It's a bit odd to be saying the season kicks off on a Wednesday, but football is football, so we'll take it. With teams drafted and pithily named, with the dog-eared magazines and bookmarked sites now to the side, the beer cold and the nachos hot, we have real, honest, NFL football.
And injuries. Lots of them.
There are two elements a winning team must have in the NFL: it must collect a sufficient amount of complementary talent and then it must strive to keep it on the field. Everything else is secondary. There is no other common element to all the playoff teams from the last 10 years. Injuries happen -- they are "part of the game" -- but the management of them is a step beyond key. Teams have medical staffs full of athletic trainers, doctors and other associated health professionals to help them. I try to do the same for you, so you can make the best decisions possible about your team.
But there's a third element that's required in fantasy football -- information. Knowing more than your opponent is tough in this always-on media economy, but knowing better is still doable. It's up to you to collect the best sources and use that to make the best decisions. And please, make the decisions yourself. I don't understand why some people want others to make those decisions. I mean, why play? Why doesn't ESPN just have a button that sets the lineup according to their projections or Matt Berry's rankings if that's how people want to play? Be better than that, so that you can be proud when you hold up the trophy.
For the first of 17 times this year, let's get to it:
A team should be at it's healthiest coming into Week 1. It seldom works that way, as injuries pile up with offseason work and preseason games. Both teams in the kickoff game have seen that firsthand in almost every permutation. The Cowboys should have everyone available, but knowing how healthy Austin, Bryant and Witten are will go a long way in determining Tony Romo's value as well. Both WRs should start and get normal targets, though Bryant is the more "sure thing." Austin's hamstrings are always a risk, but not as much as people are saying this week. Witten is much less sure, officially doubtful. He'll be a gametime decision unless he's not cleared medically. Even if he does play, the Cowboys might look at the long week they'll have and make the smart decision to sit him. If so, it's unclear if John Hanna will continue getting more looks than the other TE options. The targets would likely be shifted to the WRs, making Kevin Ogletree a better replacement than an actual TE.
The Giants feel good about where Nicks is. He'll get normal work, though Victor Cruz and Martellus Bennett should see a slight uptick in targets as Nicks works his way back. The Giants will be without Prince Amukamara, but that was expected and shouldn't affect matchups significantly.
It's always going to be something with Vick. His preseason pretty much was turned around by one play and a decision not to have him in his normal rib protector. That's fixed now and Vick is back at 100 percent, or as close as it comes with him. While the ribs might not be a concern now, everything else still is. Vick is a must-play this week if you have him and every week he's close to healthy. The key is to ride those big weeks, to have a good backup when he's not and to always have your finger on the "sold" button if someone offers real value for him in trade. There are few QBs with as much upside and none with his risk. A friend who drafted Vick in one of my leagues jokingly calls Vick "Tootie." Why? "You take the good, you take the bad ..."
When Leslie Frazier questions whether Peterson will play in Week 1, it's a coach playing games. It could be for an advantage, to keep his options open, or to keep the second guessing about how the split between Peterson and Toby Gerhart will work over the first couple weeks. I remain confident that Peterson will play and put up significant fantasy points. Normal? No, and certainly not what we'd expect out of Peterson in the past or future. I think 15 touches is a good expectation and if Peterson looks good early, the Vikings will have to be careful not to do too much. So is this different than what I've been expecting as I've advocated Peterson as a first-round option this year? Yes, it's a bit less, but I think this is much more about the Vikings' comfort level than it is about Peterson's recovery.
Holdouts scare fantasy owners. You don't have to think back too far to find negative examples. Just whispering "Chris Johnson" near someone who used a first rounder to get Maurice Jones-Drew is enough to incite panic. Jones-Drew will be splitting carries, at best, with Rashad Jennings in Week 1, but no one seems to think that it will hold as a split long, even if Jennings is as good as some think he will be. The same is true for Wallace, who cost himself a contract with the holdout.
Physically, these players are ready. Modern NFL players aren't sitting on a couch playing Madden -- well, they are, but only after a couple hours of practice, a couple more in the gym, and hours more of film study. The concept that a player needs to get to "game speed" and get "used to hits" isn't supported by any science. Focus on the opportunities, not the reasons some will use for those opportunities being reduced. As the opportunities return, these two become must-starts in all formats.
The Chargers are happy to see Mathews back at practice, but he's not taking contact of any type yet. That means he's more than likely out for Week 1. Beyond that, we'll see. Mathews is making a good recovery along normal lines -- what I'd call a "TRIP" (typical rehab in progress) -- and shouldn't have trouble once the collarbone is fully healed. The Chargers are still leaving the door open with his designation, but unless he's not only taking contact, but able to show that he can hold up with multiple runs up the middle, he's not going to be a smart fantasy play. That will leave the carries to Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle, though neither is a good fantasy option. Since it's the late Monday game, this is a tough read, but just go with your backup and wait for Mathews to be a much more sure fantasy starter. Patience is a virtue, even in fantasy.
Richardson got back out on the practice field Monday in Cleveland. From the offices, the Browns were trying to reduce expectations for their No. 1 pick. Most rookies get the same sort of "ease in" that Richardson will get, so the physical nature of his missing practice is just ... different. No one that's smart drives their new car hard right off the lot; there's a break-in period. Richardson will get more along the lines of 15-20 touches than the feature role he's expected to take very soon. Peter King had great points about trusting team timelines in MMQB this week, but by reading this column, you're already beyond trusting teams. Richardson will be fine in the short-term with this surgery being another data point against his long term durability.
I'm about to get you a free beer. Someday, you'll need a trivia question and here it is: Who was the first player to return from the Injured Reserve? The first one designated is Vincent Brown of the Chargers. The new rule was just finalized and seems perfectly designed for this kind of situation. Brown's broken ankle is expected to heal by about Week 8 and the new rule acts in many ways like the PUP list. If you find yourself a bit shy of top tier WRs after your draft or you lose one to injury early, Brown's a guy to keep in mind as a stash. Once he returns, he'll almost immediately become the true WR1.