The Lions learned a few valuable lessons when they last played the Saints. 1. They can move the ball on the Saints defense. 2. They can't commit numerous personal fouls.
The Lions will arrive in New Orleans battle tested. They've dealt with adversity and overcome injury. They've dealt with the national media writing them off. They found a weapon opposite Calvin Johnson and they signed Joique Bell to help out Kevin Smith. Yes, their secondary still looks like Swiss cheese, but they also have a 5,000+ yard quarterback who's thrown for 40+ touchdowns.
We know that these two teams have the ability to turn this game into a track meet. We might even expect a game similar to the Packers vs. Lions contest last week. Detroit can provide more of a pass rush, but the Saints can manufacture a dependable rushing attack. I think the Saints ability to run the ball is the difference.
Yes, Drew Brees is MVP material and yes, Matthew Stafford isn't far behind. However, it isn't Brees versus Stafford but rather, Brees versus the Lions defense and Stafford versus the Saints defense. With a viable rushing attack (or threat of), Brees and the Saints have the clear advantage - and that's before taking into account the Domefield crowd, the fact that Detroit has to travel on a short week and the Saints being the more experienced team in the post-season.
Could this game fool us all and turn into a defensive battle? Sure, but not much evidence points in that direction. Could either team have an "off" day and turn the ball over numerous times, leading to a blowout? Yeah, but if I had to pick a team to do so, I'd pick the less experienced road team. Could this game come down to the last possession? Probably, but I'd bet against it.
The "wild card" for me is what the Lions staff learns from Joique Bell and how much they use him? Will this game resemble the first half of the Panthers game last week, and if so, for how long?
I believe it will be close until the fourth quarter. There won't be many turnovers. I think it comes down to the Saints ability to convert on 3rd down. Drew is Drew, but the Saints can pick up the tough yards on the ground, so a pass isn't a sure bet for Detroit's defense. I believe Titus Young and Calvin Johnson will give the Saints secondary fits, but when it really matters (3rd and short), the Saints have the advantage because they are unpredictable. Over the course of a game, that ability on third down will result in more scoring drives. That's why I'm picking the Saints to win with a score of 45 to 34.
1. Saints - 34.2 Points per game, 467 yards per game, 6.7 yards per play, 57% 3rd down conversion, 31:59 time of possession, -3 turnover margin
5. Lions - 29.6 PPG, 396 YPG, 6.0 YPP, 36% 3rd down, 30:09 TOP, +11 turnovers
1. Saints - 334 YPG, 8.3 yards per attempt, 71.3% completion, 46 TDs, 14 INTs, (69) 20+ yard completions, 24 sacks allowed, 110.5 QB rating
4. Lions - 301 YPG, 7.6 YPA, 63.5% completion, 41 TDs, 16 INTs, (65) 20+ yard completions, 36 sacks surrendered, 97.2 QB rating
6. Saints - 133 YPG, 4.9 yards per carry, 16 TDs, 3 fumbles, (14) 20+ yard runs
29. Lions - 95 YPG, 4.3 YPC, 9 TDs, 6 fumbles, (8) 20+ yard runs
23. Lions - 24.2 PPG, 368 YPG, 5.6 YPP, 33% 3rd downs allowed, 25 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries
24. Saints - 21.2 PPG, 368 YPG, 5.8 YPP, 33% on 3rd down, 20 FF, 7 FR
22. Lions - 239 YPG, 6.8 YPA, 62.3% completion, 26 TDs, 21 INTs, (46) 20+ yard completions allowed, 41 sacks, 82.1 opposing QB rating
30. Saints - 260 YPG, 7.0 YPA, 57.8% completion, 24 TDs, 9 INTs, (44) 20+ yard completions, 33 sacks, 86.4 opposing QB rating
12. Saints - 108 YPG, 5.0 YPC, 11 TDs, 7 FR, (14) 20+ yard runs allowed
23. Lions - 128 YPG, 5.0 YPC, 10 TDs, 5 FR, (16) 20+ yard runs allowed
Overall Statistical Comparison: Each defense gives up the same amount of yardage, though the Lions enjoy more interceptions, more sacks and more fumble recoveries (half coming on sacks). With that said, each defense only allows a 1/3 conversion rate on 3rd down. Despite the extra pressure and turnovers, the Lions defense gives their offense, the Saints score more points, allow less, and convert third downs better (by a wide margin). Why? Because the Saints have something that nullifies Detroit's best defensive strength: a bona fide rushing attack.
Preston's Playoff Pick 'Em
Season Total: 173 wins, 83 losses
Last Week: 11 wins, 5 losses
Average: 10.8 wins, 5.2 losses
Last Year: 157 wins, 99 losses
Best Year: 173 wins, 83 losses
Yahoo Rank: 1st out of 84
Sirius Rank: 125th out of 8,699
This Week's Picks:
Bengals over Texans, 4 - The Bengals blew a lead in spectacular fashion the last time these two teams played - I don't think that happens this time. Yes, the Texans have a great defense; so do the Bengals. I trust Andy Dalton to have a better day than T.J. Yates. I'd rather have a healthy Andre Johnson and the Ben Tate/Foster duo than Benson and A.J. Green. I'd rather have a fanatic Houston fan base going nuts over their first ever play-off appearance. But at the end of the day, I'd rather have Andy Dalton. The running game is the great equalizer, but in the end, I take Dalton to make a play and Yates to make a mistake.
Giants over Falcons, 8 - Don't look now, but I think New York finally decided who they want to be. Their secondary is a mess, but Atlanta's best chance of winning is feeding the ball to Michael Turner. The Giants defensive line shows up to play in this game, Bradshaw gives them a ground game, and Victor Cruz makes Atlanta's front office look stupid for giving up so much to get an explosive WR. I don't think Matt Ryan throws so well in the elements.
Saints over Lions, 12 - The ability to run the ball and convert on 3rd down gives New Orleans the clear advantage while neutralizing Detroit's pass rush in the process.
Steelers over Broncos, 16 - Ok, this has gone on long enough. Tim Tebow isn't an NFL QB. He's a winner, but so was Ken Dorsey. Pretend time is over, and Dick Lebeau will bring reality into Mile High Stadium. Sure, Big Ben shouldn't play in this game (he's at 60% if that estimate is to be believed), and Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Clark won't be playing. The Steelers haven't scored many points over the last month. Without their top RB, without a healthy Ben, this should be the type of game that Tebow pulls out in the 4th quarter, right? Wrong.