New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) carries on a pass reception ahead of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) and defensive end Vic Beasley (44) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes under pressure from Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston passes during warmups before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Drew Brees looks at Tampa Bay and sees an opportunity for the New Orleans Saints to reassert themselves, though not necessarily because the Buccaneers have a young, inexperienced secondary.
The Bucs may rank last in the NFL in pass defense, but the veteran quarterback of the NFC South leaders - coming off a lopsided loss to the Atlanta Falcons - says he pays a lot more attention to game film than numbers while preparing for an opponent.
''I'm saying just in general, I don't look at statistics and then judge a defense or anyone based just on the statistics,'' Brees said. ''I'm going to turn on the tape, I'm going to trust what I see, and then I'm going to go out to execute according to that.''
The Bucs (3-6) lead the NFL in run defense, yielding just 77.8 yards per game on the ground. Conversely, they're allowing an average of 299 through the air while giving up a league-high 31 points per game.
And that's before coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht decided to part ways with cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was waived this week after being benched for a portion of last Sunday's 30-27 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
With a couple of other young, inexperienced players dealing with injuries, Tampa Bay probably will be forced to start three rookies (safety Mike Edwards, cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean) and a second-year player (safety Jordan Whitehead) in the defensive backfield against the Saints on Sunday.
Brees isn't assuming New Orleans (7-2) will have a clear-cut advantage.
''They're young, but they're talented,'' the 40-year-old quarterback said. ''Look at the investment that they've made in their secondary over the last three years with draft picks.''
Hargreaves was a first-round pick, No. 11 overall in 2016. In addition to selecting him, the Bucs used four second-round selections, two third-round picks and a pair of fourth-rounders on defensive backs over the past four years.
''Defensively, we're still a work in progress. ... All those young kids in the secondary are getting better and better,'' said Arians, whose team ended a four-game losing streak against Arizona.
Now, it's the division-leading Saints looking to rebound after being held without a touchdown in last week's 26-9 loss to last-place Atlanta.
New Orleans beat Tampa Bay 31-24 at home without an injured Brees (thumb) on Oct. 6. After facing the Bucs again, the Saints will complete a stretch of four consecutive games against NFC South foes by hosting Carolina and traveling to Atlanta.
Brees expects the Saints to play better Sunday.
''We were extremely disappointed in our performance (last week). I think we know we're a lot better than that and understand that, especially at this point in the season, this is a time when we really want to start separating ourselves from the pack,'' he said.
While the Saints held Bucs receiver Mike Evans without a catch in their last meeting, the defender who primarily covered Evans might not be able to play on Sunday. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore left last weekend's game with a pulled hamstring. The Saints moved P.J. Williams to cornerback and rookie C.J. Gardner Johnson into Williams' usual nickel back slot. The results were encouraging. Although the Saints lost, the Falcons finished with fewer than 200 net yards passing. Still, Saints coach Sean Payton is weary of Jameis Winston's ability to get the ball downfield to both Evans and Chris Godwin.
''Their passing numbers right now are outstanding when you look at (the Bucs' success rate on) third down, at what they're scoring,'' Payton said. ''So, changing up the looks, trying to affect him is important and then understanding, hey, how are the interceptions coming, how are the fumbles coming? All of those things you study.''
Hargreaves was due to earn $9 million next season, although it was guaranteed for injury only. While the impending salary was a factor in the decision to release the fourth-year pro, the move also reiterated one of Arians' points of emphasis in his first season with the Bucs.
''You control your attitude and your effort,'' the coach said. ''You don't control a lot of things, but you control those two - and they better be good.''
Starting left guard Andrus Peat, a 2018 Pro Bowl selection and 2015 first-round pick, broke his arm during New Orleans' loss to Atlanta and had surgery this week. His recovery could keep him out until the final week of the regular season. Will Clapp, a second-year pro out of LSU, was first off the bench to replace Peat during the game. Clapp struggled, but so did much of the offensive line that day, when Brees was sacked six times. In addition to Clapp, the Saints have a couple of veterans who could sub in as needed: Nick Easton and Patrick Omameh. Easton was signed as a free agent when center Max Unger retired, but the Saints then acquired Texas A&M center Erik McCoy in the second round of last spring's draft and he won the job. Easton has played in just three games this season and was a healthy scratch last weekend, but that could change.
''Every season, you're going to have guys that go down for a period of time - you hope not too long, and you have to have guys step up and fill in,'' Brees said. ''I'm confident with the guys we have to do that.''
