Sunday Morning Medical Check (SMMC) returns for the 2011 season and I'm as excited as I've ever been about this column. I've heard from the readers and will try to make this your column this year. Not only will this be the column with the best info possible, it's going to be as interactive as possible. All Sunday morning, I'll be putting out updates as necessary, then at 11.30, we'll switch over to a live chat format so you can get in your questions. The Friday chat was packed, so I'll do my best to get to as many as possible. I won't be using Twitter as much this season -- the limits on the number of Tweets I can send out burned me time and again last year. We'll save that for the really big stuff (and you'll get those here first.)
A couple quick jargon tips: * "Upgrade" means the injury status of this or other players has caused an uptick in this player's perceived fantasy potential. * "Downgrade" is the opposite. * "GTD" is Game Time Decision. Those come about 30 minutes before game time, for both early and late games. I will not have GTDs for night games, for obvious reasons. I do not have a TARDIS. * "FRG" is Fantasy Relevant Guy. With all that in our bag, here's what we know, so check your lineups, don't get caught with zeros, and remember our motto: Things Change. Be Ready.
Saying "upgrade" on Maurice Jones-Drew isn't true. He's healthy and should produce at a normal level. That's not saying he's going to do more or even much, given the lack of a solid QB and WRs around him, and no Rashad Jennings to spell him. Tennessee's only real worry is that Javon Ringer isn't ready to back up Chris Johnson. Johnson missing camp means that the Titans don't want to put too much of a workload on him, but they might not have much choice.
The Steelers have what they say is a healthy and rejuvenated Troy Polamalu, who was hobbled by an Achilles strain late last year. He should be healthy and has shown good burst. Watch Rashard Mendenhall in this game, as he's coming off a heavy workload and the Ravens tend to beat up opposing RBs. Jerricho Cotchery's hamstring strain definitely opens up Emmanuel Sanders for WR3 duty and could be a big downfield threat. Baltimore is healthy coming in.
"Doubtful" seldom means that in the NFL. It's essentially out, but for Vince Young, the Eagles are hoping that he's irrelevant anyway. There's a lot more real problems for the Eagles, with Todd Herremans and Winston Justice hurting, plus Steve Smith a question mark for effectiveness coming off microfracture surgery. The OTs could force Michael Vick to scramble a bit more. That's a fantasy wash if it makes him run more, but terrible if he takes hits or does one of those crazy chase sacks where he loses 25 yards instead of seven. They'll also have a bit harder time running off tackle, which is why LeSean McCoy is a slight downgrade. I'm not ready to say Ronnie Brown will get more carries, since it's unclear exactly how he fits. Asante Samuel should play, but Sam Bradford will give him some early tests to see if he can exploit the shoulder injury. The only fantasy-relevant injury for the Rams is Michael Hoomanawanui, who is very questionable for this game. Billy Bajema will take the slot, but he's not a good fantasy play since Josh McDaniels' offense doesn't use the TE much.
There were some worries about Roddy White early in the week, but he's been able to practice and doesn't seem to be slowed by the thigh strain. Mike Smith's team tends to 'overlist' players. The bigger concern is Tyson Clabo. He was back at practice, but he's key to the running game and to keeping Ryan off the turf. As long as he plays, there's no real issue with the Falcons' offense, but be aware that he's not at 100% and will be tested. If you have a QB equal to Matt Ryan, go the other way, but I do mean equal. The Bears have a bunch of injuries, but Marion Barber was a TD vulture at best. There's some depth issues for the defense, but nothing that should change their effectiveness.
Eleven guys on the injury report for new coach Pat Shurmur's squad seems excessive. It's not like these are big injuries, but the sheer number has to be a bit worrisome. The two FRGs on the Browns list are Mohamed Massaquoi, who's still coming back from his foot injury, and Joshua Cribbs, who has a slight hamstring strain. Both should play, but will lose targets. Greg Little was in camp and has a (healthy) leg up right now. The Bengals have Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott banged up, so any questions about Inmate TX21042 - I mean, Cedric Benson vanish due to health. Benson should get his normal share of the touches, though Leonard had a nice preseason and will play.
The Chiefs will have Matt Cassel at QB despite his fractured rib. He's played just days after an appendectomy, so absent another hit like the one he took, he should be fine. The Bills will test him early and often, so missing Jared Gaither is a problem for Cassel, but the team should be able to scheme and adjust for that. Steve Breaston hasn't been healthy enough to win the WR2 slot the Chiefs brought him in to be. He'll lose targets this week, though it remains to be seen which TE will pick up the slack for Tony Moeaki's loss. Jake O'Connell could end up a sleeper. The Bills are healthy and have no FRGs out.
