New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) hands the ball off to running back Alvin Kamara (41) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers scrambles during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Unless Drew Brees musters his first vintage performance of 2020, the Saints could struggle to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the recently potent Packers.
The first two weeks of this season have seen two of the finest quarterbacks in NFL history on divergent paths.
The Packers (2-0) are scoring more than 40 points per game. Rodgers has passed for six touchdowns and has yet to be intercepted.
The Saints (1-1) have played below their usual standard offensively and Brees, the NFL's all-time leader in yards and touchdowns passing, has been fielding questions about how his arm is holding up at age 41.
''I feel good, borderline great,'' Brees said, dismissing the notion that his relatively few downfield attempts is a sign of trouble.
''There are many statistics I do not pay one bit of attention to, and (yards per attempt) would be one,'' Brees continued. ''I am focused on putting us in positions to succeed, making great decisions, both in the run game and the pass game. ... I don't care how we do it. I honestly don't. I just want to win.''
Packers coach Matt Lafleur is disinclined to read much into Brees' slow start. For him, the sample size is too small.
''That is an anomaly that doesn't happen very often and it's just a matter of time before he gets it rolling like we're all accustomed to,'' Lafleur predicted. ''This is one of the most consistent - not only him as the quarterback, but one of the most consistent offenses over however many years that he and (coach) Sean (Payton) have been together.
''They're always at the top in the league in almost every category,'' Lafleur continued, adding that defenses should never let their guard down against New Orleans. ''As soon as you do, he's going to go out there and dice you and hang 45 on you.''
The Saints have indeed led the NFL in total offense six times, finished in the top five in five other seasons, and have never ranked worse than ninth since Brees and Payton joined forces in 2006.
But, for the moment, New Orleans ranks 21st in total offense in 2020, while Rodgers and the Packers lead the league.
''We've had multiple plays where we have guys that are wide, wide open,'' Rodgers marveled. ''A lot of that is due to the minor schematic changes we made in the offseason and implemented in training camp.
''When I'm playing on time and in rhythm, the offense I think can be more efficient as long as we have guys open,'' Rodgers continued. ''The two have been really correlated this year.''
AARON VS. ALVIN
Green Bay's Aaron Jones rushed for a career-high 168 yards in a 42-21 victory over Detroit and leads the NFL in rushing (234) and yards from scrimmage (312). New Orleans' Alvin Kamara ranks sixth in yards from scrimmage (241) and has found the end zone twice in each of the Saints' two games.
HOBBLED TOP TARGETS
There were questions about the health of top receivers on both teams this week.
Two-time All-Pro Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches last season, sat out the Saints' loss in Las Vegas on Monday night with an ankle sprain and did not take the field when the Saints returned to practice on Thursday.
Packers receiver Davante Adams, who already has 17 catches for 192 yards and two TDs this season, left last Sunday's victory over Detroit with a hamstring injury.
The Saints have been plagued by 248 yards in penalties, including 129 yards in their Week 2 loss to the Raiders.
''The good news is, it's only two weeks in and it'll be a lot more concerning here going forward, if it continues,'' Payton said. ''So, we've got to work harder at it. We've got to coach it better and reduce those fouls.''
FRIENDS TO FOES
Packers guard Elgton Jenkins and Saints reserve defensive back J.T. Gray are good friends who grew up together in Mississippi and are former Mississippi State teammates.
''We've been playing football with each other since peewee and college,'' Jenkins said. ''Just being down there and me seeing him play, him seeing me play and not being on the same team, so hopefully (we'll be) just going down there and putting on a show and we'll chop it up after the game.''
The Saints announced on Thursday they they'd received approval from state and local officials to allow about 750 family of players, coaches and staff to watch the game in the Superdome from field-level seating behind the New Orleans bench. They will join inactive players who formed a cheering section in a Week 1 victory over Tampa Bay in the Superdome, which was held with no fans.
