I can almost smell the clipped grass. Week 1 of the NFL season offers so much in the way of possibilities. For some, this is as far as the season will go. Not to be a buzzkill, but sometime Sunday, someone's season, maybe their career and dream, is going to end. Injuries are part of this game, and I'm always going to have plenty to write about. Each week, I'll take you through every Sunday game, giving you a look at how injuries will affect both the real outcome and your fantasy team. I'll try to keep it short and simple, plus we're adding in an "upgrade/downgrade" for those of you that just skim. Of course, skimmers will miss that the upgrades/downgrades are based solely on the effects of their injuries. Don't expect Jay Clemons-level advice here, though remember he is only a couple clicks away, here and on Twitter. (Here's my Twitter, as well.) Players on the night before games have bed check, but fantasy players --you have the Med Check. Enough chatter, let's get to the injuries:
UPGRADE: Cadillac Williams DOWNGRADE: Josh Freeman
The Browns have several injuries on the defensive side, which could open things up for Cadillac Williams a bit. But the big one -- literally -- is Shaun Rogers. His absence doesn't just unclog the middle, it frees up blockers to help in pass protection, which could be good news for the strong-armed Freeman and the receiving crew. However, there's some concern that Freeman's thumb injury could be problematic. The big concern is not fumbling or transfers, but his ability to get the tight spiral. "He's been throwing some ducks," one source told me this week. Tight spirals hold velocity and are easier to catch. Freeman isn't a great fantasy option, but if he's limited with particulart throw, the deep out that Kellen Winslow lives on would be the first to go.
UPGRADE: C.J. Spiller DOWNGRADE: Chad Henne
Two years ago, the Dolphins tried to ignore the OIR. They went whole weeks without listing any player. At the time, Bill Barnwell and I openly wondered if it was the flukiest of flukes, or whether the Dolphins were somehow gaming the system. Things seem to average out a bit last year, as they ended up the 11th-best in Barnwell's annual rankings for 2009. Bill Parcells seems to have health in his bag somehow, so is his exit going to mean more regression? The Dolphins start out the year with few injuries, but significant ones. Jake Long is banged up and Jake Grove is gone, meaning the running game could be a bit clogged and Henne might be facing a quicker rush. Brandon Marshall gives Henne a target if he's upright, since Marshall's ankle and hip are healthy going into Week 1. Right now, Channing Crowder is a GTD (game-time decision) and if he's not there, the running game of Buffalo gets an upgrade. The Bills have no significant injuries, with everyone listed on the OIR already a backup. It's hard to read defenses for depth, but it shouldn't be enough to upgrade any portion of the Dolphins offense.
UPGRADE: Wes Welker DOWNGRADE: Laurence MaroneyUPDATE: Laurence Maroney and Julian Edelman are out.
Tom Brady is both healthy and rich, which makes many Pats fans healthy. He'll still be rich on Monday, but whether he's healthy will depend on his line, which has been spotty during the preseason, due to injuries and holdouts. If Brady isn't getting the protection he needs, he'll end up going to shorter routes, which benefits Wes Welker. Welker's healthy enough to take the load, but I asked Dr. Tim Kremchek, one of the leading orthopedists in the world, what Welker's toughest task was going to be and he said "quick cuts." Welker's bubble screen actually doesn't need quick cuts when run properly, so don't expect any real change. Behind Brady, Fred Taylor -- always an injury risk -- is going to get the bulk of carries with Maroney continuing to disappoint. Randy Moss missed Thursday's practice with an illness, but is expected to play. The Bengals don't have any significant injuries heading into Week 1.
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre GarconUPDATE: Owen Daniels is active.
The Colts always seem to have injury questions, but as long as Peyton Manning shows up, they're fine. That system has worked for years and should be the case again in 2010. Dallas Clark is the biggest offensive question mark, though the offensive line is still in patchwork mode. Clark is the de facto WR2 from the tight end slot and can cause matchup problems. He's practiced all week so he's a decent start, if an unknown. The Colts are likely to go two tight ends s a lot to cover for the left side of the line, so going three-deep into the WR corps is risky this week. I'll be surprised if Jeff Saturday isn't on the field at kickoff, despite being listed as questionable. On the defensive side, Bob Sanders is back, but for how long? The Colts know they need to limit his hits or he'll be on the sidelines again. He's a poor IDP play this early. On the Texans' side, the most significant injury is Mario Williams, who missed part of Wednesday with a strained groin. He's matching up against the weakest part of the Indy line, so losing him would be a blow. Steve Slaton is also hurting with turf toe, but he's the RB2 behind Arian Foster. Also, remember Brian Cushing will be out while serving a suspension for using a PED.
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: Kyle OrtonUPDATE: Demaryius Thomas is out. Tim Tebow is the No. 2 quarterback. Knowshon Moreno will start but is not 100 percent.
