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.
The Washington Redskins Defense will head to Minnesota on Thursday night to take on a Vikings team that has averaged 36 points a game over the last three weeks. Minnesota's recent offensive success directly coincides with its newly established willingness to air the ball out from the arm of Kirk Cousins, who has averaged 325 yards per game and thrown 10 total touchdowns in this span. Adding fuel to the grease fire that is Washington's fantasy outlook for Week 8, the Vikings also have a running back by the name of Dalvin Cook who just so happens to lead the NFL in rushing yards per game at 103.6. Even with Adam Thielen in danger of missing this game for the Vikings, there is no conceivable reason to deploy the Redskins defense in fantasy lineups this week.
Washington Redskins tight end Jeremy Sprinkle will presumably start for the fourth consecutive week on Thursday night against the Vikings, but that starting role has yet to yield any positive fantasy results. Vernon Davis has missed Washington's last three games, a time frame in which Sprinkle has caught a total of six passes for 54 yards. Even a visit to the endzone can't necessarily save him from a usage rate that low. The Vikings are allowing double-digit PPR production on average to tight ends, but the last thing you want to do is needlessly roll the dice on a risky Thursday night player and have it go up in flames. Whether Davis (who is currently listed as doubtful) unexpectedly suits up or not, there are safer and more proven options at tight end than Sprinkle for Week 8.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Paul Richardson has a relatively favorable matchup on his hands Thursday, but has done nothing this season to convince fantasy owners he can capitalize. The Vikings are allowing an average of 15 receptions and 159 yards per game to opposing receivers, along with 11 total touchdowns. Richardson hasn't caught a pass for two straight weeks, and Terry McLaurin is a productive target vacuum in Washington's offense, so the reliability scale tips in the latter's direction. As much as the Redskins would probably like to involve someone other than McLaurin and diversify their attack, Richardson simply cannot be trusted as a fantasy play in any format based on his output to this point in the season.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn has totaled seven catches for 56 yards in his last three games. His only double-digit PPR outing came all the way back in Week 1 when he happened to score a garbage-time touchdown. With a short week to prepare for Thursday night's game and a Redskins offense that hasn't looked any good for pretty much the entire season, Quinn's outlook remains grim even against a Vikings Defense that has been somewhat friendly to wide receivers. If he miraculously has a productive night against Minnesota after catching three or fewer passes in four consecutive weeks, it unfortunately needs to happen on the waiver wire.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin should be in line for a ton of targets in Thursday night's game at Minnesota, making him the only reasonably safe fantasy option among his teammates. The Vikings have allowed the most receptions to wide receivers of any team in the league, for 1,116 total yards and a league-high 11 touchdowns. McLaurin's well-established rapport with Case Keenum through the first half of the season suggests he should be the pass-catcher tasked with exploiting Minnesota's secondary. Game flow figures to work in his favor as well, as the Vikings could reasonably be expected to jump out to an early lead. McLaurin's volume keeps him in flex territory for WR-needy fantasy teams.
Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum will look to bounce back from Sunday's 9-0 loss in which he threw for under 100 yards, but a date with Minnesota doesn't provide him with much more fantasy appeal. This should be interpreted more as a lack of faith in Washington's offense than a vote of confidence in the Vikings' relatively exploitable pass defense, but the point remains. The Redskins are averaging 12.9 points per game on offense, and they could be without both of Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson in the backfield. The hope here from a fantasy perspective is that Minnesota's suddenly explosive offense puts the Redskins up against a massive early deficit, thus forcing Keenum to air it out. Even if the Thursday night game unfolds as such, fantasy owners would be putting a ton of misguided faith in pass-catchers like Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn by starting Keenum in fantasy lineups. The reward does not outweigh the risk.
Washington Redskins running back Wendell Smallwood might be the starter by default in Thursday night's game at Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is questionable with a high ankle sprain, while Chris Thompson continues to nurse a toe injury that held him out of last week's contest. Considering the short week, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Redskins err on the side of caution regarding Peterson and Thompson. They don't have much to play for, and it wouldn't be worth risking further injury to either if one or both are not at 100% health. If Smallwood does have the backfield to himself, volume doesn't outweigh the unfavorable matchup. The Vikings are giving up 3.8 yards per carry to opposing backs, and have surrendered just one rushing touchdown to the position. Smallwood will have to turn in his fantasy value in the receiving game, which is not worth banking on. He is best avoided unless you find yourself in desperate need of a PPR flex.
Houston Texans CB Phillip Gaines (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injury list Tuesday, Oct. 22.
New York Giants LB Keion Adams (knee) was released from the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Oct. 21.
Baltimore Ravens LB Pernell McPhee (triceps) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Chicago Bears DE Jonathan Harris was released Tuesday, Oct. 22; the move cleared a spot for the signing of DL Brent Urban.
Cleveland Browns RB Elijah McGuire was released from the practice squad Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley was listed as the No. 2 receiver on the version of the Falcons' depth chart released following the trade of WR Mohamed Sanu Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Fantasy Spin: Ridley was already Atlanta's second-most productive receiver behind Julio Jones, but he stands to gain at least a few extra targets per game without much depth behind the top two wideouts for the Falcons.
Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson (knee) was placed on Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Houston Texans RB Duke Johnson out-snapped RB Carlos Hyde 39-to-26 in the Week 7 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Oct. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Johnson received a total of nine touches and racked up 56 yards. It was his first start of the season but Carlos Hyde still had more carries. Johnson has the higher ceiling in PPR formats, but Hyde is the safer option in standard leagues.
New York Giants WR Sterling Shepard (concussion) said Tuesday, Oct. 22, he's confident he'll return to the field soon. 'Oh, I'll be back out on the field,' Shepard said. 'It's just whether it's gonna be this week or next week.'
Fantasy Spin: Shepard has been limited to four games this season, but he has been able to rack up 25 receptions on 34 targets for 267 yards and a touchdown. The more experience QB Daniel Jones acquires while Shepard is out of the lineup will only boost the receiver's production upon his eventual return. He's a solid buy-low candidate.
Free-agent DE Kasim Edebali (Eagles) signed an undisclosed contract with the Oakland Raiders Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent LB Nate Orchard (Dolphins) worked out for the Atlanta Falcons Tuesday, Oct. 22, along with free-agent DL Shane Ray (Ravens) and DE Quinton Bell (Raiders).
Free-agent DT Willie Henry (Ravens) worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Free-agent S Kentrell Brice (Buccaneers) worked out for the Denver Broncos Tuesday, Oct. 22, along with fellow free agents S Marcus Gilchrist (Raiders) and DE Joel Heath (Texans).