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.''
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin caught his only target for a five-yard touchdown in Thursday night's Week 15 win over the Jets. Boykin is just one of the several receivers that quarterbackLamar Jackson chooses to throw touchdowns to in any given week and can't be trusted as a fantasy playoff asset. Baltimore faces the Cleveland Browns in Week 16. Boykin caught all three of his targets for 32 yards and a touchdown in Week 4 against the Browns.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead caught his only target for 15 yards in Week 15's win over the Jets. Snead's numbers are too erratic to be trusted as a starting option at this point. He has failed to put up more than 15 yards in a game in his last eight games played, although he did catch two balls for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in Week 4.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown caught all four of his targets for 45 yards and a 24-yard toe-tap touchdown in Thursday night's Week 15 win over the Jets. Brown was the second-highest targeted receiver in the game, trailing tight end Mark Andrews, who had seven. Hollywood plays a Cleveland Browns Defense in Week 16 that he caught four balls for 22 yards against in Week 4. Despite the good game on Thursday night, the rookie doesn't play many snaps and is a touchdown-dependent deep threat as a WR4 for fantasy owners.
Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot) is still bothered by his plantar fasciitis. "Plantar fasciitis, its a pretty significant injury, but hes battling through it. Hes taking medication before every game trying to manage the pain," Olson said. The first-year Raider opened the year like gangbusters with five straight games finding the end zone. He predictably fell off from there and has just six catches for 62 scoreless yards the last three games against the Jets, Chiefs and Titans. He hasn't gone over 100 yards in a single game this year and also doesn't have more than seven targets in a game in 2019. Williams is a low-upside, low-volume, touchdown-dependent WR3/4 for fantasy owners. Throw in his lingering foot injury and you have a player to avoid.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews caught four of seven targets for 52 yards and a one-yard touchdown early in the second quarter in Thursday night's win over the Jets. Andrews' eighth touchdown broke the Ravens franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end in a season. He at least doubled all other receivers in targets except for receiver Marquise Brown. QuarterbackLamar Jackson's highly coveted tight end will have a rematch against the Browns in Week 16. Andrews caught four of eight targets for 31 yards and a touchdown in Week 4 against the Browns. He's a high-end TE1.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Seth Roberts led the team in receiving in Thursday night's win over the Jets. Roberts caught all three of his targets for a season-high 66 yards and a 33-yard touchdown pass just before the end of the third quarter. Roberts now has 19 receptions for 248 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. It's tricky to predict who quarterbackLamar Jackson will throw a touchdown pass to in any given week, making it too difficult to trust Roberts as a fantasy asset against the Browns in Week 16.
New York Jets running back Ty Montgomery had two rushes for five yards while catching his only target for an additional five yards. Montgomery's biggest impact in the game came returning kicks as he took a backseat to Le'Veon Bell in the backfield. With Bell healthy and Bilal Powell (ankle) working his way back there's no reason to own Montgomery in fantasy leagues.
New York Jets kicker Sam Ficken missed his only field goal and made just one of two extra points in a loss to the Ravens Thursday. Ficken was the hero last Sunday with a walk-off field goal, but had a night to forget in Week 15. To be fair, the kick Ficken missed was a 49-yarder, but this is also the second week in a row he's missed an extra point. The career journeyman doesn't get enough scoring opportunities and will likely have to contend with the swirling MetLife Stadium December winds next week in a home date with the Steelers. Look elsewhere when filling the kicker spot.
The New York Jets Defense was unable to slow down MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson and the high-flying Ravens offense Thursday night. Baltimore's offense couldn't have done much better playing against practice cones as Jackson had all day in the pocket to do whatever he wanted, which was usually throwing to wide-open receivers running free in the secondary. The Jets defense did put up a touchdown off of a blocked punt but could get nothing else going on a night to forget. The matchup gets a little better next week with a home date with the Steelers, fantasy managers playing for a championship, however, should still have better options than this unit.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram put up his fifth multiple touchdown performance of the season in Thursday Night's Week 15 win over the Jets. Ingram rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries and a rushing touchdown on the first drive of the game. He added a reception for a 10-yard stretch touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The veteran back will look to keep his momentum moving as he heads into a Week 16 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Ingram rushed for 71 yards without a touchdown in Week 4 against the Browns.
New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown caught just one pass for four yards in a loss to the Ravens Thursday. Brown got just two targets while filling in for the injured Ryan Griffin (ankle) who was filling in for the injured Chris Herndon (hamstring). Brown is a serviceable blocker, so there's that, but the third-string tight end won't have any appeal in fantasy football.
Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards rushed for 35 yards on five carries in Thursday Night's Week 15 win over the Jets. Edwards was able to break free for a 28-yard gain during garbage time, but he doesn't get enough touches to push him over the hill of being Ingram's handcuff. Leave him on your bench for now.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring) has been limited the last two days in practice. Richardson has been out since Nov. 24 against the Lions, but it's looking like he might be active again in Week 15's divisional tilt against the Eagles. In the season opener against Philly, Richardson had four catches for 36 yards. On the season as a whole, he's predictably disappointed in this weak offense for 28 catches (42 targets), 245 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins isn't being asked to do much in a lost season, so it's hard to trust any receiver on this squad in fantasy outside of impressive rookie Terry McLaurin. If Richardson returns, avoid him in the fantasy semifinals.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder was one of few bright spots for the Jets Thursday, going for 90 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 11 targets. Crowder got off to a hot start, making five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He cooled down after that but found the end zone on his only catch of the second half to score some garbage-time points for his fantasy owners. Crowder had been quiet three games in a row but had been getting plenty of targets so it was just a matter of time before he found his rhythm again. He'll be a WR3 in a tough matchup with the Steelers in Week 16.
New York Jets wide receiver Vyncint Smith caught three of five targets for 40 yards in a loss to the Ravens Thursday. The 40 yards are a season-high for Smith who got more playing time with Demaryius Thomas (hamstring) missing the game in Baltimore. Smith has just three games this year with more than one catch and will not be fantasy-relevant even if Thomas misses more time.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) said he's "feeling good" after being limited in practice the last two days. Fuller was a surprise inactive in the Week 14 loss to the Broncos, but he seems to have a better chance at playing this Sunday in a big divisional game against the Titans. As usual, Fuller has battled injuries in 2019, but he does have 42 receptions (62 targets) for 598 yards and three touchdowns in the nine games he's played in. If he returns to action this weekend, consider Fuller a boom-or-bust WR3 with plenty of upside as the deep threat. Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee would join DeAndre Hopkins in three-wide sets again if Fuller misses his second straight game.
New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell rushed 21 times for 87 yards while catching both of his targets for one yard in the passing game. Bell missed the Week 14 game vs Miami and his fresh legs were leaned on heavily in this one as no other Jet had more than two rushing attempts. The 87 yards for Bell are a season-high as he can't seem to get going fully behind a questionable offensive line in New York. The good news for Bell's fantasy managers is even during this rough season, Bell usually can find average production based on how much work he gets. He shouldn't have much competition for touches next week in an ultimate revenge game vs the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson went on a touchdown rampage in Thursday Night's 47-21 win over the New York Jets. Jackson went 15-for-23 for 212 yards and a blazing five touchdown passes to five different receivers. The performance was the third time he has thrown for five touchdowns in a game this season. Jackson led the team in rushing with 86 yards on eight carries. Although he wasn't able to score a rushing touchdown, Jackson did break Michael Vick's 2006 single-season rushing record by a quarterback of 1,039. He now has 1,103 total rushing yards in 2019. Jackson was sacked once and did not turn the ball over. Baltimore has a rematch with the Cleveland Browns in Week 16. When they played in Week 4, Jackson threw for 212 yards, three touchdowns and two picks. That was also the last time the Ravens took a loss as they have now won 10 games in a row. There won't be a reason to move him from his starting spot next week.
Denver Broncos rookie tight end Noah Fant (hip, foot) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. The talented tight end caught all four of his targets for 113 yards and a touchdown in his second game with Drew Lock under center in Week 15 against the Texans. There obviously remains plenty of volatility with the rookie, but Fant has much more upside with Lock under center. In Week 15 against the Chiefs, Fant will be an upside TE2 if he plays. He could be questionable for the divisional tilt, but we should have a better idea of his status on Friday. Jeff Heuerman would be the primary pass-catching tight end on Sunday if Fant can't go.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (knee) missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday. Everett is on his way to his third missed contest in a row if he's unable to return to practice on Friday. Tyler Higbee has stepped up in a big way for the Rams in Everett's absence, catching 14 passes (19 targets) for 223 yards and a touchdown in the last two games against the Cardinals and Seahawks. If Everett misses another game, Higbee will remain a TE1 for the fantasy semifinals against the Cowboys on the road.