Oakland Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) wasn't seen at the start of practice on Thursday. Jacobs revealed on Tuesday that he's been playing through a fractured shoulder since Week 7, so back-to-back missed practices are now more concerning for anyone that owns Jacobs. Despite his injured shoulder, Jacobs has remained productive in his first season and is fourth in the NFL with 1,061 rushing yards in 2019. He'll be a bit more of a risky RB1 this weekend if he suits up, but his fantasy owners will have their minds more at ease if Jacobs returns to practice on Friday. If he cannot play this weekend, Deandre Washington would be the obvious plug and play, with Jalen Richard mixing in on passing downs.
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (knee), who revealed he's dealing with an MCL injury, is in doubt for Week 14 against the Texans. "I'm already undersized. When you take away exotic movements that make me who I am it changes the type of player I am. I have to get that back to go out and play. If I don't have that back then I need to take time to get that right," Miller said. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean he'll play this weekend. Another Miller absence would be great news for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the whole offense. Even if Miller suits up, the Broncos Defense should be avoided in fantasy.
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead, who leads the team with 10 sacks this year, walked off the practice field on Thursday with an undisclosed injury. Armstead's 10 sacks in 2019 are more than his combined total (9.5) in his previous four seasons. The Niners pass rush has been a strength of their defense all year, but they've had key injuries in recent weeks, although Dee Ford (hamstring) is on track to return after missing two games. Armstead has played 73 percent of the defense's snaps this year on the edge and inside. Solomon Thomas would likely replace Armstead if needed. Drew Brees and the Saints offense would receive a boost if Armstead cannot play.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. San Francisco's defense ranks 22nd against the run despite being the best in the league against the pass, presenting Murray with a good matchup. The problem is, he's seen a steady decrease in snaps and touches over the last three games, including his second-lowest snap total of the season last week, 13. This usage makes Murray nothing more than flex play in deep leagues, even in a more run-friendly matchup.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (shoulder) has been ruled out for Week 14 against the Cardinals despite getting in some limited practice this week. It will be his third straight missed game, and fantasy owners shouldn't be holding out much hope that he can help you the rest of the way if you've made the fantasy playoffs. A Pro Bowler in 2018, Conner has disappointed with 390 rushing yards and five missed games. Benny Snell Jr. should continue to carry the load on early downs in Conner's absence. He'll be an upside RB3 in the good matchup with Arizona, but Jaylen Samuels should continue to see more work in the passing game.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis (knee) was back at practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. Pettis is making progress, but he won't be back on the field for Week 14 against the Saints. The 24-year-old has been a second-year bust, catching only 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in his 11 games in 2019. With several 49ers rookies possibly passing him on the depth chart in 2020, Pettis is no longer a must-hold in dynasty/keeper leagues either. He posted 27 catches for 467 yards and five scores in 12 games in his rookie season.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) is unlikely to play in Week 14 against the Buccaneers after the team claimed kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers on Wednesday. Vinatieri will turn 47 years old this month and has missed 14 total kicks this year, so McLaughlin could take over for him this weekend and finish out the year as the team's kicker. McLaughlin made seven of his eight kicks in his time for the 49ers filling in for Robbie Gould, and he could become a viable kicking streamer down the stretch in fantasy. Vinatieri, who has been a legendary kicker in his career, could be nearing the end.
Washington Redskins wide receivers Paul Richardson (hamstring) and Trey Quinn (concussion) did not practice for the second straight day on Thursday. They're both unlikely to play in Week 14 against the Packers. Neither receiver has moved the fantasy needle in 2019 either, so they should both be firmly planted on the waiver wire in your league. Outside of rookie Terry McLaurin -- and he's a risky fantasy proposition these days as well -- no Washington receiver is worth your consideration for a lineup spot. If Richardson and Quinn are inactive this Sunday, rookies Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims Jr. will be in three-wide sets. That means all of the Redskins pass-catchers will be rookies with a rookie quarterback throwing them passes. Look elsewhere.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) did not take part in practice on Thursday. Agholor returned in the Week 13 loss to the Dolphins and had an underwhelming three catches for 41 yards in the embarrassing defeat. He's not a lock to play on Monday night against the Giants, and even if he does, he's a low-upside WR4/flex in deeper leagues. Agholor just hasn't proven to be much of a producer unless Alshon Jeffery misses time with injury. If Agholor can't go this week, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught his first touchdown of his career last Sunday, would see an even bigger role in the passing game.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. The 49ers rank first in the league in passing yards allowed per game but only 22nd in rushing yards allowed per contest. They've also been somewhat susceptible to big running plays, as they've allowed the ninth-most rushing plays of 20 yards or more. That bodes well for Kamara, who has been a fantasy bust despite garnering at least 20 touches in two of his last three games. Expect New Orleans to lean on the running game, giving Kamara another chance at 20 touches- and his first touchdown since Week 3. He'll have slightly more upside in PPR, though volume will allow him to put up low-end RB1 numbers this week.