Five Sleepers: Week 8
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (knee) has been activated off the IR and will be available for Sunday's game against the Seahawks. Coleman last played in Week 2 against the Jets, where he suffered a knee sprain that kept him out until now. It's anyone's guess as to who leads this backfield after head coach Kyle Shanahan pulled a fast one on us all last week. The best guess is that Coleman leads the backfield, with JaMycal Hasty mixing in as a change-of-pace option and Jerick McKinnon operating as the third-down back. Coleman and Hasty are probably the best plays of the bunch, though they're hard to look at as anything more than flex plays against Seattle.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green will face the Titans in Week 8 fresh off two of his best games of the season. Green has at least 80 receiving yards in two straight games and has seen 24 targets over the last couple of weeks. That's elite-level volume that he may not be able to sustain with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins both playing great football, though it's clear that he and Joe Burrow are developing a strong connection. Tennessee struggles to defend opposing wide receivers, as they've surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to the position. Green can be started as a high-end WR3 with upside for more.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray gets a seemingly tough matchup against the Bears in Week 8. Chicago has allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to running backs but ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run. Murray has seen at least 10 touches in all but one game this season and could see some more opportunities in this one with the Saints down a couple of pass-catchers. Look for Murray to see around 10 touches again and check-in as an RB3 for Week 8.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow gets a middle-of-the-pack matchup against the Titans in Week 8. Burrow is coming off the best game of his young career, with 406 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception against Cleveland. Tennessee ranks 18th in fantasy points allowed to enemy passers, though they've allowed at least 250 passing yards and two touchdowns to each of the last three quarterbacks they've faced. Burrow is coming into this one hot with a full stable of weapons, so keep him in your lineups as a solid QB1.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee) has been placed on the injured reserve. Edelman had surgery on his knee and is expected to miss at least the next three games, though head coach Bill Belichick seemed optimistic about the veteran receiver returning at some point. It's safe to drop Edelman in all formats. With starter N'Keal Harry (concussion) also out, the Patriots will have to turn to Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, and Gunner Olszewski for three-wide receiver sets. Meyers and Byrd can only be used by the most desperate of fantasy managers, as the matchup against Buffalo is tough.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (shoulder, toe) doesn't have an injury designation and will take the field heading into a tough matchup against the Buccaneers. Shepard was limited all week in practice after sustaining a turf toe injury in Week 7 against Philadelphia in addition to the shoulder ailment- though he's evidently shown the Giants enough to be confident in his health. It won't be an easy matchup for Shepard against Tampa Bay, as they've allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Still, Shepard's eight targets from Week 7 indicate that he'll be a big part of the offense moving forward. Look at him as a solid WR3 option in Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (shoulder) and wide receiver Scotty Miller (hip, groin) are both good to go for Sunday. Both Gronkowski and Miller were limited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, though they have no injury designations after both were full participants on Friday. Without Chris Godwin (finger), both players could potentially see more looks in the passing game. Look at Gronkowski as a solid TE1 and Miller as a risky WR4 against the Giants Defense on Monday night.
New York Giants running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) has been ruled out for Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was expected, as Freeman was not able to take the practice field all week. He suffered the injury during the Giants' Week 7 contest against the Eagles on Thursday night, though the added time didn't help him heal any quicker. The Giants will turn to Wayne Gallman- who looked good in spurts against Philadelphia- as their lead back. He'll get enough touches to be started as a flex option, though it's hard to envision him finding much success against Tampa's league-best run defense.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee) is out for a key Week 8 divisional clash against the Bills. There was a glimmer of hope on Thursday when Gilmore was able to get a limited practice session in, though Friday's DNP made his status for Sunday grim. New England doesn't have much depth behind last year's Defensive Player of the Year and is inconveniently about to face Stefon Diggs. Diggs was already a must-start based on his previous production and is now arguably a top-five wide receiver this week.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) will go for one more post-concussion evaluation on Saturday, but the team expects him to play in Week 8 against the Chargers, barring a setback in that test. It's bad news for Melvin Gordon, who will now share touches in the backfield with Lindsay, making him more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3/flex. Lindsay was the better runner in Week 7, too, racking up 79 yards on nine carries. He's averaging just under five yards a carry and Gordon lost two costly fumbles against the Chiefs. Lindsay will be an RB3/flex option in PPR leagues if he can pass his final concussion test.