Colts will be down but season may not be total loss minus Manning
Texans may be conservative with Arian Foster's touches vs. Colts
Hamstring issue will severly limit Miles Austin's usage against the Jets
Matt Forte will be goal-line back for Bears with Marion Barber out
Regular season football starts on Thursday, so let's get ready for some ... oh wait, that phrase is trademarked. If you weren't with me last year, this is a pretty easy column to follow. I'll break down the injuries you need to know about (and cover the Thursday lineups as necessary.) This isn't a recap of the NFL's Official Injury Report (OIR); I go a lot deeper, working with my network of sources, medical professionals and insiders to determine how injuries will affect your fantasy team. It's not just the player and it's not just the fantasy players. An offensive tackle's injury can change whether you want to start a QB or not. A cornerback's status can change which WR you start. I'll do my best to cover it all for you, so let's get to it:
UPGRADE: Jermichael Finley
DOWNGRADE: Lance Moore (out), Garrett Hartley (out)
Teams like to come into Week 1 healthy, and as the Packers start their title defense, they're pretty healthy. They have some depth issues, but the most concerning injuries appear positive. Mike Neal and Chad Clifton both look likely, while Jermichael Finley is going to get the start. Across the ball, the Saints will be without Moore, giving Devery Henderson and Jimmy Graham some extra looks. With Hartley out, the Saints will turn to veteran John Kasay.
One player who's in, but is worth watching is Marques Colston, who's not far removed from his second microfracture surgery. How his knees respond to game action will be a big factor for how much he and Drew Brees produce this season. Aside from that, the key fantasy relevant players are all ready to go for the Thursday night opener.
Manning is officially out for Week 1 and beyond after surgery on Thursday. As the rumors and speculation flew around Indianapolis, Manning and his doctors patiently waited for the results of tests and determined that the best course was a "single level anterior fusion". As we all await the eventual outcome, it doesn't bode well for this season and maybe beyond. For more details, check this link. Kerry Collins obviously gets the start with Curtis Painter as the sole backup.
With Manning out, there's some thinking that the Colts aren't just out of the playoff chase, but into the Andrew Luck derby. I reached out to the smart guys at numberFire.com to see how the Colts would project over a full season. Now this is a worst-case scenario, with Manning out for the entire season and assuming that Kerry Collins stays healthy. It's not good, but it's not Luck territory, either, with numberFire projecting the Colts as a seven- to eight-win team. That's in line with preseason projections from Football Outsiders (eight wins), so the drop-off doesn't appear that severe.
Some could compare the situation to the Pats when Tom Brady went down, but there's a difference. Jim Caldwell, and even Tony Dungy before him, didn't have the coaching rep that Bill Belichick has, though Brady and Manning are equivalent talents. There's actually a similar talent level around them. Is Collins as good as Matt Cassel? He's certainly more of a known quantity than Cassel was then. So many things about the Manning situation is an absolute unknown, but I do know we'll be hearing a lot more in the coming days and weeks.
Bad things happen when 340-pound men land on the QB. Cassel learned that last week, and while the mistake may have been that he was in that situation at all, the game plan this week is going to be built around making sure it doesn't happen again. There's going to be a lot of runs with the trio of RBs the Chiefs will feature, but expect a bit more Thomas Jones. Jones is the best pass blocker of the bunch and play action/draw combos will keep the defense a tick slower. Shorter passes will help as well, though with Tony Moeaki out, that could shift to the edge RBs and to Steve Breaston on slants. Cassel's injury shouldn't affect the result, but it will affect how they get to it, so adjust around him more than you adjust him.
Foster is making progress getting the anti-awesome out of his system. He's back at practice, running more, but he's hardly full speed. With Ben Tate playing well, Foster's not going to get bumped out by injury, but the Texans do need to be realistic about Week 1. With Manning out, they can afford to be a little more conservative than otherwise. Foster was working on Wednesday away from the team, telling reporters that he was "running and cutting and frolicking." (When did Foster turn into football's Barry Zito?) If Foster plays, he's going to lose touches, and given several options, it appears that Gary Kubiak is going to at least keep all of them on the board. Foster will be a gametime decision.
