The road to Indianapolis for the New Orleans Saints begins this weekend. New Orleans would love to get last year’s playoff loss out of their mouth.
An eleven win Saints team went to a seven win Seattle Seahawks team and run off the field in a 41-36 loss. The Seahawks ran for 150 yards as a team and forced New Orleans to kick field goals.
This season, the Saints won 13 games and will host a first round playoff game against the Detroit Lions. New Orleans has to be one of the top five home field advantages for a team in the NFL.
The Superdome is loud and the Saints fans stay rowdy from start to finish. Few cities have a love affair with a professional team like the city of New Orleans.
New Orleans used that home advantage in the regular season to a perfect 8-0 record. The Saints’ offense is nearly unstoppable at home but struggles on the road.
Even defensively the Saints play better in the Superdome than they do on the road. That defense feeds off the home crowd like nearly no other team in the NFL.
Even if they have to hit the road for the rest of the playoffs, New Orleans can set the playoff tone at home this Saturday against the Detroit Lions.
If you are a Detroit Lions fan, you have to be happy about this season. After over a decade of horrible football, the Lions are finally a good team again.
Detroit has drafted well and it is starting to show this season. Matthew Stafford was able to stay healthy and lead one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
Calvin Johnson (wide receiver) is a threat to score on any play from anywhere on the field. The biggest weakness of this team is the running game.
The Lions are 29th ranked team in the NFL in rushing. Detroit only averages 95.2 yards per game. Meaning the passing game, which is ranked 4th in the NFL at 301 yards per game, must win games.
New Orleans will counter this explosive offense with the 24th ranked overall defense. The Saints defense is good against the run only giving up 108.6 yards per game rushing (12th ranked) but gives up 260 yards passing (30th ranked) per game.
To be fair the Saints might be 30th in the NFL against the pass but the two teams ranked behind New Orleans are New England (31st) and Green Bay (32nd). Every NFC team in the playoffs is ranked 20th (Atlanta) or worst against the pass.
Detroit has the 23rd overall ranked defense in the NFL. This Lions team is giving up 128.1 yards per game on the ground (23rd ranked) and 239 yards through the air (22nd ranked).
This Lions defense will have to try to find a way to stop the NFL’s best offense. New Orleans is ranked first in the NFL on offense averaging 467.1 yards per game.
That is 39.1 yards more than second place (New England) and 62 yards more than third place (Green Bay) does per game. That just shows you how explosive the Saints offense is each time they take the field.
This season the biggest improvement has been in the running game for New Orleans. The Saints are sixth in the NFL and averaging 132.9 yards per game on the ground.
That potent running game is paired with the NFL’s best passing attack. New Orleans averages 334 yards pass a game this season.
New Orleans and Detroit are not strangers. These two teams met up on December 4th in the Superdome. Now just barely over a month later, they meet again with even more on the line.
The Saints enter the playoffs on eight game winning streak that began over two months ago after a loss to St. Louis. Since that loss to the Rams, New Orleans has not given up more than 24 points on defense.
Detroit enters the playoffs on a one game losing streak after getting torched by the Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn. Detroit was on a three game winning streak before the loss to Green Bay.
When these teams faced off in December the Lions spotted the Saints a 17 point lead before they tried to get back into the game. Detroit played the game without defensive star Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for his Thanksgiving Day stomp.
Blocking Suh will be a big part of the Saints game plan. Detroit needs a monster game from Suh to keep this game close. Suh must lead the way in harassing Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosh must help Suh by providing pressure from the outside. Detroit will need this defensive pressure because their secondary is horrible in coverage and poor tacklers.
If the Lions are to have any chance they must cover as best they can against the Saints receivers. The Detroit secondary must not allow blown assignments or missed tackles. This secondary also must limit run after catch/first contact.
One of the best ways Detroit can help their defense is too find a way to run the ball effectively. The Lions must run the ball to shorten the game and keep Brees off the field.
