Thu Dec 12 9:07pm ET
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) hurdles over San Francisco 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward (20) in the first half an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack celebrates with offensive tackle Braden Smith (72) after his 2-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the second half an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) runs away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal (14) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with running back Nyheim Hines (21) and wide receiver Parris Campbell (15) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
New Orleans Saints linebacker Craig Robertson (52) celebrates his interception in the second half an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Saints coach Sean Payton is trying not to let New Orleans' latest bout with key injuries undermine his club's Super Bowl aspirations.
A pair of starting defensive linemen who are both former first-round draft choices - end Marcus Davenport and tackle Sheldon Rankins - left last week's loss to San Francisco with what turned out to be season-ending injuries.
But as the Saints (10-3) prepare to meet Indianapolis (6-7) on Monday night, they do so having already demonstrated how resilient they can be without prominent players in the lineup.
The Saints went 5-0 while record-setting quarterback Drew Brees was out with a thumb injury early this season. Star running back Alvin Kamara, top receiving tight end Jared Cook, left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, top cornerback Marshon Lattimore and return specialist Deonte Harris have missed games with injuries this season as well. Rankins also sat out the season's first three games while finishing up his recovery from an Achilles tendon tear in last season's playoff opener.
Yet by Thanksgiving, the Saints were NFC South Division title holders for a third season running and are still in contention to capture one of the top two playoff seeds in the conference.
''It's been a little bit more than we're used to,'' Payton said of the injuries to top contributors. ''You start with Drew, but it is what it is. You learn as you get older that there are certain things you can control. Those are the things you spend more time focusing on than the things you can't.''
The Saints are somewhat fortunate that they entered this season emphasizing depth on the defensive line. They still have experienced, productive players across their defensive front - just fewer of them. And they will be tested against Indy's sixth-ranked running game, featuring Marlon Mack.
''One of the things this year that we felt was beneficial was our depth at the defensive line position, carrying eight each game and getting into a rotation.'' Payton said. ''So that when you lose two starters, the depth helps you.''
The Colts could use a break, having lost five of six. They're now one loss from playoff elimination as they meet a Saints squad that odds makers have favored by more than a touchdown.
Indianapolis coach Frank Reich doesn't expect New Orleans' normally stout defensive front to crumble.
''They're rotating guys who substitute that are good players. I'm sure they feel like us and most teams do, these backups are going to step in and do a good job,'' Reich said. ''We certainly know we are going up against a good front.''
Dynamic Saints running back Alvin Kamara is coming off a relatively quite game by his prolific standards, with just 25 yards rushing and 18 receiving against San Francisco. That marked his second straight game with fewer than 100 yards from scrimmage, and third in the last five.
But Brees doesn't sound worried about Kamara, who needs just 38 yards receiving to become third player in NFL history with at least 500 yards receiving and 500 yards rushing in each of first three seasons.
''There's just only so many balls to go around,'' Brees said. ''Alvin is one of our playmakers. We want to get on the ball. We want to give him opportunities.''
The Colts have blown second-half leads each of the past three weeks, putting their playoff hopes in peril.
Indy has slid from the top of the AFC South to third place, and the reason is simple. Houston, Tennessee and Tampa Bay have outscored the Colts 31-0 in the fourth quarter.
''Very frustrating,'' tight end Jack Doyle said, but added that he believes the Colts ''have the right group of guys'' to bounce back.
Rookie Parris Campbell became the fifth Colts receiver to land on injured reserve this season when he broke his foot last week.
Indy filled his spot by bringing back a familiar name, Dontrelle Inman.
The Virginia alum was one of the Colts' midseason acquisitions last season, finishing with 28 receptions 304 yards and three TD catches in nine games. But the Colts and Inman couldn't agree to terms during the offseason. He wound up playing four games for the Los Angeles Chargers before returning to Indy.
He'll try to take pressure off of four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, who has missed five of the last six games with an injured calf and was limited in practice this week.
The Saints moved quickly to add a pair of free-agent veterans - tackle T.Y. McGill and end Noah Spence - but it remains to be seen how they perform in New Orleans' scheme.
''There's a vision with each one relative to what they do well and how we would use them. They are in good football shape and I'm anxious to see how they do.''
McGill was a teammate of Colts QB Jacoby Brissett at North Carolina State. He wasn't allowed to touch Brissett in practice, but now might get his first chance to sack him.
ARE YOU READY?
Indy is making its first Monday appearance since October 2016.
That might be a bigger deal for some than Colts 2018 All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, who enjoyed watching pro wrestling as a kid.
''I'm not going to lie, I watched Monday Night Raw,'' the reigning defensive rookie of the year said. ''But it's really special when you know the whole world is watching.''
Detroit Lions WR Danny Amendola is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but he's a 'prime candidate' to be re-signed, in the opinion of The Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Free-agent WR Antonio Callaway (Browns) signed with the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL Thursday, Jan. 16.
