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.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron (illness) and rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (abdomen) both missed practice on Thursday. Campbell also missed practice on Wednesday and is on pace to miss his second straight game. He's well off the fantasy radar for now in redraft leagues. Ebron should be fine to play in Week 7 against the Texans, although he's a low-upside, touchdown-dependent TE2 against a Houston defense that has shut down the tight end position in 2019.
Houston Texans wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (ribs), Will Fuller (calf, oblique) and Kenny Stills (hamstring) all practiced in full on Thursday. All three receivers should be in uniform for Week 7's divisional tilt against the Colts. Stills missed the last game and should return to split slot duties with Keke Coutee, limiting both player's fantasy upside as a WR4/5 in deeper leagues. Hopkins has been quiet this year but could blow up at any moment and is a must-start. Fuller boomed in Week 5 and busted last week. He typically has high-end WR2 upside on a week-to-week basis.
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller (foot) was limited in practice on Thursday after being a full participant on Wednesday. Waller should be fine for Week 7 against the Packers, but his foot injury is worth watching. The first-year Raider should be targeted heavily with wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot) out for the foreseeable future, but keep in mind that Waller had his worst game in Week 5 with Williams out of the lineup. The Packers have been pretty stingy against opposing wideouts, too, so they'll likely devote attention to slowing Waller down. His expected high target share should give him a high floor, so continue to roll Waller out there as a strong TE1.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (quadriceps) and quarterback Case Keenum (foot, shoulder) both returned to a full practice on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday. The Redskins were likely just resting their veterans on Wednesday, so expect Peterson and Keenum to be out there in Week 7 against the 49ers. Peterson had 20-plus carries and over 100 yards against the winless Dolphins in Week 6, but he'll have a much tougher time finding holes against San Fran's strong defense this Sunday. He makes for a low-upside RB3/flex. Keenum has a tough challenge ahead and not many weapons to work with. He's an unattractive low-end QB2.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes(knee) was ruled out of Thursday night's game after suffering a dislocated knee cap on a fourth-and-one sneak attempt. Everybody is still waiting for more information, but being ruled out so quickly is not encouraging for his availability going forward. If you have Mahomes, you may want to plan ahead at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Matt Moore is Kansas City's backup. All of the Chiefs skill players will take a hit with Mahomes likely to miss some time with this injury.
New England Patriots TE Eric Tomlinson's role within the offense is still being determined, according to head coach Bill Belichick.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has caught 13-of-16 targets for 187 yards and three touchdowns over the last two games (Giants and Eagles). Week 7's matchup is a bit less favorable, however, as the Lions have been stingy against outside wide receivers with top cornerbacks Darius Slay and Rashaan Melvin. However, Thielen runs about one-third of his routes from the slot this season - an area that the Lions Defense has really struggled to contain. There remains a possibility that Slay shadows Thielen all over the field, which would clearly be a downgrade for Thielen's expected production. The Vikings also still lean on the run and will be featuring Dalvin Cook heavily against the Lions' weak rush defense. Start Thielen as a WR2 in Week 7 but keep in mind that his volume (and ceiling) could take a hit.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is not a player you need to force into lineups in Week 7. Rudolph caught 3-of-3 targets for 36 yards in his best game of 2019 in Week 6. He has just nine catches this year and his average target distance is 2.2 yards. He's still playing at least 90% of offensive snaps every game, but he doesn't get enough targets or red-zone work to be in consideration for fantasy lineups. Rudolph is an unexciting TE3 with limited upside in a run-heavy offense and he should not be started in Week 7.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes left the Thursday night game with what looked to be some sort of knee injury. He walked to the locker room after suffering the injury.
Los Angeles Rams CB Jalen Ramsey (back) was listed as a full participant in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has provided an uptick in production the last two weeks, compiling 639 passing yards and a 6/1 TD/INT ratio in wins against the Giants and the Eagles. Cousins will look to keep it going against the Detroit Lions in Week 7 on the road in what should be a close contest (Vikings are currently favored by one point). The Lions Defense has not performed up to their reputation so far in 2019 as they're allowing 280 passing yards per game (fifth highest) and have surrendered multiple passing touchdowns in 3-of-5 weeks. Their pass rush hasn't been there either as they have just 10 total sacks on the season. The Lions are also getting destroyed on the ground at 133.8 rushing yards per game (sixth highest), so it does seem likely that the Vikings revert to featuring Dalvin Cook and the rushing attack as the focal point of their offense. Start Cousins as a high-end QB2 in Week 7 as he should be afforded enough opportunities to take advantage of a struggling secondary - though the likelihood of scaled-back volume limits his ceiling.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is in line for a monster game in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions. The Lions Defense has already given up seven rushing touchdowns and are allowing 5.1 yards per carry and 133.8 rushing yards per game. They've also allowed a running back to score at least 20 PPR points in 4-of-5 weeks. Cook only received 18 touches in Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles and still had a useful fantasy day (54 yards and a touchdown) despite the brutal matchup. Expect his touches to return to the 20-25 range as the Vikings will again look to feature him in their run-heavy attack. Start Cook as a top-tier RB1 option with tremendous upside and consider using him in all daily formats as well.
Free-agent CB Parry Nickerson (Seahawks) signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday, Oct. 17. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (calf, oblique) fully participated in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller has been targeted at least seven times in four of the last five games but has posted at least 60 yards in only two games this season. He can still be considered at least a flex option in some leagues because of his big play ability.
Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins (ribs) fully participated in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Hopkins has caught at least five passes in every game this season but has not found the end zone in the last five games. He is still a must-start option in all leagues because of the targets he receives each game.
Houston Texans WR Kenny Stills (hamstring) fully participated in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Stills appears to be on track to play this week after missing the last two weeks because of his injury. He has posted 188 yards in four games this season and could be a flex option in some deeper leagues.
Washington Redskins TE Vernon Davis (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Davis needs to be cleared by doctors before he will be allowed to play, so he only has a few more days before the Week 7 game. Fantasy players in all leagues should avoid Davis this week even if he is cleared to play.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson (non-injury) was upgraded to a full participant in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Carson has continued to hold off Rashaad Penny as the workhorse out of the Seahawks' backfield. He has seen 20-plus carries in three straight games and topped 100 yards each time. There's no need to worry about Penny unless Carson were to miss time.
Seattle Seahawks TE Will Dissly (Achilles), OT Duane Brown (biceps), S Lano Hill (elbow), S Bradley McDougald (back) and DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) didn't practice Thursday, Oct. 17. G D.J. Fluker (hamstring) and DE Quinton Jefferson (oblique) were limited. LB K.J. Wright (knee) was a full participant.
Houston Texans RB Carlos Hyde (calf) fully participated in practice Thursday, Oct. 17.
Fantasy Spin: Hyde is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season and has recorded a touchdown in three of the last four games. He will continue to be the main option in the running game and can be a No. 2 running back in most leagues.