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.''
Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery was actively shopped after the team guaranteed his 2020 salary last season. Jeffery found out that he was on the market and was troubled by the mixed messages he had received from the team, a source close to the receiver said.
Fantasy Spin: Jeffery is now 30 and has been riddled by injuries his entire career. He hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014, and he has very minimal upside as a WR5.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins averaged 96 yards receiving in three playoff contests in 2019 after averaging 51.8 receiving yards in 13 regular-season outings.
Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack managed only three catches (four targets) for 14 yards in his final six games after producing 11 catches (13 targets) for 68 yards in his first eight outings.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne signed his one-year tender on Monday. Bourne had 30 receptions on 44 targets for 358 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 16 games (zero starts) for the team in 2019. There is plenty of opportunity for Bourne and others to start in three-receiver sets in 2020 behind Deebo Samuel. With nine touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Niners, the 24-year-old has proven to be a nice red-zone presence for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but it remains to be seen if he can become a consistent starting option. There will be plenty of competition at the receiver position in San Fran, and they're also likely to address the position in the draft.
Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said that the team has "had internal discussions" about an extension for running back Christian McCaffrey. The stud running back is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, but the Panthers may wait and have him play on the fifth-year team option in 2021 before signing him to a long-term extension. Whether or not McCaffrey is playing with a new deal or not, he should be the No. 1 overall fantasy selection this fall. The 23-year-old former eighth overall pick ran the ball 287 times for a career-high 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards and another four scores.
Updating a previous report, free-agent S D.J. Swearinger (Saints) officially signed with the New Orleans Saints Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent WR Emmanuel Sanders (49ers) officially signed with the New Orleans Saints Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Sanders is joining one of the top offenses in the NFL and should see a solid amount of targets in 2020. He can be a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Updating previous reports, free-agent TE Richard Rodgers (Eagles) and CB Ronald Darby (Eagles) officially signed with the Washington Redskins Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Benson Mayowa (Raiders) officially signed with the Seattle Seahawks Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating previous reports, free-agent FB Anthony Sherman (Chiefs) and DT Mike Pennel (Chiefs) officially re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DT Jordan Phillips (Bills) officially signed with the Arizona Cardinals Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent WR Geronimo Allison (Packers) officially signed with the Detroit Lions Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent RB Todd Gurley (Rams) officially signed with the Atlanta Falcons Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Gurley will be the main running back for the Falcons next season and likely will be a weekly starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Miami Dolphins restricted free-agent LB Vince Biegel signed his one-year tender offer Monday, April 6. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Cassius Marsh (Cardinals) officially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent CB Rashaan Melvin (Lions) officially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent LB Patrick Onwuasor (Ravens) officially signed with the New York Jets Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey could be a candidate for a contract extension in the near future, according to general manager Marty Hurney.
Fantasy Spin: McCaffrey is one of the top players in the NFL and should receive a lucrative extension at some point. He likely will be the first overall pick in most fantasy leagues in 2020.
Free-agent DT Carl Davis (Jaguars) re-signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) said his recovery is going fine and that he believes he would have been able to participate in some offseason workouts.
Fantasy Spin: Roethlisberger miss most of the 2019 season because of elbow surgery but appears to be on track for training camp and the 2020 season. He has played well over the last few seasons and could be a low-end No. 1 quarterback in fantasy leagues.