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.''
Barring a setback in practice this week, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is expected to return for Week 15 against the Chargers after missing the last four games with his injury, according to a league source. Thielen returned to practice on Wednesday, so he's definitely on the right track. The Chargers have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game (11.5) to wideouts over the last five weeks, so Thielen will have his hands full if he's back and could be a bit rusty. Consider him more of a shaky WR2 for fantasy lineups if he's active this Sunday.
New York Jets tight end Ryan Griffin (ankle), running back Bilal Powell (ankle, illness) and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring, knee) will not play Thursday night against the Ravens. Griffin and Powell are both officially out, while Thomas is doubtful to play. Daniel Brown and rookie Trevon Wesco will help fill in with Griffin out, but neither should be fantasy targets this week. Powell handled 19 carries for 74 yards with Le'Veon Bell (illness) out last week, but Bell is set to return on Thursday. He'll be a low-end RB2 in a tough matchup. Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder should see plenty of targets in the passing game with DT unlikely to play.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has been a streamable quarterback over the last month, but fantasy owners who had been relying on the sophomore signal-caller may want to explore other options in Week 15. Darnold has played well in recent weeks with soft matchups but this Ravens Defense is a different animal than Darnold has seen lately. Baltimore allows the second-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks and Darnold will face them on the road in a short week. In the fantasy playoffs, Darnold is best left on the bench.
New York Jets running back Ty Montgomery (foot, hip) was limited in practice all week and is questionable for Week 15 against the Ravens on Thursday night. With Le'Veon Bell out last week with an illness, Montgomery had just nine carries for 31 yards and caught three passes for 30 yards. Bell is expected back Thursday night, so Montgomery will have zero standalone value if he's active, even though Bilal Powell has been ruled out. Josh Adams would be Bell's primary backup if Montgomery joins Powell on the Sunday inactive list.
The Detroit Lions placed wide receiver Marvin Jones (ankle) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday after he suffered his injury in the Week 14 loss to the Vikings on the final drive. Head coach Matt Patricia said he's unsure if Jones will need surgery. The 29-year-old had 62 catches this year for 779 yards and nine touchdowns. Fantasy owners unfortunately will not have Jones' services as they attempt to win a fantasy championship in the next couple of weeks. Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola and Chris Lacy should operate in three-wide sets the rest of the way. Amendola will become a little more attractive in deep PPR leagues, but his upside remains limited with third-stringer David Blough at quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (quadriceps) and tight end Mark Andrews (knee) are both listed as questionable for Week 15 against the Jets on Thursday night. Jackson practiced in full on Wednesday and is fully expected to play. If you own Jackson, you're not benching him whatsoever in a great matchup. Andrews is obviously much riskier this week as a strong TE1 after his injury in Week 14, but he's a must-start fantasy tight end if he's playing. If he's out, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle should share tight end duties, with Hurst, who had a big game in Week 14, being the better streamer with TE1 upside.
Oakland Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), who sat out in Week 14 against the Titans, had positive results from his MRI exam and is expected to return to action in Week 15 against the Jaguars, according to sources. Barring a setback this week, Jacobs should only have a one-week absence. Jacobs has been one of the most impressive running backs in the NFL in 2019, let alone among rookies. Fantasy owners might've been eliminated from the first round of the playoffs without him last Sunday, but they should get him back if they were able to advance. Against a Jacksonville team that has been getting destroyed on the ground in recent weeks, Jacobs will return to high-end RB1 status if he's active. Deandre Washington and Jalen Richard will go back to backup duties.
Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen (concussion) took part in individual drills Wednesday, Dec. 11, which was a moderate surprise to beat writer Joe Person.
Fantasy Spin: Olsen has a great matchup against the Seattle Seahawks this week if he's able to go. Olsen will be a low-end TE1 option in PPR leagues.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) said the team's playoff eligibility won't be a factor on if he returns this season. 'I would never quit on my team,' Hilton said. 'I signed up for 16 games. Some guys may shut it down and call it quits. I don't do that.'