McFadden didn't get a lot of looks -- sorry, bad line -- this preseason after breaking his orbital bone. It didn't hold him back too much and he's expected to be ready and rested for Week 1. His lack of work might cost him a few touches, but McFadden is best used on a limited basis to begin with. His legs are fragile, so he's likely to be in this report later this season, but he tends to be productive in bursts. He's the kind of running back who can go for 100 yards on 15 carries ... with a long run of 70 that makes up for all the rest. Ideally, he could be used outside the tackles or even in the Wildcat he used to run at Arkansas, but he's not bad as a vanilla RB1 in an underrated offense.
The Niners were worried enough about Crabtree's recurrent foot fracture that they spent to bring in Braylon Edwards. Crabtree surprised many by looking like he'll be ready for Week 1. He's behind on his work and conditioning, but the Niners don't have so many weapons that they can afford to not use Crabtree. He'll be the third option for Alex Smith, behind Vernon Davis and Edwards, but the Niners do figure to be passing a good bit this year. Crabtree's foot shouldn't be a problem, but with new coach Jim Harbaugh laying down the law, having missed time with the issue might end up costing Crabtree the targets he's used to seeing.
Austin missed practice on Wednesday, giving his hamstring more time to heal. (He'll get even more extra time with the Sunday night game.) He did participate in some of practice, but sources tell me that the leg tightens up under heavy load and that even if he plays, he'll be very limited. That's bad for Austin, who went very high in most drafts, but should help Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who will absorb some of those targets. Tony Romo likes throwing to Austin, but Austin's strength is the deep ball and those dropped off under Jon Kitna. You'll need to back Austin with a Monday player just in case you have to make a last-second move.
Smith is coming off microfracture surgery. It's possible to come back from this, as several players have shown, including Marques Colston, who's a similar player and has had it on both knees. Smith signed late, largely because several teams worried about the repaired knee, but the Eagles are pretty good with gambles and knees, so they took the chance. Smith was a full participant in practice and reports are that his knees aren't swelling, requiring only normal maintenance before and after practice. He's still the WR3, but in the Philly offense, that could be decent in the right matchups. That he has a chance is a win for modern medicine and for the Eagles' assessment.
Hot Clicks won't be the same if Cooley isn't on the field, will it? Cooley's going to be a GTD with his post-surgical knee issues. He's having swelling and pain, which is all too common after that kind of procedure. It indicates there's still grinding, irritating the joint. It can be controlled and might get better, but it's usually a maintenance issue. The downside here is that Mike Shanahan tends to get itchy with those, or he did in Denver. Maybe he's changed or maybe having Dr. James Andrews around on gamedays will help. (You didn't know he was the Redskins' team doc?) Cooley is going to be productive if he gets out there, even if he's only a red zone target.
With Marion Barber out for Sunday, no one's going to steal Matt Forte's TDs. He's a must play ... The important thing is Jeremy Maclin is cancer free. The amazing thing is that he could be playing in Week 1 after a long ordeal this summer ... Sidney Rice is a GTD. His shoulder injury makes him a tough play on Sunday ... Mohamed Massaquoi will get the start, but look for Greg Little to get his share of targets as well. Massaquoi missed all of the preseason, and Little, with similar skills, showed he could fill in ably ...
Austin Collie practiced and appears ready to play Sunday. We'll see if he's wearing his new helmet. I'll have more on that soon ... The Pats RB situation is already confusing. Having both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley back at practice is good for the Pats, but bad for fantasy owners ... Lee Evans was in a walking boot last week. This week, he's back at practice and not on the OIR. (The Ravens listed no one.) I'll be watching this one, but the trend is positive ... Arrelious Benn isn't all the way back from ACL surgery, but he's a name to keep in mind. In a solid TB offense, he could be a sleeper by mid-season ...
Emmanuel Sanders is ready to go for Week 1, but there's questions about targets. He's tough to recommend this week on both physical and fantasy basis. Wait and see is not a bad thing, people ... Nothing is black and white</a> ... Martellus Bennett is out for Week 1, meaning Jason Witten won't lose any targets ... Bob Sanders is healthy heading into Week 1. The Chargers seem to think they have something figured out, which will be very interesting to monitor ... LaRon Landry is likely out on Sunday for the Redskins after having a setback with his hamstring in practice ... Be sure to join me on Friday for my first chat of the season at 2 p.m. ET here at SI.com.