury news was putting JaredOdrick on IR, losing him for the year. It's the second time Odrick's finished the IR, but the Fins had already gotten used to him not being there. They will have KarlosDansby, who practiced despite knee soreness and looks ready to play on Sunday. The Steelers are essentially healthy, though starting OG TraiEssex remains out. It didn't seem to hurt them running or passing last week, but we'll see if the Dolphins defense can exploit the weakness better than the Browns did.
Most of the issue for the Bills is on defense, where there's a couple injuries, including KeithEllison. Ellison's knee injury is more about depth than the actual loss of Ellison, but any weakness is going to get exploited. Expect lots of RayRice at the weak center of the Bills defense. The Ravens aren't sure yet if ToddHeap will be ready to go. He's listed as questionable with a neck injury, suffered after that frightening hit last week. Yes, the team is calling it a neck injury and Heap himself insists there was no concussion. I'm not so sure, but we'll go with it. The Ravens are going to be without TomZbikowski. He has a heel bruise that slows him down, but it even with EdReed activated, it's still unclear how much Reed will play and how much he'll affect the defense. That might means a slight upgrade for the Bills passing game, but I'm not sure enough in it to list it above.
SUNDAY UPDATE: Todd Bouman gets the start, as expected
ToddBouman. That's who'll get the start after the top two QBs are knocked out. There's some hope TrentEdwards will be ready by Sunday, but sources say that's a longshot after he looked "terrible -- couldn't throw, couldn't take the snap" on Friday. None of them are great fantasy options, but they will affect MikeSims-Walker, who's had a terrible season so far. He got more targets last week, largely because the Jags were behind all game, but a shoulder injury was the cost. He'll play, but there's no certainty he'll be able to have a normal week. The fantasy hope is that the same imbalanced score forces the same kind of offensive strategy, but with the QBs out, that's not a great scoring threat. The only significant injury on the Chiefs side is to ChrisChambers, who missed last week with a finger injury. He was still wearing some protection in practice, but participated. He'll play and get his normal targets this week.
First the Steelers, now the Saints -- welcome to the NFL, ColtMcCoy. McCoy played well enough to make the Browns give JakeDelhomme and SenecaWallace another week off to heal their ankles. Unfortunately, he did lose his top two WRs last week to JamesHarrison's hooliganism. One of them, JoshCribbs, gave Harrison some cover with this quote, which to me proves he hasn't gotten over the concussion yet. Cribbs has been cleared to play and is listed as probable, thought MohamedMassaquoi is out. Cribbs is likely to get some Wildcat work as well. PeytonHillis is still dealing with his quad strain, but practiced normally and will get his normal touches. On the defensive side, ShaunRogers isn't healthy enough to do more than the spot duty he had last week. That opens up the middle for some running. I'm not a guy who's bought into ChrisIvory - he was injured while at Washington State, then injured after he transferred to Division II Tiffin, then injured again in the preseason. All that said, PierreThomas' continued absence makes Ivory a decent enough play. It won't help this week, but the Saints seem to think that ReggieBush could be back as soon as next week's Halloween game against the Steelers. The Saints defense is still banged up, but the majority will play. The defensive backfield is thin, until TracyPorter returns.
SUNDAY UPDATE: Mike Sellars isn't a big fantasy player, but his presence will help Donovan McNabb. Hearing that he'll play despite being listed as questionable.
MikeShanahan loves the "questionable" designation. He's used it with DonovanMcNabb, even when everyone knew McNabb was going to play. This week, Shanahan proves he hates fantasy players by listing everyone -- seven players -- as questionable. OK, he did list ClintonPortis as out, but that's hardly fair or as intended. Most of the questionable players will play, but ChrisCooley really is a bit questionable. He did get cleared and practiced fully on Friday, but it seems the team is being rightly reluctant to rely on Cooley just yet. The defensive players should all play, including RockyMcIntosh, LaRonLandry, and DeAngeloHall. The Bears don't have any significant players out, but at LB, both LanceBriggs (ankle) and BrianUrlacher (groin) might be a half-step slow. Unfortunately, RyanTorain isn't the kind of back that can exploit that issue.
UPGRADE: Steve SmithDOWNGRADE: none
It's really kind of simple: SteveSmith just heals faster than normal people. Some of it is pain tolerance and the willingness to go out on the football field with injured parts that could get re-injured, but deep down, Smith has some ability, likely genetic, that allows him to come back quickly. He's done it again and again and no, I don't think it's a trick of chemicals. Smith won't be 100%, but I think that MattMoore will be going to him early and often to see just what he can do. The Niners only major issue is VernonDavis. His knee held up well in practice and he should get his normal targets. JoshMorgan is banged up as well, but is really about the fourth or fifth option anyway.
