Downgrade Foster, Bryant, Rice in Week 2 fantasy medical check
Updates from Sunday morning ...
In Week 1, teams are supposed to be healthy. It never works out that way, but it's probably the closest they're going to get all season, and the data matches up with that. Teams that get injured at the start of seasons get a bit of a double whammy. First, they have the injuries to deal with, and the time and effort of a medical staff. On top of that, they're losing more games by definition. Someone who is "out for the season" at this stage misses 15 games rather than eight or two. It's easy enough to understand, but because the replacement level is so low in the NFL, there's a massive cost that's multiplied by the weeks. You see this in fantasy, where the early losses are somewhat offset by a better ability than real teams to pull something valuable off the waiver wire. I'm not saying you're doomed if your guys came out of Week 1 injured, but that you are going to have to work harder and that you'd better have depth all ready to go from draft to the playoffs.
One technical change for this week: To make things easier on you, we're going to stop putting the updates in-line. Instead, we'll have them up here, timestamped so that you can see the most recent changes quickly. Don't JUST read the updates however; the context of injuries and their chaining effects on rosters and fantasy values is where the real advantages lie. So, let's get to the injuries:
The Bills exploded in Week 1, finding mismatches everywhere for Ryan "Went To Harvard" Fitzpatrick. The Raiders should have time to realize that covering the TE is a smart play, but the Bills do continue to create matchup problems with their offense. The biggest worry for the Bills is Steve Johnson, who has a minor groin strain, but who is very reliant on speed. I'm downgrading him slightly, but leave him in unless you have as good an option, i.e. another guy who's looking at a healthy 10 points or better. Darren McFadden played well but came out of Week 1 with a sore shoulder. It cost him a bit of practice time, but he should keep the bigger share of touches, with Bush likely to see a few more chances. If those come in the red zone, he's worth a look at Flex. Two speed guys have leg issues, with Darius Heyward-Bey dealing with a sore knee and Jacoby Ford dealing with a hamstring strain. That should mean there are targets to go around, especially if Kevin Boss can go this week. If Boss plays, he's a solid start so I'll be watching this one closely in the updates.
Call me crazy, but the hair-on-fire attack of Clay Matthews and the Packers could force Cam Newton to run a bit more than he did last week. From a fantasy perspective, that's not a bad thing. From an injury perspective, it's a bit of additional risk, but Newton showed he can take hits and was smart enough to slide or get out of bounds when it was the right choice. A big issue might be whether Panthers tackle Jeff Otah can go. If not, look for Newton to roll more and for the backs to be held in. The TEs last week were limited by blocking schemes, and it's going to be worse this week. The Packers D will miss Mike Neal but can make up for him. Look for the Panthers to test Tramon Williams early, to see if his shoulder is healthy or not.
If the Chiefs have anything positive coming out of last week, it's that they're relatively healthy. Only Jon Baldwin is on the injury report and is likely out again. That means Breaston will get the looks as he functions as both a WR and as the "big receiver" with Tony Moeaki done for the season. The Lions think Calvin Johnson will play, but seeing him banged up this early is problematic. Bills TE Scott Chandler had a big day against the Chiefs and with Johnson banged up, Pettigrew could get a few more targets.
The Colts defense is never great against the run. It's a bend-not-break philosophy built on Tony Dungy's Tampa-2 defense. With Gary Brackett out and Ernie Sims as well, the Colts aren't set up to stop the run and have to face a power attack from the Browns. Hillis is precisely the kind of big, strong back that Indy's most poorly set up for. They can be manhandled at the line, and Hillis' quickness and power will really test the line, as well as free up Colt McCoy slightly. The Browns are relatively healthy, while the Colts still have a load of injuries on both sides of the ball. Look for Reggie Wayne to play fully and for Anthony Gonzalez to steal some snaps from Collie if he's able to go on Sunday.
Da'Quan Bowers knee is fine, but his shoulder's a bit banged up. He rotated in as a pass rush specialist and was one of few Bucs to get pressure on Matthew Stafford last week. He'll probably do about the same this week as the Bucs ease him in and make sure his shoulder doesn't turn into a major issue. Sammie Stroughter is out for a few weeks, which shouldn't affect the passing game or change the targets. Blount was healthy last week, and the mix between him and Earnest Graham is just stupefying. They'll need to establish Blount quickly against the Vikings. The Vikings look like they'll be missing E.J. Henderson but are otherwise healthy.
It looks like Brian Urlacher will play just days after losing his mother. Our best wishes to him. The Bears should have Lance Briggs back as well, so the run defense will be solid against the three-headed attack from the Saints. Getting Darren Sproles some mismatches might be their best plan, but that's hit or miss from a fantasy perspective. Williams is unlikely to play, but the Bears already have most of the targets spread. No one had more than five, and six had four or five. There's just no upside to any of these WRs until one emerges as a real WR1, if it even happens. For the Saints, Henderson should pick up the targets that Marques Colston misses. He's more sure-handed than Robert Meachem, though Meachem's size might get him some red-zone looks if Jimmy Graham isn't taking them all. Lance Moore could pick up some targets but he's iffy for this week.
