Allow me a moment as we get ready for the first Sunday of the season to defend some people. Team medical staffs -- athletic trainers, doctors and the others necessary to keep a team upright and healthy -- take a lot of abuse, despite tough workloads, relatively low pay and little understanding of what it is that they do. On Tuesday, Jason Witten was cleared to play despite having suffered a spleen injury weeks before. A doctor ran the necessary tests and made an informed decision, only to have a bunch of people with free access to social media questioning the morality of such a decision.
"Medically cleared" is not a term that is just thrown around, especially given past jury decisions. The idea that a player could waive his protections is silly as, but more toxic than most realize. I don't doubt that Witten was prepared to do this, but it simply isn't an option. Medical staffs aren't without conflicts. They are beholden to the team in ways that sometimes raises the specter of conflict even when there's no evidence that it is affecting decisions. These men and women are lifesavers, career extenders and oft-times, the most valuable player on a team despite fans seldom knowing their names.
Remember -- updates will be here as they happen on Sunday morning, especially when it comes to the Game Time Decisions (GTDs.) GTDs are indicated here with a + or - designation. A positive means things are leaning toward that player playing, and the negative is the opposite. I'll also be doing some updates at App.net as well as a live chat here at 11 a.m. Eastern.
IND:Austin Collie was not cleared to play. Donnie Avery will get the start and is a decent flex sleeper.
HOU:Arian Foster is active and starting as expected.
MIN:Adrian Peterson is active and starting as expected.
ARZ: Reports are that Beanie Wells will play, but is limited. Ryan Williams is still the better (but not good) play in Arizona.
CAR:DeAngelo Williams is a nice play today with Jonathan Stewart out, but remember that Mike Tolbert is the RB who'll get involved most in the passing game and that Cam Newton takes some of the goal line touches.
PIT: Multiple reports have Isaac Redman getting the start in Pittsburgh. That's nice for him, but the ankle and hip issues make him a very risky pick, not to mention the options the Steelers have at RB.
CAR:Steve Smith is "110%" according to one team source. I'll settle for 100% with Cam Newton's favorite target.
BUF: Steve Johnson will start, but the Bills will adjust some of his routes to avoid causing issues for his strained groin.
WAS: Reports out of DC have Alfred Morris getting the start. This is more about Mike Shanahan messing with fantasy owners than injury issues for Roy Helu and Evan Royster.
MIN: Indications are that Adrian Peterson will not only play, but will start. Some of that is letting the crowd cheer for him, but I believe he'll get between 15-20 carries as well.
HOU:Arian Foster is expected to play, though the Texans won't finalize things until they see Foster on the field.
SEA:Marshawn Lynch should get the bulk of carries this week, but it is risky given his style and the recurrent back spasms.
KC: If Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis aren't on the field, get ready for huge days from Julio Jones and Roddy White. They're must-starts anyway, but Red Zone might as well just stay on the Falcons without a healthy defense.
Brian Urlacher got downright testy when asked about his knee surgery on Thursday. Urlacher will play, but expect the Colts to use both tight ends to test him early. That could be good for both Coby Fleener and the surprising Dwayne Allen. Collie should play, but he's not a lock to start at WR2. (He's also got a new helmet, switching from Schutt to a new model Xenith X-2.) The Colts will spread around what doesn't go to Reggie Wayne among several options.
The way the Cleveland media is talking, Richardson lost a leg, not had his knee scoped. He'll play, and while his carries will be down from expectations, he could still get enough work to have value. It's a tough defense to face, but grinding the ball might be the Browns' smartest play. Expecting Richardson to get more than 10-12 carries, though, might be too much. Michael Vick is healthy and the ribs are no issue at this stage, so play him as you would in any week. Joe Haden's suspension didn't happen, so he'll match-up with DeSean Jackson, which should be a help to the Browns defense.
It's a good sign that both teams come into the season with no significant fantasy injuries. Both will need to keep it that way if they're going to meet expectations. The only upgrade is to Bradford, with Louis Delmas and Chris Houston out. He'll have to be upright to make that work, though, which has always been a concern with the Rams.
Already? Arian Foster left Thursday's practice with a mild knee injury. Details are sparse, but even a very minor issue would tilt the split to Ben Tate. Foster's inability to stay healthy is all that keeps him from being the best back in the league. The team and Foster are downplaying this, but use this as a reminder of just how risky he is for whoever picked him in the first round. Expect him to play and to give up some carries to Tate, but not enough to downgrade him. The Texans' only other real concern is with Brian Cushing. His bruised ribs may affect his mobility, but he will play and is just crazy enough to either play through it or hurt himself more. The Dolphins are relatively healthy, but their one issue is a big one. If Jake Long loses even a bit of lateral mobility due to his knee sprain, Ryan Tannehill is in for a long day. Watch to see if the Dolphins cover Long with a TE or shift a FB over to help him, or if they're forced to roll Tannehill out to buy some time. The Dolphins will also try to run inside with Reggie Bush (yes, inside) to slow the rush some.
