This week's Thursday night game has the New York Giants visiting the Carolina Panthers. The Giants will be without two key fantasy players, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Although the news, especially the surprise downgrade of Nicks, had fantasy owners less than thrilled, the Giants thoughtfully informed everyone of this status change Wednesday, leaving ample time for roster adjustments. There is, however, at least one player in this contest whose status will come down to just before game time.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers, ankle (Q): Yes, it's Stewart who will be the game-time decision Thursday. After spraining his right ankle in the preseason, Stewart -- who has been on the injury report plenty but has rarely missed games in his career -- did not play in Week 1. Throughout the next week, coach Ron Rivera said Stewart was moving better in workouts, particularly with directional changes. Stewart made his season debut in Week 2, delivering 68 total yards and a score.
This week, however, Stewart remains on the injury report but with a notable addition, his toe. (Even though it is not listed on the official NFL injury report, Rivera talked about Stewart's toe limiting him in addition to his ankle.) The addition is of slightly more concern given Stewart's extensive history of foot injuries dating back to his University of Oregon days. He has not yet practiced, this is a short week (translation: less total rest for an ailing foot), and Rivera declared him a game-time decision. Because Stewart hasn't practiced this week, it's difficult to gauge how much the toe would impact him in a game, if at all. (The ankle did not appear to limit him last week.)
In Week 1, Stewart was showing some improvement by Friday, was listed as a game-time decision and then did not play. It doesn't mean he won't suit up this time, but Rivera told the Charlotte Observer, "It's one of those things where if we're playing on Sunday, he's got a much, much better chance than he does if we're playing on Thursday." Fantasy owners should be prepared to make a late lineup switch.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants, neck (out): As noted above, Bradshaw has been ruled out for this game after suffering a neck sprain in Sunday's game. In Tuesday's blog entry, I mentioned the vague terminology used to describe Bradshaw's condition, and the Giants have left it at that. They have not shared the results from Bradshaw's MRI taken Monday, and he has not practiced. Given that a "sprain" typically refers to ligament or joint capsule damage and that there are double-digit numbers of tiny joints within the neck area, a literal interpretation of the diagnosis makes it impossible to localize the injury. In reality, it is often difficult to specifically localize spine injuries, as a big hit or awkward movement of the neck can affect many different structures simultaneously, even if only to a minor degree. In the absence of anything more definitive, the only measure of progress will be Bradshaw's function, as in when he is allowed to begin practicing and how his activity increases. Whether that will take several days or more than a week is unclear at this point, and the Giants likely won't provide any additional information until next week.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, foot (out): Since undergoing surgery to repair his fractured fifth metatarsal, Nicks has been very forthcoming about the status of his foot. After Week 1, when he saw limited action, Nicks acknowledged still experiencing soreness in the foot but told the Newark Star-Ledger, "It was maintainable. It wasn't excruciating pain or it wasn't extremely bad." He said, after talking to others who had been through similar surgeries, that he expected it would be sore for several weeks as he adapted to the repetitive loading.
In the days between the first and second game of the season, the Giants controlled Nicks' practice activity, clearly a wise move. Nicks broke loose in the second game to the tune of 199 yards and a score. He could be seen limping at one point but did return to the game. He later acknowledged being stepped on but downplayed the seriousness of the incident. Earlier in the week, although Nicks was listed as questionable, it appeared he would play, but lingering soreness Wednesday morning changed the minds of the decision-makers.
So how worried should fantasy owners be? Obviously, it would be preferable if Nicks felt fine and wasn't missing a game. Still, it's hardly time to panic. Nicks went from virtually two months of downtime during his recovery from surgery and missing virtually all of training camp and the preseason to playing in the season opener. His activity increased dramatically in the second week, likely contributing to some increased foot soreness. With the Week 3 game coming just five days later and Nicks experiencing pain, it would make sense to rest him now, giving his foot an additional 10 days to recover. The two-week downtime should help significantly. It would be a surprise to not see him in Week 4.
Domenik Hixon, New York Giants, concussion (out): Hixon suffered a concussion in Week 2 and will miss Thursday night's game. The combination of Hixon and Nicks being out this week gives Ramses Barden a chance to line up opposite Victor Cruz.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers, knee (P): Smith has had intermittent soreness in his right knee, and his status in Week 2 was less certain. This week, there is less doubt, but fewer numbers of practice reps will keep a player on the injury report (and given the short week, that comes as no surprise). Smith was held to limited practice Tuesday but was listed as a full participant Wednesday. With a probable designation, he is expected to play.