It's simple for the 1-4 New Orleans Saints: Upset the division-rival & visiting Atlanta Falcons or start planning for the 2016 season. Let's examine some Saints NFL player props for Thursday Night.
It's not unprecedented for teams that are three games under .500 at one point in the season to make the playoffs, although the Saints can probably forget about the NFC South title with both Atlanta and Carolina unbeaten. The Panthers are likely to lose Sunday in Seattle, however. Since the current playoff format was instituted 25 years ago, 15 teams have rebounded from being three games under .500 after Week 5 or later to make the postseason. That includes six 1-4 teams that won their division. Last year, the Panthers were 5-8-1 and they took the South Division, beating the Falcons in a winner-take-all game in Week 17. The last team before that was Washington in 2012 when the Skins, behind a rookie quarterback named Robert Griffin III (remember him?), started 3-6 but won the division at 10-6. The 1990 Saints made the playoffs with an 8-8 record after starting 2-5. I could see eight wins taking the second wild-card spot this year with the NFC East so mediocre, the NFC North the same behind Green Bay, and Seattle starting 2-3. Incidentally, Bovada offers a prop on NFL odds this week on whether Saints coach Sean Payton will be with the team in 2016. Check out my Week 6 specials props story on my recommendation for that.
Drew Brees 'Over/Under' 26.5 Completions, 305.5 Passing Yards, 1.5 TD Passes, .5 INTs
This could easily be Brees' final season in a Saints uniform. The team recently restructured his contract by turning $5.2 million of Brees’ base salary into a signing bonus, which created $2.6 million in cap space now. But that pushes Brees' 2016 cap value to $30 million. No quarterback in the NFL is worth $30 million a season, not even Aaron Rodgers. And Brees clearly isn't the guy he was even a few years ago at this point. Brees is having a good season as he his seventh in the NFL in yards with 1,304 while completing 66.5 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and three picks. His rating of 93.8 is 16th. Brees did miss one game with a shoulder injury, the first game he has missed with the Saints.
So Brees is still an above average QB, he's just probably not elite any longer. His arm strength has really diminished. Brees has been sacked 14 times, which is tied for fourth most in the NFL, and puts him on pace for 52.5 this year, which would shatter his career high. The Saints used to be a juggernaut in prime-time games, especially at home, but that aura is gone now. But since Brees joined the Saints, he is second in the NFL with 87 TD passes in prime-time games (Peyton Manning first with 87) and fourth in yards (11.090). Brees and Co. were 0-2 vs. Atlanta last year. In an overtime loss at the Georgia Dome in Week 1, Brees completed 29-for-42 for 333 yards with a TD and pick. In a Week 16 home loss, Brees was 30-for-47 for 313 yards, one TD and two picks. Atlanta has struggled against the pass, ranking 29th overall. The Falcons have picked off six passes, however.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' all as Saints can't run ball.
Brandin Cooks O/U 5.5 Receptions, 72.5 Yards
One of Brees' top targets, Marques Colston, is not expected to play Thursday night with a separated shoulder. So that should mean plenty more targets for Cooks, a second-year speedster from Oregon State who had a very good rookie year limited by injury. Cooks has 25 catches for 322 yards and a score this season. He comes off a five-catch, 107-yard game in Sunday's loss at Philadelphia. Cooks hasn't been targeted double-digit times in a game yet, but I expect him to be here with Colston out.
NFL Free Picks: 'OVER' both.
Mark Ingram O/U 59.5 Rushing Yards
Ingram got a nice contract this offseason when he could have tested free agency. Ingram, the last running back to win the Heisman Trophy, had his best season in 2014, rushing for 964 yards and nine scores in 13 games. But this year, in part due to a pretty shaky offensive line, Ingram is averaging a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. He hasn't topped 17 carries yet as the Saints have largely been abandoning the run in the second half of games. Atlanta is No. 3 against the run.
NFL Free Pick: UNDER