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.
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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.''
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Josh McCown spoke with head coach Doug Pederson about a potential role on the coaching staff, but McCown isn't ready to retire just yet. The veteran QB came out of retirement last August to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles. He's currently recovering from a torn hamstring that he suffered in the wild-card loss to the Seahawks. McCown threw only five passes during the regular season and served as a de facto player/coach as Carson Wentz's backup. He has some potential as a future offensive coordinator, but it's unlikely he would immediately be considered as Mike Groh's successor in Philly. Wherever McCown is playing in 2020, he'll strictly be a backup and won't have any fantasy value.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Kelce will be just fine to suit up on Feb. 2 against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. He was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and hasn't slowed down in the postseason, catching 13 of 16 targets for 164 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans and Titans. Most of that production came in the Divisional Round when he had 10 grabs for 134 yards and three scores, but Kelce can go off at any time and could be the X-factor in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was unable to practice on Wednesday, but the team remains hopeful that he will be available for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. The team didn't practice on Wednesday, but they were required to submit an estimated practice report. Coleman dislocated his right shoulder in the first half of the NFC Championship against the Packers and played just eight snaps. If he's active for the Super Bowl, Coleman will split snaps with Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers. Matt Breida will be the No. 3 back.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip), who had a career-high 1,174 receiving yards and six touchdowns on his way to his fifth Pro Bowl selection in six years, said he played the entire 2019 season with a hip injury. "I'm good. I'm good," Landry said. "Just in this recovery process, this rehab process to make sure I can get back to my 100 percent self." The good news is that Landry won't require surgery on his hip in the offseason, and he should be fully healthy in 2020 under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. Cleveland's offense struggled to find consistency last season, but Landry was a consistent bright spot next to Odell Beckham Jr. He should once again be a rock-solid WR2 for owners in PPR leagues.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning will hold a news conference on Friday to announce his retirement, according to sources. The writing has been on the wall for Manning after the Giants replaced him with rookie Daniel Jones during the 2019 season. The 39-year-old former first overall pick played in just four games for the G-Men in his 16th and final NFL season. Manning will finish his career with a 60.3 completion percentage, 57,023 passing yards, 366 touchdowns and 244 interceptions. He'll best be known for besting Tom Brady and the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl. Manning's best season came in 2011 when he threw for 4,933 yards, 29 TDs and 16 picks.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (calf) should have a bigger role in the Super Bowl against the 49ers after playing just 28 of a possible 66 defensive snaps in the AFC Championship due to a strained calf. "I think he feels pretty good," head coach Andy Reid said. "He didnt have a setback so that was good." That's bad news for a 49ers offense that is expected to run the ball often in the big game. Jones had 36 total tackles (23 solo), nine sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 13 games played this season. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be paramount if Kansas City hopes to slow San Francisco's ground game.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (calf) said that his calf is "really good." "(I was) trying to be ready for divisional. Felt good but we just werent able to pull it out," Ingram said. Ingram was hurt in Week 16, sat out of Week 17 and had just six carries for 22 yards in the Divisional Round loss to the Titans. He was more than effective for fantasy owners in his first season in Baltimore, going for his third 1,000-yard season while also scoring 15 total touchdowns (10 rushing, five receiving). Gus Edwards and Justice Hill are more than capable of splitting the workload without Ingram, but he'll continue to carry the load in 2020 as a touchdown-dependent RB2.
Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said he "fully expects" quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to return to the team in 2020. The Dolphins are expected to take a quarterback in the first round of this year's draft at No. 5 overall, with Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa the most likely outcome. However, Fitz played so well in 2019 that the Dolphins wouldn't mind having him under center for one more year while a rookie learns behind him. The 37-year-old journeyman gunslinger completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,529 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 15 games in 2019. While he can go off for big games based on the opponent, Fitz won't be anything more than a QB2 streamer if he's starting games for the Dolphins in 2020.
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said the team wants quarterback Drew Brees back as long as he wants to keep playing. "No different than its been the last few years, even though hes technically a free agent. "Its easy to take him for granted yet I dont take him for granted," Loomis said. Despite just turning 41 years old, Brees still has some juice left in the tank. He played in just 11 games due to a freak finger injury in 2019, but he still completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 2,979 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions. The ceiling won't be as high if Brees returns for another season, but he'll still have QB1 upside in the right matchups, mainly at home in the Superdome if he re-signs with the Saints.
Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum believes he's still capable of being a starter in the NFL, but he's not expecting to return to Washington in 2020 with Dwayne Haskins in the picture. The Redskins drafted Haskins with the 15th overall pick in 2019 for a reason. The soon-to-be 32-year-old signal-caller was impressed with the progress that Haskins made toward the end of the season. "I think Dwayne did an incredible job towards the end of the season, adapting and getting a lot better," Keenum said. "I think it's his team moving forward." Haskins has some nice weapons in Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims Jr. and Derrius Guice, but he won't be seen as anything more than an upside QB2 in fantasy drafts this fall.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) won't practice on Wednesday, according to head coach Andy Reid. Robinson should have plenty of time to get healthy for the Super Bowl against the 49ers in two weeks. Aside from a huge six-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Raiders back on Sept. 15, Robinson has done very little this year and is buried on the receiver depth chart behind Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. In the two postseason games against the Texans and Titans, Robinson has only three catches on six targets for 35 yards. He's a long shot to return any kind of value in the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett said that he's hoping to remain with the team moving forward. "I dont know where its going to end up at but Im confident that Im going to be where I should be, which I think is Tampa," Barrett said. Things couldn't have gone any better for Barrett in his first year with the Bucs in 2019, as he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks after never having more than 5.5 sacks in a single season in his four years with the Broncos. He also added 58 total tackles (45 solo), six forced fumbles and one interception during his career year. Barrett is set to become a free agent in March, but it's unlikely that Tampa lets him get away.
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who will be a free agent in March, intends to play in 2020, whether it's in New England or elsewhere. The Patriots project to have $28 million in salary cap space for 2020. Despite being 32 years old, McCourty is still an impact defender and allowed a completion percentage of 54.3 in 2019. His 65 straight starts also marks the third longest active streak by a defensive back, according to ESPN Stats and Information. McCourty had an interception in each of the first four games of the season. Time will tell if the Patriots bring back their eight-time captain, but McCourty could be effective in 2020 if he's forced to play elsewhere.
New England Patriots impending free-agent FS Devin McCourty intends to play in 2020.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford (back, hip) is 'pretty much at full health,' according to GM Bob Quinn, who adds that the team is 'totally happy and comfortable' with Stafford as their starting quarterback in 2020.
Fantasy Spin: Stafford was playing very good football prior to getting injured and looking like a borderline QB1. Assuming everything progresses as planned with his recovery he'd make a nice backup fantasy quarterback that can step in as needed.
Impending free-agent TE Hunter Henry is believed to be a candidate for the transition tag if he and the Los Angeles Chargers can't reach a long-term agreement before the start of free agency, according to sources via Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.
Updating a previous report, former Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden verbally accepted the Jacksonville Jaguars' offer to become their next offensive coordinator Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The Jacksonville Jaguars plan to hire former Redskins head coach Jay Gruden as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. A deal isn't officially done, but the Jaguars are very close to adding Gruden in the role. The biggest question for Jacksonville's offense heading into the 2020 season will be who is the starter under center, Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew. Leonard Fournette can be an effective bell-cow back in the backfield if he can stay healthy, while the Jags have a nice three-receiver mix in place of D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. The Jaguars finished 2019 with 341.8 yards per game, 235 passing yards per game, 106.8 rushing yards per game and only 18.8 points per game. Gruden's addition is good news for this very mediocre offense across the board.
Free-agent TE Evan Baylis (Packers), OT Cody Conway (Packers), RB Damarea Crockett (Packers), CB Kabion Ento (Packers), TE James Looney (Packers), LB Randy Ramsey (Packers), WR Darrius Shepherd (Packers), QB Manny Wilkins (Packers) and LB Tim Williams (Packers) signed Reserve/Future contracts with the Green Bay Packers Tuesday, Jan. 21. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell seems confident that the team will re-sign defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Jacksonville wants Ngakoue back, and Caldwell said something "should be done hopefully relatively easily." He'd become one of the top pass rushers available if he hits the open market after logging 37.5 sacks, 85 quarterback hits and 42 tackles for loss in 63 games since being a third-round pick in 2016. Retaining Ngakoue is the top priority for the Jaguars this offseason as they look to build their defense back up around the ferocious pass rusher.