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.''
San Francisco 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a knee injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets S Jamal Adams (ankle), OT Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle, illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) and DL Quinnen Williams (neck) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Kelvin Beachum (ankles), S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Steve McLendon (knee, hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot, hip) and DL Nathan Shepherd (ankle) were limited. RB Le'Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee, thumb), QB David Fales (elbow) and LB Paul Worrilow (quad) participated in full.
Baltimore Ravens LB Chris Board (concussion), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury) and DT Brandon Williams (non-injury) did not practice Tuesday, Dec. 10. TE Mark Andrews (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (quad) and DE Jihad Ward (elbow) were limited.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (abdominal) and CB Desmond Trufant (forearm) were placed on the Reserve/Injured list on Tuesday, Dec. 10. LB Ahmad Thomas was signed to the active roster, while TE Carson Meier and LB Quentin Poling were added to the practice squad.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury he suffered in Week 14 against the New York Giants, according to a source. The team is still reportedly gathering opinions about the exact injury, however.
Fantasy Spin: This injury wraps up yet another injury-shortened season for the 29-year-old, who has played a full season once in the last five years - averaging only 12 games over that span. Jeffrey is still due $12.75 million over each of the final two years of his deal, so he's probably not going anywhere this offseason. With Nelson Agholor also ailing, the Eagles could be forced to finish the season with Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and a few practice squad players at the position.
Arizona Cardinals DL Rodney Gunter (toe) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a toe injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10. DL Caraun Reid (Cardinals) was re-signed to an undisclosed contract to replace him on the roster after getting released over the weekend.
Washington Redskins CB Simeon Thomas was handed a four-game suspension by the NFL on Tuesday, Dec. 10, for violating the league's policy and program on substances of abuse.
Detroit Lions WR Marvin Jones (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with an ankle injury on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Fantasy Spin: The hits just keep coming for Detroit, which figures to lean on Kenny Golladay even more the rest of the way. Danny Amendola should also see more targets as well.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season. Tate sustained a mild MCL sprain in his left knee in the third quarter of the teams Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Damion Willis was promoted to the active roster in a corresponding roster move. Tate took advantage of all the injuries to the Bengals receiving corps this season, racking up a career-high 40 catches for 575 yards and one touchdown, and is a worthy hold in dynasty leagues heading into his third season.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp played only 20 of a possible 68 snaps in Week 14 versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Fantasy Spin: By comparison, Kupp logged 57 snaps in Week 13. Head coach Sean McVay defended the move by suggesting it was the cost of doing business in order to establish some offensive balance on early downs. However, the flaw in that reasoning is that Kupp's playing time should not be cut in favor of backup tight end Johnny Mundt. Meanwhile, Brandin Cooks didn't make a catch in his 61 snaps. Expect Kupp to return to his normal snap count in Week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Free-agent CB Jamar Taylor (Seahawks) signed an undisclosed contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell is among the players the team is expected to make available via trade this offseason, according to sources.
Fantasy Spin: Bell is averaging only 49.1 yards rushing behind one of the league's worst offensive lines in his first season with the Jets, and it is becoming increasingly clear head coach Adam Gase either can't find a way to keep him involved in the offense or doesn't want to. A trade will be hard to accomplish as well, as the Jets would take a $15.5 million cap hit if they deal him and his hypothetical new team would have to find a way to fit one of the larger contracts at his position onto the roster.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Auden Tate (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list with a sprained left medial collateral ligament Tuesday, Dec. 10. WR Damion Willis was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Fantasy Spin: Tate's emergence was probably the best thing to happen to the Bengals in an otherwise lost season. Assuming A.J. Green re-signs with the team in the offseason, Tate will probably push John Ross for the other starting outside job while Tyler Boyd remains the main slot receiver. Tate, who finishes this season with 40 catches for 575 yards and a touchdown, should be considered a solid late-round flier next summer in fantasy drafts.
Dallas Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Dec. 10. OT Mitch Hyatt was elevated from the practice squad to replace him on the roster.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell (foot) has been placed on Injured Reserve ending his season. It's an unfortunate, yet fitting, end to the rookie's season having battled injuries to his hamstring, abdomen, and a broken hand before a fractured foot put him on season-ending IR. Campbell finishes his rookie season with 18 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown. The Colts are still unsure of T.Y. Hilton's (calf) status for their Monday night game vs New Orleans, but it's looking increasingly likely Hilton misses the game. Assuming Hilton is out, Zach Pascal has interesting WR3 value with Marcus Johnson also in the mix in deeper fantasy leagues.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are expecting to get wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and running back James Conner (shoulder) back in time for their Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills. Neither has played since getting injured against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. Both players are expected to practice this week in what would be a big boost to the Pittsburgh offense as the team looks to remain in the playoff picture. Conner's return would come at an especially good time as Jaylen Samuels is looking questionable for this weekend with a groin injury. That being said, fantasy GMs need to temper their expectations for both players as the Bills have been stout on defense this season.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (abdomen) will be out for the remainder of the season after suffering an abdominal injury during the first half of Week 14's win over the Carolina Panthers. Ridley had a big game before the injury, catching five balls for 76 yards and a touchdown but went down before halftime and was unable to stand on his own. He was carted off the field and looked to be in significant pain. With Ridley out look for Russell Gage to slide in as the No. 2 receiver in Atlanta opposite Julio Jones. Gage is worth a look as a flex play in fantasy leagues going forward.
New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (ankle, illness) is not expected to play Thursday night at Baltimore. Powell, who was filling in for Le'Veon Bell (illness) injured his ankle at the end of the Jets Week 14 win over the Dolphins. Powell is also apparently dealing with the flu but head coach Adam Gase said the ankle is the bigger concern right now. Powell is yet to officially be ruled out, but all signs are pointing to him not suiting up this week. The good news for New York is Bell is reportedly close to 100 percent and should reclaim his starting role with Ty Montgomery working as a change of pace back. Powell can safely be dropped by those that picked him up for the Miami game.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (ankle) was spotted in a walking boot on Monday and left the locker room using a scooter. Head coach Doug Marrone told reporters that Chark is "week-to-week" with the injury, which puts the remainder of his season in jeopardy. Chark broke out in a big way for Jacksonville in 2019, catching 67 balls for 956 yards and eight touchdowns. With Chark sidelined, look for Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole to all see more chances within the Jacksonville passing attack.