Kellen Winslow is a tough one to watch for most. His knees mean the Bucs keep him off the practice field and hopefully ready for the game. In Week 1, they've had plenty of time and he's fine. OG Ted Larsen is listed as probable, but keep an eye on this one. He's key to the running game and if he's even a bit off, you can bet Ndamakong Suh is going to figure that out quickly. Suh won't have Nick Fairley out there alongside, but the Lions didn't think they'd have Fairley back yet anyway. Maurice Morris will play, though he's barely a FRG.
Arian Foster is the big GTD for Week 1. He's a legitimate GTD, with the medical staff and Gary Kubiak making the final decision. I'll be watching this situation closely, though the 'questionable' designation is actually a positive. He was running all week, but being Week 1 and against a weakened opponent, it's going to be a tough, late call. If he's out, you'll want Ben Tate with Derrick Ward available in most leagues as Plan B. DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams will play and go hard after Kerry Collins. If you haven't heard, Peyton Manning is out. It's very hard to get a read on the fantasy angle of the Colts offense without Manning, but the WR corps is a bit thin. Expecting to go with lots of two TE sets, injuries to Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie make Pierre Garcon the solid WR2. Dallas Clark should be the real second choice, but again, it's hard to get any real read on this. Gary Brackett missed practice much of the week, but it was due to his wife having a child, not injury. He should play. On defense, Antoine Bethea is likely to play, which helps run support.
Anthony Gonzalez is an expected inactive, but upgrades Austin Collie slightly.
The Giants have some real problems on defense. They could be without Justin Tuck, who was already going to see double teams without Osi Umenyiora on the field. Without both, Rex Grossman is a slight upgrade, though the plays are more for the WRs. Tuck will be a GTD. The Redskins will also be without their S Laron Landry. OJ Atogwe is also hurting, so TE could be a plus though no one, including the Giants seems to have any idea what they might get out of Jake Ballard. The 'Skins have GTDs on Chris Cooley, Donte Stallworth, and Ryan Torain. All look to be leaning to play and Cooley's a solid play if he's in.
Chris Cooley will play, per NFL.com's Jason LaCanfora. The knee does have some swelling issues, so no one knows how it will respond to game action. If you have another equivalent option, it's worth watching Cooley for a week, even with a positive matchup.
It's not always the players you draft that can screw up your fantasy week. The right side of the Panthers offensive line is hurt, with Jeff Otah and Mackenzy Bernadeau both hurting. Otah is questionable and will be a true GTD. That could make life tougher on Cam Newton in his first start, though he has the ability to roll out and get away. The running game is almost a downgrade here, but the Panthers tend to adjust and really need to establish the run. The Cardinals only relevant injury is Adrian Wilson, who looks ready to play without significant limitations.
The Vikings have some depth issues on defense, but that's the only major concern. Visanthe Shiancoe is expected to play and should be one of Donovan McNabb's big targets, especially in the red zone. The Chargers have Patrick Crayton slowed by an ankle issue, but he's not going to see too many targets in his role anyway. Antonio Gates is essentially the WR2 in this offense, plus gets most of the red zone targets.
Robert Gallery isn't on any fantasy teams, but if you have Marshawn Lynch, watch to see if Gallery is in on Sunday. It's tough with a late game, but Gallery's size helps a big power back more than one that can find space. Tarvaris Jackson won't have his big target in Sidney Rice either. They know each other well, but Rice's shoulder doesn't look close to ready. The Seahawks are saying GTD, but it's not looking good. The Niners are healthy, even Frank Gore.
The Jets listed fifteen people on their OIR this week and not one fantasy relevant player is expected to be limited. The same isn't true for Dallas. Miles Austin is a GTD with his hamstring strain. While the Cowboys are leaning to playing him, a speed player with a hamstring issue is problematic short and long term. The Cowboys will shift some of his looks to Dez Bryant and especially Jason Witten, but the Cowboys WRs are a bit thin even with Austin. Martellus Bennett is also out, so Witten will get lots of work and targets, especially in the red zone. Tyron Smith is a GTD and if he's out, the Cowboys will have to adjust, rolling Romo out more and going right into the teeth of what the Jets like to force.
Santonio Holmes was on the OIR with an illness, but is expected to play normally for the Jets on Sunday night.