Detroit also must scheme ways to get Calvin Johnson in one on one situations. Johnson will be the biggest playmaker at receiver on the field (pardon to the Saints wide outs but Johnson is a rarer talent than any of them). Johnson is the one player who change the game in the Lions favor on offense.
In their first meeting the Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards. Stupid penalties have haunted Detroit all season long. Starting with Suh and even with the offense, this team has shot itself in the foot by committing dumb penalties.
New Orleans was able to bait the Lions into stupid penalties in that first meeting. All season long opposing teams have tried with success to get the young Lions to retaliate after the whistle.
Detroit cannot let the crowd get into their head and score early to silence the New Orleans fans. The Lions must find ways to shutout the Superdome noise.
New Orleans on the other hand must run the ball early. By running the ball effectively the Saints can set up the deep pass.
Rookie running back, Mark Ingram will miss the playoffs due to turf toe. The running game will fall to Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles.
To combat the Lions pass rush the Saints can use the screen game. Holding up a pass rush can be accomplished by running the ball and forcing it to slow down from screen passes.
Just about no team in the NFL runs a screen game better than the Saints. All three New Orleans running backs are very good at screen plays.
The Saints have one best wide receiver corps in the NFL. Along with tight end Jimmy Graham, wide outs Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem are some of the best at getting open and running after catching the ball.
New Orleans will be without Lance Moore (early reports). Brees always seems to find Moore when he needs a big play or outlet receiver against the pass rush.
Still even without Moore, the Saints should have enough weapons against the Lions. New Orleans must run the ball and avoid turnovers.
On defense the Saints need Jonathan Vilma healthy at linebacker. Vilma is the heart and soul of the New Orleans defense and he gets his unit in the right position/play with his calls.
The Saints secondary could use a pass rush to help them in coverage. New Orleans only had 33 sacks in the regular season. Only the Packers were worst at collecting sacks with just 29.
New Orleans also had the fewest interceptions by a defense in the playoffs with just nine all season long. Detroit had 41 sacks as a defense and 21 interceptions.
Green Bay and New England might be two of the worst defense but are two of the best creating turnovers. The Packers were plus 24 in turnover margin and the Patriots were plus 17 in turnover margin.
New Orleans has the worst turnover margin of the NFC playoff teams. The Saints are minus three in turnover margin.
The Saints had 16 takeaways and 19 giveaways. During their Super Bowl runs a few years ago New Orleans forced 39 turnovers.
Detroit is plus 11 in turnover margin. The Lions had 23 giveaways and 34 takeaways. If the Lions are going win this game they must win the turnover battle.
In the regular season game the Saints won the turnover battle. New Orleans had an interception of Stafford and did not commit a turnover.
Besides injuries to Ingram and Moore, the Saints also have other players banged up going into the postseason. Vilma, Meachem, safety Malcolm Jenkins, and linebacker Jonathan Casillas are just a few injuries to New Orleans players.
Detroit is not without injuries heading into the playoffs. The Lions injuries include Johnson, running back Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and several players in the secondary.
Detroit accomplished a lot this season, just by making the playoffs. This is a young team that still has holes it needs to fill through the draft or free agency.
The Lions are a year away from being a Super Bowl contender. Of course, if Detroit goes on a deep playoff run, this team could be like the Packers last year.
It is Super Bowl or bust for New Orleans. This Saints team needs just a little more for their defense but the offense is peaking at the right time.
If a defense can force a New Orleans punt it feels like a turnover or major win. The Saints do not punt very often and make the most of their offensive possessions.
New Orleans should win this game at home. The Lions secondary have not been able to stop many offenses.
The Saints need to force stops and turnovers to put this game out of reach early. Detroit needs to be just a bump in the road on to way to Indianapolis.
This game does not need to become Seattle part two. The Saints are two good to lose this game and not have a long playoff run.
Pick: New Orleans
Saints 49 Lions 24