Jamaal Charles is almost a full year out from his ACL surgery, and with Peyton Hillis partnering up with him, he doesn't have to be overexposed. That doesn't mean he won't get plenty of work. The biggest question is who'll get the goal-line carries. The Chiefs have a ton of issues on defense, missing as many as six starters. It's going to expose depth and some rookies will have to step up, like Dontari Poe, against an explosive Falcons offense.
Maybe I'm being blinded by my long-held belief that Peterson would be ready for Week 1, but every bit of information I have says Peterson is ready to play. The only drag on his touches is fear. Leslie Frazier seems filled with it for his star RB. Whether necessary or not, the Vikings will reduce Peterson's workload -- or at least try. Eric Mack and I discussed this on the SI Inside Fantasy podcast this week and we ended up setting the Over/Under on carries at 12.5. I took the over, believing that the Vikings will need to run 30-35 times to win and at least half of those will go to Peterson. They may want to hold his carries down, but if he looks as good in the game as he has taking more contact over the week, he's just too tempting. He's not back to being an automatic must-start stud, but he's not far away.
Blackmon was back at practice by Wednesday, but his sprained ankle is affecting his jumps. His red zone ability is what gives him so much upside, so wait a week on him and watch to see how he and Blaine Gabbert adjust.
Colston is going to play, but the foot injury that cost him most of a week of practice makes his situation tough to predict. Watch the last OIR to see where he is. Probable means you can safely play him, but Questionable would make me suggest looking to your next WR option and not necessarily one with the Saints. The only safe play here is Jimmy Graham.
Almost all the Redskins' issues are on defense. Brian Orakpo and Brandon Meriweather are slowed a bit, which helps the Saints even if it's just a bit. Watch Robert Griffin closely to see how he adjusts and if he's going to take any hits. Call it the "Michael Vick factor" that limits his fantasy upside until more is known. The RB situation is in its normal flux. I can't predict how it's going to play out, so I'm staying away from all Redskins RBs.
Keller's hamstring makes him a true GTD+. While there are signs pointing to him playing, it's much more questionable whether he'll be effective. (Really, wouldn't Tim Tebow be a good H-back?) Joe McKnight is probably not the real RB2 behind Shonn Greene, so his injury isn't that big a deal. Bilal Powell is going to get a lot of third down looks, but again, some are questioning whether some of those downs will factor into Tebow's usage, downgrading Powell's opportunities. The sheer number of injuries, mostly minor, that the Jets are dealing with doesn't bode well, especially on defense. The Bills have some minor concerns with Steve Johnson's groin, but he's expected to play normally. The strain costs him some explosiveness, but he seems able to adjust.
The Pats continue to have issues on the O-line. Stevan Ridley appears ready to get most of the touches out of the backfield, but it's not enough to offset the line issues and make him an upgrade. There's too much of a chance they'll shift to a Danny Woodhead out of the backfield mode. The Titans don't have any significant injuries.
DOWNGRADE:Golden Tate, Beanie Wells
Anyone want to run the ball? Both teams won't have a healthy RB1 in Week 1. Lynch's physical style won't help him play through some severe back spasms, though he is expected to play. He'll have to adjust and hope that the painkillers last enough to get him through. Wells has yet another leg problem, this time a hamstring strain that came mid-week. Ryan Williams is coming back from injury himself, so I'm not comfortable upgrading him even if he gets the start. Tate is out, meaning Braylon Edwards will take the WR2 role.
UPGRADE: Cedric Benson, Kendall Hunter
DOWNGRADE: Ted Ginn
If you were counting on Ginn, well, you have bigger issues on your team than I can help with. He's GTD-, but unlikely to play. With Brandon Jacobs banged up, the split will stay between Frank Gore and Hunter. Hunter will have more to gain. The Packers have most of their issues on defense, with BJ Raji the biggest ... well, anything, but in this case the biggest name to watch, as a GTD+. James Starks is out, which leaves the bulk of the carries to Benson, who could establish himself quickly.
The Panthers have a game plan prepped if Stewart can't go, which is never a good sign. He'll lose touches to DeAngelo Williams to be sure, but it's not enough to upgrade Williams beyond where he was. The Panthers are more sure about Smith, who came off crutches just a week ago. He's practiced fully and the foot infection seems to be no further issue.
The Steelers head to Denver minus Ryan Clark and trying to figure out who will tote the ball for them. Without a good answer, I think Roethlisberger will try to scramble and find open WRs. Isaac Redman's leg issues make him far too risky to start in Week 1, even if he plays or starts.
Interior line injuries mean a downgrade for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Andy Dalton ... Jermaine Gresham will start and get normal playing time for the Bengals ... Malcom Floyd holds steady in value despite his WR1 role. The extra catches look like they'll go to Antonio Gates ... Ronnie Brown will get the bulk of carries, even if Ryan Mathews is unexpectedly active. Mathews was not cleared for contact and is listed as out ... Denarius Moore looks to be close to ready for Monday, but he's still a risky play.