The Jags appeared to be resting a lot of players early in the week. The "not injury-related" tag is getting an early workout. Maurice Jones-Drew looked solid in his first game and despite maintenance, he should hold up pretty well. Injuries across the defensive line could give Greene some extra room, though he needs to show that he can handle being a RB1 quickly or the trust that Rex Ryan has in LaDainian Tomlinson will bury Greene's fantasy value. The Jets listed a lot of injuries this week, but only Holmes is a fantasy relevant guy. Holmes is a true game-time decision, but even if he is out there he could lose some targets.
The Steelers tend to rest players, so don't worry too much about someone like Hines Ward or James Farrior getting some practice time off. The team is relatively healthy and should look more like the Steelers we're used to seeing this week. I do worry about Tory Polamalu, who doesn't seem to have regained all of that burst, but I think part of that is confidence. The Seahawks will be without FB Michael Robinson, who's a bigger part of the offense than most realize. Rice is out for this week despite his protestations. The Seahawks seem sure he'll be back next week, but he's a big downgrade today. The Steelers will be watching him closely, which limits any upside. Let him play a week and show that the Seahawks offense is a better fit for Tarvaris Jackson than it looked in Week 1.
Baltimore comes in off their big win healthy. There's some minor injuries, especially in the defensive backfield, but nothing that should affect fantasy rosters. The same is true for the Titans. They think they'll get Javon Ringer back, though Chris Johnson is going to have to do more this week, ready or not.
It's usually a bad sign when even the punter is banged up, but the Cards came out of last week's win pretty healthy. Joey Porter is the one relevant injury, but he's more a situational guy and shouldn't change much about the Redskins offense. The 'Skins won't be able to go with Chris Cooley more this week as he continues to share the role, if not the catches, with Davis. Cooley may lose fantasy relevance if he can't stay healthy and show he's a better option than Davis soon. The 'Skins should get LaRon Landry back this week, though he'll be a game-time decision. If he's not in, upgrade Heap.
Tony Romo has some issues. On the field, I mean. With his receivers. The Cowboys seemed less confident as the week went on that Bryant would be ready to go. His conditioning level was a real problem in Week 1, though one scout said it was because he wasn't taking plays off early, costing him energy he was used to having at the end. Austin played well enough on a bad leg last week and should be better this week, plus a matchup bonus. Martellus Bennett remains out, which also helps Witten on targets. The Niners aren't sure yet how much Crabtree will play or even if he'll play. Edwards is going to be the clear WR1 until Crabtree can prove he can keep his feet under him, literally.
Andy Dalton is iffy for Week 2 with a wrist sprain, but given his play, I'm not sure that the Bengals shouldn't use this excuse to let Bruce Gradkowski take the start. The Bengals defense is really beaten up, especially on the rush. They'll mix and match and rotate, but it should help Orton stave off the boos a bit. John Fox made things hard by holding a lot of people out of practice this week. Knowshon Moreno did not practice this week, making him unlikely to play and shifting the carries to McGahee. Brandon Lloyd is a bit of a mystery. We'll watch him closely on Sunday morning. The Broncos also have rush issues but more depth. If Champ Bailey's hamstring injury is worse than early reports, that could be a major issue and push Bengals WRs up a bit. Two injured defenses mean that we could see bigger point totals than expected, not that I'd ever tell you to take the over.
Foster is expected back, so why is he a downgrade? Ben Tate is healthy, too, and showed that he's solid in the Texans' one-cut running system. Foster will start and get carries, but the question is where his hamstring might be most tested. The two situations to worry about are long runs (which a team can't really game plan for or against) and pushing a pile. If that suggests that Foster won't be used near the goal line, well, I can take a hint. Foster could end up being a decent play, but there's risk here so even though he's a sure first rounder in nearly every league, he has to be paired with a sure-thing RB2. The Texans listed 16 people on the official injury report, though only Kevin Walter is unlikely to play and fantasy relevant. If Brian Cushing is slowed by his foot injury, that actually brings Bush up slightly, since Cushing's speed helps him against even speedy RBs in the flat. DeMeco Ryans' elbow has some worried, but he's also expected to play. The Dolphins expect Daniel Thomas back, but it's unclear how much running the Dolphins will really do. The hamstring strain is probably enough to keep his load low, pinning his fantasy value to red-zone touches.
The Chargers will have Tolbert, whose knee issue was barely worth mention but took up a lot of Sunday night ink. He'll be back in his normal role, and I only mention it since I see a lot of downgrades around the press. I don't buy it, but I do buy Tolbert as the Chargers RB you want. There are some WR depth issues, but the targets didn't go to Vincent Brown or Patrick Crayton last week. It shouldn't affect Philip Rivers at all. The Chargers D will be without Luis Castillo for a while, matching up his broken tibia with Pats center Dan Koppen's broken fibula for one working lower leg between them. Let's call that one a wash. The Pats list a lot of players, but none besides the banged-up O-line are relevant, and I have a hard time pushing a Tom Brady downgrade on just that.
The Falcons have problems on both lines. Todd McClure is out again and seemed to affect the running game, while Jonathan Babineaux can't affect the Eagles running game. Harry Douglas is a game-time decision with his concussion, though he was back at practice and seems ready to play. The Eagles have a couple outs -- Vince Young and Winston Justice -- that the team adjusted for last week. They should have Steve Smith out there on offense, but he's a WR3 and is behind Brett Celek for targets. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also expected to play, but they'll check him out at game time. If he plays, look for Matt Ryan to test him early. The Eagles DBs are deep, so this shouldn't hurt much.