Fantasy Spin: We still view him on the wrong side of questionable to return this season. If he's able to, he'd be a WR2 option. Zach Pascal should be a WR3 in the interim.
New York Giants TE Golden Tate (foot) was limited in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Tate had just one catch for 11 yards with Eli Manning last week, but he has a great matchup against the Miami Dolphins if he can go this week. He'd be a high-end WR3.
New York Giants TE Evan Engram (foot) was limited in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: He was limited in practice last week as well, and he didn't play. Rhett Ellison (concussion) was also limited, and this situation remains in flux. If Engram goes, he's a midrange TE1. If he doesn't, Kaden Smith could be worth streaming again.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is a floor-play only for a Week 15 contest against the Los Angeles Rams. Witten has seen plenty of targets lately, with seven in Week 14 and right in Week 13, but he's only come up with 11 catches for 79 yards total in both games. He's one of the least likely players in fantasy football to put up a goose egg in your lineup, but he's also very unlikely to put up a game-changing score, even in PPR. He's a tight end to play when you only need to reach a floor in your matchup, otherwise, even in a position as shallow as tight end, there are likely higher upside options on the waiver wire.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin is not a strong fantasy option for Week 15 despite a strong performance in Week 14. Jarwin caught six passes for 50 yards against the Bears last week, but it was the first time this season he'd even been targeted more than four times. He's likely to sink back into the two-or-three targets per game life this week against the Los Angeles Rams and makes for nothing more than a dart-throw tight end option.
Dallas Cowboys brand new kicker Kai Forbath is a decent option at kicker for Week 15 fantasy lineups. Forbath was signed to replace Brett Maher, who was released by the Cowboys earlier this week. Forbath has made just under 86 percent of his field goal tries in his career and made his only attempt this year as a member of the Patriots. He did miss one of his two extra points, though. Most leagues will have higher-upside guys available on the waiver wire, but Forbath is fine as a fill-in kicker if needed.
The Dallas Cowboys Defense is a middling option at best in a Week 15 game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys defense has been generally disappointing this season, and this week they take on a Rams offense that looked like it finally figured things out in Week 14. There are likely better options on the waiver wire in most leagues, especially given this week's matchups.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper is a solid choice in any Week 15 fantasy lineup. Cooper looked a bit slow in Week 14 due to his previous injuries, but he'll have had 10 days to heal up even more before the Cowboys take on the Rams on Sunday afternoon. With the Cowboys offense struggling somewhat of late and Jalen Ramsey likely attached to Cooper all day, Cooper's usual upside is a bit limited, making him more of a high-end WR2 this week.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup is a strong WR2 option for a Week 15 game against the Los Angeles Rams. With Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey likely shadowing Amari Cooper in this one, Gallup could be more of the first look for quarterback Dak Prescott than usual. Coming off a game in which he led the Cowboys in receiving with 109 yards, Gallup is a strong WR2 option with upside for Week 15.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Randall Cobb had a nice flash in the pan moment a few weeks ago, but it looks like he's settled back into fantasy irrelevance in most formats. Cobb saw at least seven targets for four games in a row from Week 9 to Week 12, but saw just eight balls thrown his way in Weeks 13 and 14 combined. That much smaller target share will likely continue in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Rams. Cobb is nothing more than a desperation dart-throw type wide receiver and is not a recommended starter in most formats.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is expected to play in Week 15 and has a decent matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. Prescott suffered a sprained left hand and an injured index finger on his throwing hand in Week 14's Thursday night loss to the Chicago Bears. With 10 days to rest, Prescott should be good to go against the Rams. Still, he's been struggling along with the whole Dallas offense of late and a possible flare up of the injuries won't help. Prescott hasn't been great on the field lately, but he's still been producing solid fantasy numbers. He's a low-end QB1 for Week 15.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott should be a solid fantasy contributor in a Week 15 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. Elliott scored twice in Week 14 despite the Cowboys inexplicably going away from the running game for long stretches. Hopefully, coach Jason Garrett feeds his star running back in this one. Elliott comes in as a top-half RB1 for this matchup.