The nuts and bolts

JAGUARS at SAINTS

3:05 p.m. Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome

TV: CBS

Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3

Favorite: Saints by 3

Over/under: 51.5

Top storyline: Brandin Cooks eyes 1,000 receiving yards

With the Saints out of the playoff chase, all that’s left to play for is milestones.

One of those is Brandin Cooks’ pursuit of 1,000 yards, which is indicative of the growth he has made this season as a route-runner and receiver.

“It’s just been him understanding a little bit more of the offense and kind of where he needs to be and when, and obviously, getting the reps with Drew (Brees),” tight end Ben Watson said. “Throughout your first year as a rookie, the talent’s there, but a lot of times the system is new. You are not able to play full-speed because you don’t really know as well as you do in your second year. The quarterback does not know you as well.”

Cooks has 74 receptions for 993 yards and eight touchdowns. He finished his rookie season with 53 catches for 550 yards with three touchdowns but was limited to 10 games by a thumb injury.

Barring a fluke occurrence, Cooks should have no issue reaching 1,000 yards and much more. The second-year receiver had perhaps his best game of the season during last week’s loss to the Lions by catching 10 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown.

Watson also said he’s impressed by how well Cooks takes care of his body.

“I will not say that he has gotten more mature this year because, honestly, when he came in as a rookie, one of the things that really impressed me about him was his maturity and work ethic, and the fact that he’s very meticulous when it comes to taking care of his body, which you do not see that often in a very young player,” Watson said.

Four Downs

1. Deep business: The Saints will have be disciplined and be sure not to get caught slipping deep downfield. Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has completed 64 passes of 20 or more yards, tops in the NFL, and nine of 40 or more yards. Jacksonville’s receivers know how to get open and make things happen with their feet.

2. Easy, cadet: New Orleans made an interesting move by bringing back running back Travaris Cadet. He could help in the return game, but he is also a competent receiver out of the backfield and possesses the ability to line up all over the field. Those roles were envisioned for C.J. Spiller, but Cadet could take some of that off his plate.

3. Line them up: Whether it’s Drew Brees or one of the other guys, this is a week when protecting the quarterback will be more important than ever. If Brees’ mobility is hindered, then the need is obvious. For the other guys, they’ll need more time to read the field and get the ball out. If the line fails to do its job, then the Saints likely will fail.

4. Two ways to win: The Saints would much rather get out of this game with a victory. All the talk of late has been about getting better heading into next season and winning for one another. But even if the Saints lose, they win by improving their draft stock. That isn’t the worst outcome for a team that needs more talent.

Know your opponent

Jaguars WR Allen Hurns

Hurns might be one of the more explosive players that no one is talking about. That will soon change.

The receiver has caught 53 passes for 907 yards over 13 games. That’s an average of 17.1 yards per reception, which ranks third among players with 40 or more catches. The guy knows how to make big plays, which will cause some stress for a New Orleans defense that has made a habit of allowing too many.

Jaguars WR Allen Robinson

Robinson is another receiver that not enough people are talking about. If you want to talk about Pro Bowl snubs, Robinson (69 receptions, 1,141 yards, 13 touchdowns) has a strong case. Between Robinson and Hurns, the New Orleans secondary will have its hands full. These guys like to get deep and make big plays, and Blake Bortles has the arm to find them downfield.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles

The second-year man has been a revelation this season. He has taken 87 shots downfield, most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and has connected on 36 of them for 1,174 yards. Those deep passes, defined as passes traveling 20 or more yards through the air, have accounted for 16.1 percent of his passing attempts. This game could be a shootout.

Injury report

SAINTS

OUT: LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip)

QUESTIONABLE: T Terron Armstead (knee), QB Drew Brees (foot), WR Marques Colston (chest), T Zach Strief (elbow), TE Ben Watson (knee)

PROBABLE: S Jairus Byrd (knee)

Nothing else really matters for the Saints this week, outside of the status of Brees. He said earlier this week that he intends to play, but the Saints apparently feel less confident, given his stats. If he’s unable to play, Matt Flynn or rookie Garrett Grayson will take his place. As of Thursday, both players were still in the dark as to who had the inside track.

JAGUARS

DOUBTFUL: LB Telvin Smith (shoulder/finger), RB T.J. Yeldon (knee)

PROBABLE: DB Aaron Colvin (illness), DT Roy Miller (knee), DE Chris Clemons (not injury-related), S Sergio Brown (thumb), TE Nic Jacobs (hamstring), LB Paul Posluszny (hand), RB Denard Robinson (foot), CB Dwayne Gratz (hamstring), G A.J. Cann (wrist), DE Ryan Davis (knee), WR Allen Hurns (thigh), LB Dan Skuta (hamstring), WR Bryan Walters (back)

Predictions

Nick Underhill: Jaguars 28, Saints 27

Would it be copping out if I went back to my preseason style and predicted a tie? It’s almost impossible to know what is going to happen in this game given the uncertainty of everything surrounding the Saints this week. With all of the unknowns, it’s hard to side with New Orleans. This is a game the Saints could and should win under normal circumstances, but this week is not normal.

Joel A. Erickson: Jaguars 35, Saints 24

Drew Brees or no Drew Brees, it’s hard to be confident in the Saints passing defense against a Jaguars passing attack that has blossomed into an explosive, dangerous unit under the direction of Blake Bortles. The Tampa Bay game seems more like an aberration than a breakthrough at this point. And with that in mind, it’s hard to side with New Orleans, especially with Brees ailing.

Scott Rabalais: Jaguars 30, Saints 20

Tough game to handicap between these 5-9 teams, especially considering Drew Brees’ ailing foot. If Brees plays, the Saints will have to be the team that nearly upset Carolina and won at Tampa Bay, not the one outclassed by equally struggling Detroit. If Brees doesn’t play, it’s impossible to see Matt Flynn and/or Garrett Grayson mounting enough offense to do the job.