Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/7/12
Despite the New Orleans Saints (13-3) having a stellar 8-0 record at home this season, the Detroit Lions (10-6)are banking to show the world they’re not just a “one-and-done” wild card contender, but eventual Super Bowl opponent. Detroit has won every game since losing to New Orleans except their heartbreaking 45-41 loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field on New Year’s Day. Twenty years is a long time for a playoff win. But after losing 41-36 to the Seattle Seahawks in last year’s wild card game, the Saints believe 20 weeks – the time since they were beaten by Seattle – have been too long to go without the title of Super Bowl champions.
We know there will be a lot of yards passed by both Saints’ and Lions’ quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matt Stafford, respectively. Both of them average more than 300 passing yards per game and more than 10,000 yards have been thrown by the both of them.
We know Calvin Johnson is going to have a huge game – or shall we say, NEEDS to have a good game. Johnson didn’t score once against the Saints when the two teams met in Week 13 and he caught six passes for 69 yards. Only against Kansas City and the Vikings did he have worse games (but they were games the Lions won).
We also know Ndamukong Suh is going to have to show up and show out. Jan. 5, 1992 was the last time the Lions won a playoff game, a 38-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. That was one day before Suh’s fifth birthday. Here we are 20 years later and a Lions’ win could be a great 25th birthday present for the rebounding Suh.
“This is the game that we’re focused at,” said Sean Payton, Saints head coach, during his last press conference. “We don’t look at scenarios had we won another game or lost one. We’re 13-3, we’ve given ourselves a chance to win a home playoff game as the number three seed. Immediately you take that information and prepare versus Detroit and that’s really the truth.”
Now that the proverbial stuff is out of the way, the Saints have yet to lose at home since Week 17 of the 2010 season. Detroit on the other hand just lost in the Mercedes Benz Superdome four weeks ago in a meeting where no Lion wide receiver scored a touchdown or had more than 93 yards in passing. Suh wasn’t a factor and Brees made history when his 342 passing yards made him the first player in NFL history to pass over 4,000 yards in14 games.
Detroit had 11 penalties for 107 yards against the Saints in their December 4 meeting, a few of which were the result of the Lions’ unraveling temperament. They’re going to have to cool their hot heads if they want to beat the Saints. Suh was serving the first of this two-game suspension when the Lions last faced the Saints, but he’s going to have to be the glue that keeps the Lions’ composure together in order to tune out a notoriously rowdy and feisty black and gold fan base. 
“As long as we’re moving the ball, we’re going to have success,” said Johnson on detroitlions.com. “Just no dumb penalties – you can’t take explosives away with penalties. That kills me.”
In the fourth quarter alone, the Nate Burleson was hit with two offensive pass interference calls, along with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties tagged on receivers Stefan Logan and Brandon Pettigrew. If the Lions thought the crowd got on their nerves before, then this playoff experience is going to be hazardous for them, especially with the blitzes that are going to come at Stafford.
Both defenses are going to have to attack the play action options utilized heavily by both quarterbacks. While Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will blitz an offense in a minute, the Lions use a more calculated style of blitz, which didn’t fare too well against Brees. Stafford is going to have to anticipate and pick up on Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and company a tad bit better to avoid the three sacks he received in the last meeting, and recognize his tight ends a bit more, somewhat how Brees uses TE Jimmy Graham (and we all know how Graham has fared).
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed with the Saints, particularly their offense, is that they live off of big plays,” Suh said on detroitlions.com. “When I was watching that game when we played against them in December, we obviously helped them to continue to have big plays with allowing drives to be sustained with penalties and things of that sort.”
That said, Saturday may be Graham’s biggest game to date. Suh’s presence is definitely going to encourage blitzing on Detroit’s part, but Brees has been so well protected, especially at home, it’s going to be interesting to see if Suh will even make a dent. Also, if Stafford picks up the blitz accordingly, this may be one of Calvin Johnson’s weakest games, because Titus Young will get a lot of looks, thanks to a guaranteed Johnson double team.
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