Time for fantasy owners to begin worrying about the true difference between probable and questionable. The games count now and teams will stop protecting players with minor injuries. Expect several athletes to struggle Week 1 as they shake off the rust that comes with being sidelined.
Two of Arizona's top offensive weapons are banged up but should be available for the team's Week 1 matchup against the Rams. Running back Chris Wells and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are both receiving treatment for knee injuries sustained during the preseason. Wells injured his knee in the preseason finale and was not at 100 percent entering the week. Information on the specifics of the injury has been limited but the Cardinals will keep a close eye on Wells throughout the week. Tim Hightower will assume a larger role in the offense if Beanie is unable to play.
Fitzgerald is expected to return from a sprained medical collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee suffered in the preseason opener. The injury sidelined the Pro Bowler for the remainder of the preseason and prevented him from getting much-needed reps with new quarterback Derek Anderson. The MCL stabilizes the knee during the lateral movement associated while route running and avoiding tackles. The knee isn't expected to be an issue during the game but the expectations for Fitzgerald should be scaled back. He may struggle with his conditioning early on and will likely need some time to properly jell with Anderson.
Another Pro Bowl wideout is expected to play Week 1 despite injury, as the Saints' Marques Colston will be uniform to face the Vikings on Thursday. Colston suffered a bruised kidney in the preseason finale, taking a hit from a Tennessee defender. The kidneys are the bean-shaped organs responsible for filtering excess waste and fluid from the blood stream. They are located on both sides of the body near the base of the ribcage. This location leaves them vulnerable to injury from a hit to the upper abdomen or lower back. Treatment for this type of injury includes limited activity and restriction and management of fluids. Colston is confident he will be available for the NFC Championship rematch but the medical staff will be closely monitoring his fluid intake and may give him more plays off than normal. He may also be required to weak a flak jacket to protect the area. Remember, these jackets protect an injury site but are bulky and tend to increase a player's propensity to fumble.
Maurice Jones-Drew returned to practice Monday, easing some of the apprehension being felt by fantasy owners who used a high draft pick on the back. MJD was sidelined for the majority of the preseason with an undisclosed knee injury and rumors ran rampant that he had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery. Coach Jack Del Rio dispelled those rumors and Jones-Drew himself has indicated he will be ready to take on the Broncos in Week 1. It is hard to speculate what the nature of the knee injury is or was but it appears it will not affect his availability to start the season. However it would be best to play it safe and protect your investment with backup running back Rashad Jennings.
Texans running back Steve Slaton is battling turf toe sustained in a preseason win over Dallas. Turf toe is a hyperextension injury of the big toe of the foot. While it originally got its name because the injury commonly occurred on rough and unforgiving artificial turf, it can occur on natural grass or even indoors. It is classified as sprain of the ligaments surrounding the joint and is particularly painful when pushing off the foot while accelerating or jumping. The injury will not only affect Slaton's productivity out of the backfield but will also limit him on special teams, where he was slated to return kicks. He did deal with the injury during his impressive rookie campaign but injuries of this nature tend to linger. The sudden emergence of Arian Foster also complicates the situation making Slaton a risky play in Week 1.
An ankle injury will not keep Donovan McNabb from participating in the Redskins' home opener against the rival Cowboys. A sprained left ankle has recently hobbled McNabb but coach Mike Shanahan confirmed the veteran will start against Dallas. As previously discussed, the stability of the ankle joint is compromised when the ligaments are sprained and could ultimately affect the precision of his passes and his ability to scramble in the pocket. However McNabb has played well against the Cowboys throughout his career, throwing 26 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in 19 matchups against Dallas. The Cowboys defense is bound to force McNabb to test the ankle early and Demarcus Ware and company could make it a long night for the Redskin quarterback.
All is not well for the Cowboys either as two key components of the offensive line remain banged up. Left guard Kyle Kosier is expected to sit out Week 1 with Montrae Holland set to start. Kosier is rehabbing from a sprained MCL sustained earlier in training camp. Right tackle Marc Colombo hopes to return to practice later this week after undergoing a debridement procedure on his right knee. If Colombo does not return, Alex Barron will join the starting lineup. Knee injuries are difficult on lineman who are constantly moving backward and laterally all while generating forward force to prevent oncoming defenders. The knee is put through excessive amounts of stress and strain while also being placed in a position that makes it vulnerable to additional injury from neighboring lineman and opponents. The patchwork offensive line could cause trouble for quarterback Tony Romo who was sacked five times in limited preseason action.
While Romo may feel extra pressure from Washington, he will have two of his wide receivers back at his disposal as veteran Roy Williams and rookie Dez Bryant are expected to play Week 1. Williams is suffering from a low back strain and a hip flexor strain but has returned to practice. Bryant, who hasn't played in a real football game since last September, is also back at practice after suffering a high ankle sprain on the first day of training camp. The injuries for both appear to be behind them and can be utilized by fantasy owners if needed.
Jeff Stotts is a Certified Athletic Trainer, MAT, PES and the Injury Analyst for Rotowire.com. You can follow him on twitter @RotoWireATC.