It's here! It's here! The excitement generated by the arrival of the first official NFL game of the season puts it on par with many a national holiday. Tonight's matchup between the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and one of their fiercest division rivals in the Dallas Cowboys is certainly buzz-worthy.
Nothing, of course, can compare to the launch of fantasy football rivalries worldwide. All the preparation, all the intense study, all the chatter, banter and braggadocio now comes down to the actual playing of games and the strategic setting of lineups. And what could be more threatening to an ideal lineup than injury concerns?
With those concerns in mind, here are the official injury report designations for Wednesday night's game, along with a few thoughts as to what it means for your fantasy teams.
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys, (abdomen [D]): Witten might have the most talked about spleen in the history of sports. After suffering a laceration to his abdominal organ in his first preseason game, Witten was put on strict rest to allow the spleen to heal. After escaping the original threat of surgery, the biggest risk for Witten is possible reinjury. Returning too soon before the spleen has returned to normal would make it vulnerable to retearing, which could lead to serious internal bleeding. In the worst-case scenario, it could present a life-threatening situation. It is with those concerns in mind that the decision about Witten's return to football have been made.
The good news is that Witten appears to have suffered the least serious form of injury (Jerry Jones referred to Witten's laceration as a Grade 1) and that he seems to be healing well (Witten returned to practice Saturday, although he was limited to noncontact). Still, the doubtful tag strongly suggests Witten will sit out the opener. With an additional 11 days until the Cowboys' second game, it seems likely that his season debut will be postponed for at least a week.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants (foot [Q]): Nicks suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in minicamp and immediately underwent surgery to repair it, giving him the best chance of being ready for the season opener. Despite being listed as questionable, Nicks is expected to play Wednesday night, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk.
Nicks has been working his way back from the surgery throughout the preseason, gradually increasing his activity and only joining the team in practice in mid-August. He did see game action, albeit very limited, in the team's preseason finale. Some soreness in the foot kept him out of practice for several days afterward, raising some eyebrows as to his game status. Nicks did return to a limited practice Tuesday, and for his part, he has insisted he will play.
Soreness post-surgery, especially as workload is ramping up, is not unusual. The bigger challenge for Nicks initially will be performing at game speed for an entire game after seeing only limited reps throughout the preseason. Nicks has certainly played and performed well through significant discomfort in the past. It may take a bit to get his football conditioning back to where he expects it to be, but the foot will not keep Nicks from seeing the field tonight.
Miles Austin (hamstring) and Dez Bryant (knee), WR, Dallas Cowboys, (P): Austin has been sidelined for much of the preseason, just as he was last year, by a balky hamstring. In 2011, Austin started the season on time but was injured again by Week 2. Ultimately, injuries to both hamstrings resulted in six missed games.
The big question headed into this season was how well his hamstrings would hold up, a question that got an unfavorable response when Austin felt the hamstring act up during practice in early August. That was enough for the Cowboys to decide to hold him out the rest of the preseason. Instead, Austin worked out on his own and under the watchful eye of the rehab staff until he returned to full practice late last week. He is expected to start Wednesday night and there will no doubt be fingers crossed that he makes it through the game unscathed. There is no doubt that Austin is productive when he's on the field; the concern is whether his legs will support him for a full season.
There is equal concern about whether Austin's teammate Dez Bryant can stay healthy. Bryant has dealt with ankle and thigh injuries over the past two seasons and this preseason did little to quiet the concerns. Bryant was limited by a sore hamstring early in camp. Midway through August, he suffered a separate injury during practice involving his right knee. Tests showed no apparent significant structural damage and the team termed Bryant's condition as patellar tendinitis, something not typically associated with an acute injury. In any event, he remained limited in practice until just last week. Bryant is expected to play Wednesday night, but the concern going forward is whether the knee will flare up again sooner rather than later.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants (hand [P]): Bradshaw underwent another procedure on his ailing foot in the offseason, which he believes helped him turn the corner in what had become a chronic pain situation. After suffering a stress fracture in his foot near his surgically implanted screw during the season, Bradshaw underwent a procedure this spring that involved injection of a stem cell paste (utilizing his own cells drawn from bone marrow in his hip) into the foot. During my visit to Giants camp, Bradshaw told me he felt like he was running "free and easy," adding that it was the best he had felt in a long time. In fact, it was the first camp in which he had been able to run and practice every day without hesitation.
Then came the Giants' second preseason game and Bradshaw exited early, not because of a problem with his foot but because of an injury to his right hand, the result of a hit to another player's helmet. According to The (Newark) Star-Ledger, Bradshaw said afterward that he popped a cyst on the top of his hand, near his index finger. Nothing was broken and the injury was minor. Still, the Giants held Bradshaw out of the final two preseason games as a precaution.
Bradshaw is listed on the injury report because of his hand, not his foot, which is a good thing. He was a full participant in practice in the days leading up to this first game of the season. At probable, he is expected to play and there are no real concerns that this will impact his performance.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (wrist [P]): Murray's 2011 season ended early when he fractured his right ankle, but he bounced back after surgery to deliver a strong training camp and preseason performance. In the Cowboys' preseason finale, Murray banged his hand and thus is listed on the injury report. Murray did re-enter the game briefly and has practiced fully all week, so this is not a major concern. Expect Murray to be a full go for the season opener.