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) is out of practice for the second straight day this week on Thursday. All signs are pointing towards Olsen sitting Week 14 out against the Falcons after suffering a serious head injury in Week 13. If you've been relying on Olsen in your tight end spot, it's time to make other plans for the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Ian Thomas should become the primary pass-catching tight end in Carolina if Olsen sits, and he'd have streaming TE2 appeal if that's the case.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (ribs) remained out of practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Unless Williams gets in at least a limited practice on Friday, he's headed for his second straight missed game after getting injured in Week 11. With Darrel Williams (hamstring) on Injured Reserve, we could be looking at a committee approach with LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware in Week 14 against the Patriots. Even if Williams is able to play, he'd be an RB3/flex to fade in the fantasy playoffs. Thompson might have the most fantasy upside this weekend with the Chiefs limiting McCoy's touches down the stretch.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is not practicing for the second straight day this week on Thursday. As of now, it's looking like Thielen can't be trusted to return in Week 14 against the Lions in a good matchup. Keep him locked to your bench unless something changes with his status on Friday. Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Olabisi Johnson should remain the top three passing targets if Thielen misses another contest. Diggs went for seven catches and 143 yards in the last matchup with Detroit, so he'll be a high-end WR2 regardless of whether Thielen plays. Rudolph has become a touchdown hog with Thielen out of the lineup.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will face an extremely tough test in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers. Here's where the 49ers Defense ranks in several key categories: 45 sacks, second in the league, 134.2 pass yards allowed per game, first in the league and 29.4 pass attempts allowed, second in the league. Brees will potentially have to take on this fearsome pass rush without his starting offensive tackles, Andrus Peat (forearm) and Terron Armstead (ankle). Even in the offensive-friendly Superdome, Brees isn't dropping back to pass 40 times against this defense. Expect a more run-oriented gameplan from New Orleans, making Brees more of a QB2 this week.
Updating a previous report, New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate (concussion) is practicing in full on Thursday. Tate looks ready to return in Week 14 against the Eagles on Monday night after sitting out last week. With tight end Evan Engram (foot) also on track to make his return, Tate will be more of a PPR WR3 for fantasy owners with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton also being involved. Quarterback Eli Manning is also expected to get the start under center with rookie Daniel Jones (ankle) not expected to play.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. Everett missed the game last week and is in danger of sitting again in Week 14 against the Seahawks on Sunday night. If that is the case, Tyler Higbee, who caught seven of eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown in Week 13, would be a low-end TE1 option again for fantasy owners struggling at the position in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Everett will need to at least get in a limited practice on Thursday or Friday to have a shot at returning to the field this weekend.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) is on the injury report for Week 14 against the Buccaneers after his knee flared up in warmups this past Sunday. Vinatieri missed all three of his attempts from 55, 52 and 46 yards on Sunday, with two of them getting blocked. With Indy claiming kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers on Wednesday, Vinatieri's status is very much up in the air for this Sunday. Vinatieri was limited in practice on Wednesday and isn't a good fantasy option, even if he's active this weekend. McLaughlin could become a worthy streaming consideration if he fills in at all for Vinatieri in the last four games.
Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (knee) is going on season-ending Injured Reserve on Thursday, according to a source. It's a big blow to Jacksonville's already weak run defense, especially with Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler coming to town in Week 14. The 24-year-old Jack totaled 66 tackles, half a sack and one interception in his 11 games this year for Jacksonville. Fantasy owners shouldn't be using the Jaguars Defense in the first round of the fantasy playoffs despite facing a slumping Chargers offense.
New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle) is not practicing on Thursday and is doing leg work in a boot with a trainer on the side. Dealing with a mild high ankle sprain, Jones is a long shot to suit up on Monday night against the Eagles and could also miss Week 15. It means that veteran Eli Manning will get another start in Week 14 against an old foe in the Eagles. Philly's secondary has plenty of concerns and was just roasted by the Dolphins. The G-Men could be getting both Evan Engram and Golden Tate back as well, but Manning remains a low-upside QB2 if he gets the start, as expected, on Monday.
New York Giants tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) and wide receiver Golden Tate (concussion) are all practicing on Thursday. All three players have a chance of returning on Monday night against the Eagles, but they'll be tough calls in fantasy if they carry questionable designations and are game-time calls. Engram has disappointed this year because of injury, but he'll immediately return to being a TE1 if he's active. Tate's return would be good news for quarterback Eli Manning, who will likely start for Daniel Jones (ankle), but it will hurt Sterling Shepard's upside as a WR2 in a great matchup. Ellison would only be fantasy relevant if he starts and Engram sits. Philly's defense won't be as great of a streamer if New York gets all their offensive weapons back.