The key injuries here are the ones not on OIR. For the Broncos, Ryan Clady is coming back from a potentially devastating knee injury and is at the very front of the rehab window. He looked a bit shaky to observers in the preseason, so even though he's not listed, keep it in mind. Aaron Kampman is a big test, even when healthy. On the other side of the line, Ryan Harris is listed, leavingOrton without full protection on both sides. The backups are very inexperienced, so one bad play could have Tim Tebow taking the field a lot earlier than expected. In the backfield, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter both made it through full practices and look to be ready, though I'm sure they'll be careful with Moreno over the next couple weeks. On the Jags' side, everyone's watching Maurice Jones-Drew. The mysterious knee injury is ... well, mysterious. If you drafted him, you did it with a top-four pick and he's a must-play, unless out.
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: NoneUPDATE: Harry Douglas will start for Michael Jenkins (out).
The only significant injury on either side is Michael Jenkins, who's only a deep WR play in deeper fantasy leagues. There's some question about whether Michael Turner will be able to return to form after his "370" campaign in 2008, but that will depend as much on his line and Matt Ryan stepping back up after a down sophomore campaign. If all three are on, the Falcons are loaded. The Steelers are healthy, but thin at QB. Dennis Dixon will be tested by blitzes and disguised coverages, so don't forget he's got a knee with a couple scars on it already. This game will be decided on talent and execution, not availability, which is the way it ought to be.
UPGRADE: Darren McFadden, Zach Miller DOWNGRADE: Titans DSTUPDATE: Michael Bush is out.
Trying to figure out the Oakland offense is tough enough, but I think the Michael Bush "he might play" speculation is just noise. It's very difficult to come back from any kind of hand injury this quickly, and the idea that Bush might be more susceptible to fumbles is too much for an inconsistent offense. Chaz Schilens is also a big question mark, enough to be excluded from all fantasy rosters this week. The Titans are pretty healthy, though the line (especially Leroy Harris) is banged up and a bit thin. That could affect Chris Johnson a bit, though he's not the normal up-the-middle runner the NFL is used to. On the defensive side, the line was already missing Kyle Vanden Bosch; but with the whole right side hurting, the Raiders at least have a target. If they're forced to bring up the safety, it could create room for McFadden or Zach Miller in the passing game.
UPGRADE: Jonathan Stewart DOWNGRADE: None
The Panthers have a young QB, so protecting him is key. Jeff Otah's absence after a post-surgery setback creates some tough matchups, so the Panthers will have to establish a quick passing game and run at blitzes. They have the personnel to do all of that, assuming Matt Moore can do it. The Panthers are healthy beyond that and yes, that includes Stewart, who's not on the OIR at all. The Giants have some issues with defensive depth, but they have no significant injuries.
UPGRADE: Matt Forte DOWNGRADE: NoneUPDATE: Earl Bennett and Kevin Smith are out.
Having two injured safeties against a Mike Martz offense might sound scary, but the Lions have Jim Schwartz at the helm, who knows a bit about schemes to adjust and cover. Still, Martz and Jay Cutler will look to see if they can attack early, whether C.C. Brown and Louis Delmas are on the field or not. If you like the passing attack in Chicago, you can upgrade it a bit all around, but where the shift might help Forte more if the linebackers have to drop back and blitzes are limited. The Bears don't have any significant injuries with Lance Briggs likely to be on the field and near full go.
UPGRADE: Tim Hightower DOWNGRADE: Chris Wells
The Cardinals come in with several injuries that could affect the gameplan. Larry Fitzgerald is big, so the Cards' offense should be able to adjust and use the things he can do -- rather than worry about his limitations from a sore knee. He'll probably keep to more direct routes and be a red-zone target. That could help Steve Breaston's targets. In the backfield, Beanie Wells was only going to get the RB2 share if he was healthy. He's not, so he's not even a flex option now. The Rams don't have any significant injuries.
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: None Neither team has a significant injury
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: Matt Hasselbeck
If Pete Carroll had been in Seattle last year, he'd be having deja vu. Maybe Hasselbeck is, because the problem is protection for him. Hasselbeck's back can't take a beating, and with Chester Pitts and Russell Okung both hurting, Mike Singletary will find it easier to get to Hasselbeck. Well, not Singletary, though I wouldn't put it past him -- or his defense. There's ways to scheme, like covering with a tight end, but none of the Seahawks running backs are much for pass blocking. That might force them to use Quentin Ganther more, cutting down on three-wide sets. The Niners have no significant injuries heading into Week 1.
UPGRADE: None DOWNGRADE: Tony Romo
The Sunday night game is always the toughest to read going into Sunday morning, so be aware of that. For the Cowboys, the question marks engufl the O-line, starting with Dave Columbo and Kyle Kosier. The Cowboys are big, which could lead them to use the size and try to run. If so, it depends on who you talk to as to who that helps. The running game is already a split that's as tough to figure as any in the NFL. The Redskins will need to keep Donovan McNabb from needing to move to much. His lateral movement and first step will be tested by an ankle that's good enough to play, but still sore. Andre Carter is expected to play but listed as questionable. If he's not available, that would help the running game again.