New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leaves the field after their loss against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. Brees has been diagnosed with a torn ligament near the thumb of his throwing hand that is expected to sideline him at least six weeks, said a person familiar with the situation. Brees has elected to have surgery, but it is not yet clear when the operation will take place or who will perform it, the person said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, top, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles past Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97), who is blocked by Seahawks offensive guard Ethan Pocic (77) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. The Seahawks won 28-26. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly (88) celebrates with teammates after making a touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
SEATTLE (AP) In his 13 seasons in charge New Orleans coach Sean Payton has always had one constant by his side.
Nearly every game. Nearly every snap. It's almost always been Drew Brees on the other end of the receiver, listening to what Payton is saying, and for the most part tormenting opponents.
And now Brees is gone for an undetermined time after surgery to repair an injured ligament near his right thumb. It's a test Payton's never faced, being without Brees for an extended period. It begins on Sunday when the Saints face fellow NFC contender Seattle.
Brees' injury comes in what was supposed to be a redemptive season for the Saints, with Super Bowl expectations that could put to rest the anguish of missing the title game a year ago, victimized by an officiating non-call. And for now, there is no panic among the Saints.
''That's the thing. Drew's down, we all know that. But we've still got the same coaching staff. We've got the same guys calling plays, especially like you said, Sean,'' New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara said. ''I don't feel like Sean's down. He's ready for the challenge.''
Brees has failed to start just three games since he and Payton arrived together in 2006. Not surprisingly, the Saints are 0-3 in those games, although two of those came in Week 17 with nothing at stake for New Orleans. Which is why this injury and this absence is so significant. It will be Teddy Bridgewater's team - with some Taysom Hill sprinkled in - for the next six games before the Saints' bye and likely any consideration of Brees' return.
''The job for us as coaches is to put a plan in place that gives our players the best chance to win,'' Payton said. ''I don't know if any one person has to change or step up but, by in large the group I think does.''
One person not expecting any sort of drop off is Seattle coach Pete Carroll, in part because of his admiration for the job Payton has done.
''After a few years coaching, you look forward to these kinds of matchups. It's one that we've been looking toward through the offseason,'' Carroll said. ''I have great respect for what he's done. He's a fantastic coach and I like that he's sculpted and then re-sculpted his team a couple times over the years and you can see the difference.''
The Seahawks won their first two games for the first time since the 2013 season that ended with Seattle winning its only Super Bowl title. But the Seahawks been lucky in getting to 2-0. Seattle beat Cincinnati by one in the opener, a game when the Bengals were without A.J. Green. They held off Pittsburgh 28-26 last week with Ben Roethlisberger playing only half the game.
And now they face the Saints minus Brees.
''You definitely got to remind the guys not to let their guard down because any day, you're in this professional league and the guys behind those guys are professionals,'' Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. ''You can't take anybody lightly because they can come out having one of their best games.''
Here's what else to watch as the Seahawks look to win their fourth straight over the Saints in Seattle:
Bridgewater started Week 17 last year, but his last meaningful starts came during the 2015 season before suffering a catastrophic knee injury that sidelined him for the better part of two seasons and derailed his career. Bridgewater was 17 of 30 for 165 yards after taking over for Brees last week against the Rams.
''It's nothing like being out there during the games when it counts the most,'' Bridgewater said. ''Not saying the preseason doesn't count. I'd never take the game for granted. But just to go out there and compete at the high level is what that means.''
THE OTHER QB
It's worth mentioning how good Russell Wilson has been to start the season. He's completing 78 percent of his passes, has five touchdowns and no interceptions, and last week had his ninth career game of at least 300 yards and three touchdowns.
The Saints' pass rush has produced nine sacks through two games, including three by reserve defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who seems to have made a big jump in his third season. He had two sacks as a rookie and none last season when he was a healthy scratch a number of games. For now, though, he has one more sack than 2017 first-team All-Pro Cam Jordan and two more than 2018 first-round draft choice Marcus Davenport. New Orleans' front has been productive so far without help from 2016 first-rounder Sheldon Rankins, who is close to returning from an Achilles tendon tear last January.
The Saints will be facing a Seattle offensive line that has underperformed so far and gave up four sacks last week to Pittsburgh.
How will the Saints use Hill? They've had the luxury of exposing him to heavy contact on special teams, as a tight end and as a change-of-pace, read-option QB because they had Bridgewater as a more conventional backup in the event of a Brees injury. If Bridgewater starts, Hill likely would be the primary backup, which could conceivably prompt Payton to dial back Hill's role as a utility player.
PERFECT AT HOME
Seattle is always really good at home: It has been exceptional in the first month of the season under Carroll. Seattle is 15-0 in September home games since Carroll took over in 2010. The Seahawks are the only unbeaten team in September during that time frame.
