Throughout the 2012 season, This Given Sunday will examine the biggest injury questions before each week of the NFL season. With the preseason thankfully behind us, it's time to examine the most important injury concerns heading into Week 1. These are superstar players who have battled preseason knocks, faced a history of sitting on the sidelines, and attempting comebacks from serious injuries. Here are the Top 5 injury questions for 2012.
1) Brian Urlacher
The Bears would have been a playoff team last year were it not for the late season injury to Jay Cutler. This year, with the addition of Brandon Marshall and re-signing Matt Forte, Chicago has been touted as a playoff and possible dark horse Super Bowl contender. Those hopes ride not just on the health of Cutler (and his offensive line keeping him out of the ICU), but also defensive quarterback Brian Urlacher. The 8 time Pro Bowler hasn't practiced since July 31st and had arthroscopic knee surgery in mid August, missing the entire preseason. Urlacher's left knee problems date back to last year's season finale where he sprained his MCL.
Bears coach Lovie Smith has remained persistently positive, insisting Urlacher will be ready for the 2012 season opener against the Colts. (Would you expect anything different from the man that walked to a microphone week after week professing faith in Rex Grossman?) The reality of the situation leaves Bears fans a bit more worried. Urlacher is 34 and "nagging knee problems" are never words you want to see next to your speedy All-Pro MLB. Even at this stage of his career, Brian Urlacher is one of the most important defensive players in the NFL. If his left knee is a problem throughout the 2012 season, it will greatly hamper Chicago's efforts to get to the postseason.
2) Andre Johnson
Seeing Andre Johnson's name on this list may be a surprise, but the Texans star receiver has seen two dreaded words begin to be attached to his name – injury prone. Heading into the 2012 season, Johnson's health is a question mark because of the variety of injuries in the last two years. Johnson missed 9 games in 2011 as he was plagued with a hamstring injury.
This summer, injuries continued to cause Johnson to miss time. First, there was a groin strain during the second practice of camp. Then, in the team's third preseason game against New Orleans, Johnson had to leave the game after having the wind knocked out of him. While neither injury should cause the former Hurricane to miss any regular season time, the sight of #80 constantly walking to the sideline and the locker room is like a bad horror franchise that keeps coming back with sequels nobody wants to see. Andre Johnson hasn't played a full season since 2009 and at 31 years old, it's fair to say the "fine china treatment" may not be a bad idea at this stage of his career. Is the window closing on Johnson's prime? Can Houston contend if he spends another year in the training room instead of the endzone?
3) Michael Vick
The Philadelphia Eagles are under enormous pressure to succeed. With the New York Jets being the obsessive compulsive choice of the national media this year, last year's team du jour has flown under the radar. It was a year ago the Eagles were dubbed the Dream Team and Michael Vick was signed to a 6 year, $100 million dollar contract. An 8-8 season later, the Eagles and Vick need to deliver.
While Vick has suffered a variety of injuries throughout his career (even this preseason), it's been his ribs that have caused the most trouble in Philly, causing Vick to miss games in each of the last two seasons. Vick left a game against the Patriots August 20th after just six plays thanks to a hit from Jermaine Cunningham. The CEO of Unequal Technologies can guarantee Vick's health and his ability to survive artillery fire all he wants with his new kevlar vest – history says Michael Vick won't play a full season this year. He's played 16 games just once in his NFL career and missed 3 games last year. It's ok though, because Philly fans have already talked themselves into Nick Foles being the next Tom Brady… no, better than Brady.
4) Adrian Peterson
Let's be real, this isn't about the Super Bowl or the Vikings' hopes in 2012. This is about your fantasy team and the man who has been the best and most productive running back in the NFL. Of the players on this list, he's the biggest doubt for Week 1 after his devastating knee injury on Christmas Eve 2011. Peterson tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee that day and hasn't been tackled since. The Vikings have been as delicate as possible with AP, only allowing him to be hit above the waist just recently.
Peterson has always been my favorite running back to watch ever since his freshman year at Oklahoma because of his violent and punishing running style. The questions of Vikings execs, coaches, teammates, fans, and fantasy owners regarding Peterson's knee are one thing, but will Peterson himself ask those questions the first time he takes a live tackle this season? What about when his knee takes a hit or gets twisted under a pile? Will Peterson alter his aggressive running style in any way? Will Peterson be the same? Heading into the 2012 season, nobody knows for certain.
5) Peyton Manning
This list has to end with one of the greatest quarterbacks who has ever lived and one of the highest profile injury sagas in sports. Peyton Manning hasn't taken a regular season snap since 2010 after neck surgery caused him to miss the entire 2011 season and change the course of the entire NFL. Manning is now in Denver, the Andrew Luck era begins in Indianapolis, and Tim Tebow gets to run shirtless in the rain and bring ESPN to their knees. Manning looked at home in Denver in the all important third preseason game against San Francisco after two less-than-vintage performances. Manning's arm strength, durability, and ability to take a hit will be in the minds of everyone associated with the Denver Broncos organization each and every time he drops back in the pocket.