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.''
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin was forced to leave Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions due to a hamstring injury. Before leaving the game, Godwin had caught five passes for 121 yards. With Mike Evans also out, the Bucs receiving corps will be led by Breshad Perriman and Scott Miller.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin left Sunday's game against the Lions with an apparent leg injury. He will not return. Godwin was spotted limping after running a route, and after attempting to exit the game under his own power, he was eventually carted back to the locker room. Before his exit, the 23-year-old caught five of his seven targets for 121 yards. Not good news for a Bucs team that recently announced that Mike Evans (hamstring) could miss the remainder of the year after suffering an ailment of his own.
Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku has been declared inactive for the team's Week 15 game. Njoku did not look sharp during practice this week and struggled with drops and some routes during the week, according to the Associated Press' Tom Withers.
Fantasy Spin: Njoku recently returned from the Reserve/Injured list but appears to need more time to return to game speed. Demetrius Harris likely will serve as the starting tight end but can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is listed as active for Week 15's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. This was expected as Thielen completed a full week of practice. He will return to a favorable matchup as stud cornerback Desmond King will not play and the Chargers rank 20th in pass DVOA for the season. The Vikings passing game has been rolling as of late and they project to have to throw in this game as they're favored by just one point. Obviously, Thielen comes with some risk as he's returning from a lengthy injury absence, but he can be utilized in fantasy lineups as a high-end WR3 with sneaky upside in this matchup.
The Minnesota Vikings have declared RB Alexander Mattison, DE Hercules Mata'afa, OT Aviante Collins, DE Jalyn Holmes, SS Jayron Kearse, OL Olisaemeka Udoh and OG Dru Samia inactive for Week 15.
The Oakland Raiders have declared QB Mike Glennon, OT Trent Brown, DL Olsen Pierre, LB Kyle Wilber, CB Daryl Worley, WR Hunter Renfrow and OT David Sharpe inactive for Week 15.
The Los Angeles Chargers have declared DL Sylvester Williams, CB Desmond King, OT Trey Pipkins, QB Easton Stick, S Roderic Teamer, WR Jalen Guyton and OG Spencer Drango inactive for Week 15.
The Cleveland Browns have declared WR Taywan Taylor, LB Olivier Vernon, OT Drew Forbes, TE Pharaoh Brown, DL Justin Zimmer, CB Eric Murray and TE David Njoku inactive for Week 15.
Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams (head) has been cleared to return to the Week 15 game after being checked for a concussion.
Detroit Lions DT Mike Daniels (arm) suffered an arm injury during the Week 15 game and is considered questionable to return.
Kansas City Chiefs DE Alex Okafor (chest) suffered a chest injury during the Week 15 game and will not return.
Green Bay Packers RB Tyler Ervin (hand) suffered a hand injury during the Week 15 game and is considered questionable to return.
Green Bay Packers CB Tramon Williams (head) left the Week 15 game early and is being evaluated for a concussion.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (thumb) is officially active for Week 15 against the Detroit Lions. Winston wasn't able to throw a football in practice until Friday, though he was able to finish off last week's 456-yard, four-touchdown performance with the injury. Winston has a great chance to stay hot against Detroit's suspect pass defense. Fantasy owners must beware the risk- Winston can be erratic even without a fractured thumb.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (ribs, illness) is inactive for Week 15 against the Denver Broncos. Darwin Thompson, LeSean McCoy and Spencer Ware will shoulder the load for Kansas City. The Chiefs backfield isn't an ideal fantasy situation, though McCoy, who's had success running in snowy conditions, and Thompson are probably the safest choices.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs) is officially inactive for Week 15 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Scarbrough wasn't able to practice on Thursday or Friday, so it was likely a longshot for him to play anyway. Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, and practice-squad call-up Wes Hills will lead the backfield in Scarbrough's absence. All are shaky plays, considering Tampa Bay possesses the league's best run defense.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker (concussion) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Parker has been playing well during the second half of the season and should continue to be the main option in the passing game for the Dolphins. He will have a favorable matchup and can be at least a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (groin, wrist) is active for Week 15's game against the Chicago Bears.
New England Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu (ankle) is officially active for the team's Week 15 game.
Fantasy Spin: Sanu has posted disappointing numbers since joining the Patriots but should have a favorable matchup this week. He could be a flex option in some deeper leagues but can also be benched if fantasy players have better options available.
The Houston Texans have declared CB Cornell Armstrong, WR Keke Coutee, WR Steven Mitchell, RB Taiwan Jones, DL Joel Heath, DT Eddie Vanderdoes and FS Mike Adams inactive for Week 15.