UPGRADE: Josh Freeman, Kellen WinslowDOWNGRADE: none
The Rams' season has been defined, in ways, by injuries. In Week 7, they have a long list of them, but mostly on defense. As with most defensive injuries, it's a depth issue more than a "changes everything" type of problem. Outside of a very small group of defensive game-changers, the scheme and the matchup is the thing. Without much of a running game, that leaves JoshFreeman to try and find some way of keeping up with SamBradford. Granted, Bradford's running out of guys to throw it to, but there's enough out there and he has a luxury Freeman doesn't -- an elite running game. The Rams WR ills are still going on. MardyGilyard is unlikely to play and LaurentRobinson doesn't seem to be all the way back from his foot injury. If DanarioAlexander can stay healthy -- something he's never done -- it seems like Bradford likes throwing to bigger targets like Alexander and the TEs.
SUNDAY UPDATE: As expected, Michael Vick is the inactive third QB. Vince Young is the QB2, with Kerry Collins getting the start.Kenny Britt won't start, but expect him to get "near his normal" targets.
UPGRADE: Jeremy MaclinDOWNGRADE: Vince Young, LeSean McCoy
The Eagles did the right thing in shutting down DeSeanJackson. While it will hurt their passing game some, JeremyMaclin showed he's a solid enough target for KevinKolb. Jackson now gets this week plus the bye to heal up while JasonAvant slides up to the WR2 role. Speaking of Kolb, he gets the start with MichaelVick as the QB2. Vick is unlikely to play unless Kolb gets hurt, so hoping he gets even Wildcat looks is off. Andy Reid is going to get to change his mind of QBs a couple times during the bye. Brent Celek is also likely to get his normal targets, perhaps a bit more since Jackson tends to be the crossing route guy, something Celek can also do. LeSeanMcCoy is healthy, but given the way that the Titans play and the way they shut down Jones-Drew, I'm wondering if this week is the test for his ribs we thought last week might be. VinceYoung is a GTD, though most indications are KerryCollins will get the start. Young's ankle is the bigger issue, though his knee was also injured. Sources tell me unless Young comes out Sunday morning with full mobility, Collins starts. The question will be whether Young is the backup or the QB3. That's important since Collins has a swollen middle finger on his throwing hand that left the Titans with RustySmith running things at times. Whoever is at QB, the WR situation will be a problem. KennyBritt is a question mark after some off-field issues while JustinGage looks like he'll play, but be less than 100%.
UPGRADE: noneDOWNGRADE: none
The Cards are hoping to upgrade their offense with a couple returns from injury. Unfortunately, they may have to wait another week to be upgraded. Both EarlyDoucet (groin) and SteveBreaston (knee) weren't able to practice fully this week and will be GTDs. Breaston looks a little more likely to play, but a Saturday workout only told the Cards that he'd be "available", not that he'd be ready for a full load. He could end up something of a decoy for LarryFitzgerald. The Seahawks are relatively healthy coming into Week 7.
SUNDAY UPDATE: Antonio Gates will play, but might be more limited than originally thought. Look at your TE situation.
UPGRADE: noneDOWNGRADE: Philip Rivers
The Chargers have some issues at WR and, with MalcolmFloyd out, LegeduNaanee unlikely, and VincentJackson MIA, that leaves PatrickCrayton and RichardGoodman as the starting WRs. It really depends on how you look at PhilipRivers as to whether you downgrade him based on his WRs or upgrade them based on his play. Given the line play and a Pats team that needs the win, I'll downgrade Rivers here. Sure, PeytonManning got along fine with a former practice-squadder, but I'm just not buying that this offense will work as well. Worse, AntonioGates is also questionable heading into the game and will be a true GTD. If he plays, Gates will go back to the 2008 form he had with a similar toe issue, where he lost targets but kept up his red zone looks. The big hope is that he puts up one of those "2-for-10, 2 TD" lines. RyanMathews is as healthy as he's been all season, but he still looks to be splitting carries with MikeTolbert, a situation that exists in hopes of keeping the rookie RB healthy. BillBarnwell had a great stat about NorvTurner -- none of the 22 players he's listed as "doubtful" have ever played in a game that week. The Pats only major issue is JulianEdelman, who suffered a concussion last week. FredTaylor remains out, but the team has adjusted well with it's committee approach.
UPGRADE: Jason Campbell, Demaryius ThomasDOWNGRADE: Broncos D/ST
The Raiders major issues seem to be righting themselves - well, on the injury front that is. JasonCampbell made enough progress from his knee injury to get the start, while it looks like DarrenMcFadden will at least be active this week. He's still the RB2, but he should see some level of touches. It's still not enough to put him in unless you're crushed by bye week absences and even then, don't expect anything. The Broncos secondary is really banged up, with ChampBailey a GTD -- and the healthiest of the starters. If Bailey is out, I'm not sure that changes the Raiders gameplan much. On the offensive side, EddieRoyal is also a GTD and as a late game, that's a tough spot for a lot of people. I'd look to DemaryiusThomas to get the targets Royal gives up, no matter how many that is.