NFL

How Drew Brees' absence could shape the NFC playoff picture

By Sports Desk September 18, 2019

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday after suffering a torn ligament in his right thumb against the Los Angeles Rams last week.

The injury – to his throwing thumb – is a blow to a Super Bowl-hungry team and the veteran's absence could go a long way toward shaping the NFC playoff picture. He is expected back within eight weeks after the Saints opted not to place him on injured reserve.

Before the thumb issue, Brees had missed just one game to injury in his 19-year NFL career. Now, he will miss the next six, at least: against the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals before the 40-year-old and the team hope he returns against the Atlanta Falcons, after the Saints' Week 9 bye.

Brees' backup — either Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill or a mix of the two after head coach Sean Payton refused to commit early this week — will be faced with a stout first challenge visiting Seattle and things will not get easier when the Saints return home to host the star-powered Cowboys.

New Orleans should survive the next two weeks against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville before maybe even leaving Chicago with a win if Mitchell Trubisky is limited. The Cardinals could also be beaten as they continue to get comfortable with first-year duo Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury.

But even when Brees does return, there is no guarantee the 12-time Pro Bowler will return to his record-breaking form which made a case for MVP last season before he was outshined by Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. And, while he is building his strength back after his procedure, teams around the league will be getting stronger, as well.

The Saints are not the only NFC South team struggling, as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is also dealing with an injury and Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston is still establishing himself. So, the Falcons will certainly look to take advantage with the hope of creating another space ahead of New Orleans that the Saints will not be able to catch them down the road when Brees is back.

Compared to the Brees-less Saints, it could be argued that other NFC contenders like Los Angeles and Dallas have lighter schedules during that period. The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, have some tough opponents and no bye until Week 11.

Rams: Browns, Buccaneers, Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, Bengals, Bye
Cowboys: Dolphins, Saints, Packers, Jets, Eagles, Bye, Giants
Packers: Broncos, Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers

The Rams have the most to gain from the Saints' loss, while the Cowboys have a shot at a top-two seed. Then there are the San Francisco 49ers, who could potentially secure an NFC wild-card spot under Jimmy Garoppolo if Brees cannot quite bounce back.

The Saints could struggle with Bridgewater at quarterback given he was reliable yet unimpressive Sunday as he substituted for Brees, finishing 17 of 30 for 165 yards with no touchdowns. Then again, it was just his seventh time seeing action in a game in the last three seasons, so there are still some kinks to work out.

After all, it is hard to forget the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII with Nick Foles filling in for injured starter Carson Wentz.

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