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) has been downgraded from doubtful to out for the Sunday night game against the division-rival Eagles in Week 8. This was the expectation all along after Dalton was unable to clear the concussion protocol or practice all week. Owner Jerry Jones thinks that the signal-caller will be ready to go for Week 9 against the Steelers, but we'll have to keep a close eye on his progress in the league's protocol. If he is available next week, he'd be a low-end QB2 against a tough Steelers Defense. Rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first career start against Philadelphia this Sunday, but he's also a low-end desperation QB2 in superflex leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop makes for a good play in a Week 8 matchup against the New York Giants. Succop has made at least five kicks in four straight games and has at least five extra points in two straight. There's no reason to doubt Tampa Bay's offense against the Giants, even though their defense has shown signs of improvement. Fire up Succop as a solid starting option this week.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense has been one of the best options for fantasy this year. They get their best matchup of the year in Week 8 against the Giants, who have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Giants' offensive line ranks dead-last in adjusted sack rate while Tampa Bay's defensive front ranks second in sack rate. This is a dream matchup for the Buccaneers' defense, so expect more than a few sacks and a couple of turnovers forced at the expense of Daniel Jones. The Buccaneers are probably going to be the highest-scoring defense of the week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski faces a semi-tough matchup in Week 8 against the Giants. Gronkowski has at least six targets and 50 yards receiving in each of his last three contests and has scored a touchdown in two straight games. The Giants are not the soft spot they used to be for tight ends- they've allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position. Still, Gronkowski is too hot to bench right now, especially with how thin the tight end position is for fantasy. He has a good chance of putting up top-12 numbers at his position in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) has been ruled out for Week 8's Sunday night matchup with the division-rival Cowboys. Jeffery still has yet to make his 2020 season debut and missed practice all week. The 30-year-old miss the start of the season after having offseason foot surgery, but the calf injury is what's holding him back of late. The oft-injured veteran might not even have much of a role once he finally does return, so he's not a very attractive stash in standard-sized leagues at this point. The Eagles will be getting tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle) and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) back in Week 8 as well. Jeffery has become a fantasy afterthought.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson will take the place of the injured Chris Godwin (finger) in Week 8 against the Giants. Johnson got the start in Week 5, playing a season-high 79 percent of the snaps and putting up a 4-61-0 line. With Brady currently rolling, it's fair to consider starting a player such as Johnson. There is some risk here, as the game script may tilt this towards a more run-heavy gameplan for the Buccaneers. Still, Johnson can be started by managers who are struggling with injuries or bye weeks.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (ankle) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the division-rival Bills. Harris was a limited practice participant all week, so he should be able to suit up on Sunday against Buffalo, barring any setbacks. New England will need as much help as possible from their backfield this weekend with both receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and N'Keal Harry (concussion) out, but the Patriots crowded backfield and their stagnant offense are both big concerns for Harris' potential upside. Harris has seen double-digit carries in two of his three games this year, but he'll need positive game script to reach his ceiling this weekend, and that might be tough going against a strong Buffalo offense. With just two catches in three games as well, Harris is an uninspiring RB3/flex in this crowded backfield picture.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and center Ryan Kelly (knee) are both questionable for Week 8 against the Lions. Alie-Cox didn't practice on Wednesday, but he was limited both Thursday and Friday. He sat out of the team's Week 6 game and rested up during the bye last week. The 27-year-old has a decent shot at playing this Sunday against Detroit, but his moment in the fantasy sun appears to have come and gone in 2020. Alie-Cox went over 100 yards receiving in Week 2 and scored in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4, but he failed to haul in his only target in Week 5 when he was injured, and he's expected to take a back seat to Trey Burton moving forward.
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wide receiver Bryan Edwards (ankle, foot) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Browns. Edwards was limited in practice all week, so he definitely has a chance to return for the first time since Week 3. The third-rounder has caught five of his six targets for 99 yards in the first three games of his career, but he won't carry any fantasy appeal if he returns to action against Cleveland, as rookie Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor should operate in three-receiver sets this Sunday. The Browns are an enticing matchup for wideouts; they've allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to them this year. Edwards might be able to make a splash play if he's active, but you can't trust him in fantasy lineups.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and is expected to play in Week 8 against the Saints. Robinson missed practice all week, making it seem unlikely on Friday that he would be able to suit up on Sunday. But it looks like fantasy managers can return him to their starting lineups for this weekend. Chicago's offense has been stagnant the last two weeks, though, which has limited A-Rob to nine receptions for 123 yards on 13 targets in that span. The Bears need to make their top receiver a bigger part of the game plan to get back in the win column, but the 27-year-old will be a WR2 for fantasy managers against New Orleans.