Kansas City Chiefs RB LeSean McCoy (illness) remained out of practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: McCoy played just one offensive snap in last week's Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans. He's clearly behind RB Damien Williams and is no longer worth starting.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Moore (illness) and DT Chris Jones (calf) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. DT Khalen Saunders (knee), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), CB Kendall Fuller (knee), DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (neck), C Austin Reiter (wrist) and G Andrew Wylie (ankle) practiced in full.
Green Bay Packers DL Kenny Clark (back), TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury), LB Preston Smith (ankle), FB Danny Vitale (knee) and CB Tramon Williams (non-injury) were limited participants in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. S Adrian Amos (chest), OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), WR Ryan Grant (non-injury), LB Blake Martinez (hand) and OL Billy Turner (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) remained limited at practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce earned a light practice week while catching 10 of 12 targets for 134 yards and three touchdowns against the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round. He's the week's top tight end option once against this week so long as he takes the field.
Tennessee Titans LB Jayon Brown (shoulder), LB Rashaan Evans (foot), WR Adam Humphries (ankle), CB Adoree' Jackson (foot), WR Cody Hollister (ankle) and OT Jack Conklin (shoulder) were limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. CB Logan Ryan (illness) and LB David Long Jr. (knee) participated in full.
Green Bay Packers WR Geronimo Allison (illness) was limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: It's an upgrade for Allison after he missed Wednesday's practice. He's likely to be limited for much of the week but should ultimately suit up for Sunday, Jan. 19's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. He made just one catch for 11 yards last week against the Seattle Seahawks and isn't worth much more than a desperation flier.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (non-injury) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Graham has caught seven of 11 total targets across his last two games, recording 49 receiving yards in each game. He hasn't found the end zone since Week 7 and doesn't possess much touchdown upside, but the Packers have few better options in the passing game outside of WR Davante Adams. He could be a sneaky play at a thin position.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (elbow) practiced in full Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: It's Coleman's second straight full practice, and he should be good to go for the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 19. He's coming off one of his best games of the season, and he'll be worth starting once again in all formats.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (calf) was a full participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert's on track to play in the NFC Championship Sunday, Jan. 19. He took a back seat to RB Tevin Coleman in the Divisional Round game against the Minnesota Vikings, but he was still able to rack up 58 yards and 12 carries. He's worth starting, but Coleman should be viewed as the better option.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) and DL Dee Ford (quadriceps, hamstring) were limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) had his relationship with agent Drew Rosenhaus conditionally terminated Thursday, Jan. 16, until the wide receiver seeks counseling, per a source.
Fantasy Spin: While the talent remains alluring, it's become clear Brown is going to have to make some personal changes before he gets a chance to play again the league.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (ankle) was a full participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 16, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Fantasy Spin: Great news for Kittle after he sat out Wednesday's workouts with the nagging ankle injury. Unless we hear of any kind of setback later this week, count on him being good to go for Sunday afternoon's NFC title tilt.
Updating previous reports, Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald's one-year contract for 2020 will include a base salary of $11 million and will have $500,000 in roster bonuses and $250,000 in incentives.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. is the subject of a simple battery arrest warrant issued by the New Orleans Police Department after Beckham appeared to slap a police officer's buttocks in the LSU locker room Monday, Jan. 13 following the College Football Playoff championship game.
Fantasy Spin: While this isn't the most serious of incidents, OBJ continues to make more headlines off the field than on it following his disappointing 2019 debut with the Browns (74 catches-1,035 yards-4 TDs). And if the trend continues, will the new Browns regime say enough is enough for a player brought in by the previous administration?
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been accused of simple battery after an incident in the locker room following LSU's national championship win over Clemson on Monday night. Beckham was caught on video spanking a police officer on the backside during the post-game locker room celebration. New Orleans police have issued a warrant for Beckham's arrest following the incident. The Browns have since released a statement that they are aware of the issue and that they have been in contact with Beckham and his representatives. This is the second issue to stem from Beckham's attendance at the game on Monday night as he was also caught on camera apparently handing money to LSU players on the field after the win. Neither situation is likely to impact Beckham from a fantasy perspective but it's just another issue for the Browns organization to contend with this offseason.
Tennessee Titans CB Logan Ryan (illness) is expected to return to practice Thursday, Jan. 16, after sitting out the previous day with an illness.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry rushed 23 times for 188 yards and two scores in Week 10 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans will take on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 19.
Fantasy Spin: The Titans won that game 35-32 in Patrick Mahomes' first game back from his knee injury. The Chiefs could neutralize him by scoring early and often, but Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three scores, and the Titans remained in it. Henry is arguably the best running back in fantasy remaining in the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday ahead of the NFC Championship showdown against the Green Bay Packers. The All-Pro chipped a bone in his left ankle earlier this season and aggravated it during the third quarter of the Divisional Round. A proven warrior, head coach Kyle Shanahan remains optimistic, but Kittles practice regimen the rest of the week should be telling. Used as a blocker last Sunday, Kittle amassed only three touches for 16 yards. Its improbable the injury will sideline him for the biggest game of his career, but wideouts Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders would see a bump in targets if Kittle cant go.