New York Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas is on the verge of being streamable this week against the Lions. The former Pro Bowler hasn't had much success this year and has yet to make more than one field goal in a game all season. However, he's in a good matchup. The Giants figure to move the ball against a banged-up Lions Defense, and they will need to push the tempo to keep up with quarterbackMatthew Stafford and the Lions offense. Rosas still isn't a recommended option, but he can be considered in deep leagues.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal has seen his stock consistently grow over the past few weeks. He's still not a player that you can have a ton of confidence in starting, but he does have some flex consideration this week. His size allows him to be a mismatch against most corners, and the Denver Broncos don't have a guy that can match up with him consistently in that regard if cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadows wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. If you're missing wideouts due to injuries or bye weeks, Pascal gives you upside thanks to his touchdown production and big-play ability.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett went off on the Houston Texans in Week 7. In Week 8, his matchup gets more difficult against the Denver Broncos. Through seven games, Denver has yet to allow a player to clear 300 passing yards, and no quarterback has thrown for more than two touchdowns against them. The Colts have a lot of pieces on offense, especially with the emergence of wide receiver Zach Pascal, but expectations for Brissett should be tempered this week. He's still a starter in two-quarterback leagues, but you have better options at QB in standard formats.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has a bad matchup this week, but you have to start him anyway. He's scored five touchdowns in the five games that he's played, and he's averaging an impressive 17.2 PPR points per game this season. He has 15 more targets than any other Indianapolis pass-catcher, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett looks his way whenever he needs a reliable receiver. He's gotten at least nine targets in three out of his five games, and those looks will continue to be there for him against the Denver Broncos.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack got shut down in Week 7, but he has a good bounce-back spot in Week 8. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Denver Broncos by running the ball at them all game to control the clock. Mack does his best work when he gets a ton of volume, and that's how the Colts like to win games. If the passing game struggles, which is possible against a solid passing defense, they could lean on Mack throughout the game, especially down in the red zone.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is in line for an increased workload on Thursday night with target-hog Adam Thielen (hamstring) sitting out for the first time in his career. Week 8's matchup against the Washington Redskins is a favorable one as Diggs should be able to take advantage of coverage by either Quinton Dunbar or a struggling Josh Norman. Cousins and the play-action passing game have been on point as of late, as has Diggs with 14 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games. They remain a run-first team and are likely to lean on Dalvin Cook as they're favored by over 15 points at home, but Diggs needs to be started as a WR1/WR2 with upside considering Thielen's absence.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford absolutely feasted on the Vikings secondary in Week 7, and the feast may not be over with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 8. The Giants currently allow 8.92 yards per attempt, which trails only the Dolphins, so fantasy owners could be in for another huge performance from the 31-year-old signal-caller. The Giants don't present much in the way of run defense either, but with Kerryon Johnson recently being placed on IR a more pass-heavy approach can be expected. With top quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott on byes this week, and with Matt Ryan still yet to practice, Stafford vaults up the charts as one of the top quarterback options in Week 8 no matter the fantasy format. Get him in your lineups.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (knee) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson threw his first interception last week but still has posted 15 passing touchdowns in seven games. He should have success against the Atlanta Falcons this week and can be a No. 1 quarterback in all fantasy leagues.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett has posted at least 50 yards in each of the last six games and has been targeted 12 times over the last two weeks. He should have a favorable matchup in Week 8 and can be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in all leagues.
Seattle Seahawks S Lano Hill (elbow), DE Quinton Jefferson (oblique) and S Bradley McDougald (back) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. OT Duane Brown (biceps), OT George Fant (shoulder), CB Tre Flowers (neck), DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and S Quandre Diggs (hamstring) were limited during practice. OG D.J. Fluker (hamstring) fully participated in practice.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Carson has received at least 20 carries in each of the last four games and has posted three 100-yard games in that span. He will continue to be the focal point in the running game for the Seahawks and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson, arguably this week's hottest waiver wire pickup after Kerryon Johnson was put on IR Tuesday, has a real chance to establish himself as the Lions lead back against a porous New York Giants squad in Week 8. Johnson should see most of the action out of the Lions backfield Sunday and can be expected to be involved in the passing game even with J.D. McKissic likely suiting up as the Lions passing-down back. Johnson's small stature does put into question whether he can be an every-down back, but with the Giants nonexistent run defense standing in his way this week fantasy owners should get some clarity as to whether Johnson can truly take over this backfield. Johnson will be considered a mid-range RB2 this week in a matchup where the game script should work to his benefit.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (knee) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert appears to have a chance to play in Week 8, but fantasy players will know more about his status later in the week. He will see a handful of touches if he is active for the game but can be avoided in most leagues.
San Francisco 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk (knee), OT Mike McGlinchey (knee) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. DE Dee Ford (quadriceps), DT D.J. Jones (hamstring) and OT Joe Staley (leg) were limited during practice.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk has been limited during practice over the last two weeks but has also been inactive for the last two games, so his status for Week 8 is uncertain. Fantasy players may want to look at other options since he would have a tough matchup if he plays in the game.
Arizona Cardinals DE Zach Allen (neck), RB D.J. Foster (hamstring), LB Jordan Hicks (calf), DT Corey Peters (non-injury) and LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. LB Dennis Gardeck (ankle), LB Haason Reddick (knee), LB Zeke Turner (hamstring) and TE Maxx Williams (ankle) were limited during practice. DT Zachariah Kerr (ankle) and S Charles Washington (shoulder) fully participated in practice.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle has been on the injury for the last few weeks but is in no danger of missing the Week 8 game. He should continue to be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury) and CB Tramon Williams (knee) were limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. S Adrian Amos (shoulder), CB Tony M. Brown (hamstring), LB Oren Burks (chest), DT Kenny Clark (shin), LB B.J. Goodson (shoulder), LB Blake Martinez (wrist), S Will Redmond (ankle), S Darnell Savage (ankle) and TE Robert Tonyan (hip) fully participated in practice.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzgerald is coming off a disappointing Week 7 performance but has still be targeted at least seven times in five of the seven games this season. He will be facing one of the better defenses this week but still has a chance to be a flex option in leagues.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (ankle, knee) put in a full practice on Wednesday after being questionable for Week 7 against the Raiders. MVS ultimately played, albeit limited snaps, and finished with over 100 yards and a touchdown with No. 1 wideout Davante Adams (toe) sidelined again. Adams missed practice on Wednesday and could very well sit out again this Sunday night against the Chiefs. Against a porous secondary, Valdes-Scantling would be a boom/bust WR3/flex. Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard should all continue to see more run if Adams misses anymore time, but they're all hard to trust as anything more than low-ceiling flexes in deeper formats.