With two games on tap for Saturday’s NFL Wild Card Weekend, the evening game featuring the New Orleans Saints (13-3, 8-0 home) and the Detroit Lions (10-6, 5-3 away) is sure to be the most exciting NFL football game of the day, as two of the most prolific offenses collide on one of the most electric stages in all of football at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
There is so much to be said this year about the New Orleans Saints and their record-setting offensive attack led by Drew Brees, one struggles to find where to begin. From a purely statistical point of view, this year’s New Orleans Saints may be perhaps the most dominating, efficient and enjoyable team to watch in the last few years, if not in all of NFL history. Breaking the single-season passing record held for 27 years by Dan Marino, Drew Brees is without a doubt the heart and soul of the Saints powerful offense, leading a passing game that ranks first in the NFL with 334.2 yards through the air per game, and seems to be able to score at will against any opponent regardless of their defensive prowess. Throwing for 5476 yards, 46 touchdowns at a record %71.2 completion rate, if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Drew Brees operate the Saints offense, do yourself a favor and tune in to this playoff game tonight. Posting 9 games with 3 touchdowns or more, 7 straight games over 300 yards passing (throwing over 300 yards in 14 of 16 games this year) and throwing just 3 picks in his last 7 outings, Brees is quite simply a machine. He’s hard to tackle even when under extreme duress, and his weaponry in the receiving game is just about unmatched in the NFL, as 3 receivers have north of 80 catches on the season (and 6 players have over 40), 5 have more than 5 touchdown catches, and the crew as a whole is averaging a massive 11.7 yards per catch.
It’s been the presence of two threats in particular, tight end Jimmy Graham (99 catches, 1310 yards, 11 TDs) and all-purpose threat Darren Sproles (86 catches, 710 yards, 7 TDs) that has set this Saints team to levels above and beyond where they have been before. Graham is perhaps one of the most sure-handed tight ends to ever play the game and is a match-up nightmare playing essentially like a huge wide receiver, and the mighty-might Darren Sproles set the NFL record for all-purpose yards (2,696) and has arguably been the biggest free-agent pick-up made by any team in the last year. His dedication, speed and elusiveness defines this Saints offense; they are very hard to bring down, very hard to cover, and almost impossible to keep out of the endzone. What’s even worse for opposing defenses is the fact that with such a potent passing game, the Saints aren’t even a purely passing offense, with the 6th-rated rushing attack churning out 132.9 yards/game on the ground behind a legit 4-headed monster featuring Sproles (87 carries, 603 yards, 2 TDs), hard-sledding Pierre Thomas (110 carries, 562 yards, 5 TDs), and pair of youngsters in rookie Mark Ingram (122 carries, 474 yards, 5 TDs) and Chris Ivory (79 carries, 374 yards, 1 TD). While the running game certainly plays second fiddle to Drew Brees and his wealth of receivers, defensive coordinators know well not to discount the smash-mouth running game the Saints are capable of. These backs aren’t afraid to challenge defenses head-to-head, and frequently frustrate their opponents with the strength to break tackles and ability to get free for extra yards (averaging collectively 4.9 yards/carry on the ground, T-4th best in the NFL); If Detroit doesn’t come prepared to stand up to a strong attack against their defensive front on the ground, it’s going to be a long, winded day for the Lions who will find themselves even more vulnerable against the precision passing game led by Brees if they don’t pay enough heed to what’s going on in the offensive backfield of the Saints.
On the Detroit side of the ball, the passing game has certainly been the most exciting area of their offense as well, and Lions fans should be enjoying the outstanding efforts put forward by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who comes off an amazing regular season breaking past 5,000 yards passing with 41 touchdowns. Leading the NFL’s 4th-ranked passing attack, Stafford utilizes arguably one of the most dominating receivers in the game in Calvin Johnson (96 catches, 1681 yards, 16 TDs) to keep frustrating defenses, and like Brees, Stafford distributes the ball around well to a wealth of talent. Aside from the 6’5″ Megatron (Calvin Johnson’s awesome moniker), tight end Brandon Pettigrew has also had an outstanding year with 83 catches, 777 yards and 5 touchdowns, and the speedy Nate Burleson (73 catches, 757 yards, 3 TDs) and Titus Young (48 catches, 607 yards, 6 TDs) make sure that opposing defenses can’t simply shut down Johnson and Pettigrew and hope to have the passing attack end there. Using a combination of size, speed and strength, Detroit creates match-up difficulties for cornerbacks every time they line up with the ball, and against a Saints team that allows the 3rd most yards to opposing quarterbacks (259.8 yards/game), the Lions will likely have success throwing the ball down field.
One glaring issue in this match-up for the Lions however will be how they can contend with the ground game, which has been mired by injuries and comes in 29th in the league producing just 95.2 yards per contest. Without a proper running game to keep the defense honest, the Saints are going to blitz and put tons of pressure on Stafford to try and force mistakes. However, while New Orleans only allows 108.6 yards/game to running backs (12th in the league), that is mainly due to the fact that opponents are having to abandon the run more often than not to keep up. New Orleans ranks first in facing just 21.9 rushes per game, but what’s interesting here is that they are tied for second to last in the league (ironically with Detroit) giving up 5.0 yards/carry, meaning that teams can have success on the ground against them. While that might be a tall order for the often-injured Kevin Smith (72 carries, 356 yards, 4 TDs) and back-up Maurice Morris, who will both be tasked with providing some relief for Matthew Stafford, the Lions have to find a way to have success on the ground, if only to help keep the ball away from Drew Brees. Make no mistake, the Lions will score through the air, but getting a ground game going to help control the clock and possession time will be crucial towards their chances of picking up an upset road victory.
Betting Lines for the Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints at Betonline Sportsbook
Here’s a shock. The New Orleans Saints are a huge favorite at home, where they’ve put up 41.1 points per game, have gone 8-0 this year, and average almost 500 yards of total offense per contest. Coming in as -610 favorites to win on the money line at Betonline Sportsbook while Detroit gets +480 odds to win straight up, this game is just as lopsided as last year’s match-up for the Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks, in a game New Orleans lost. The big difference tonight? They’re playing at home, and their offense could be twice as good as they were last season. For Detroit, even making up the points spread, set at 10 1/2 in favor of the Saints, may be a tough challenge in and of itself, especially if the Saints are able to keep their own defense off the field and allow Drew Brees to dictate the game. For Detroit to cover the spread, they must keep the ball and avoid mistakes. For the Saints to beat the spread, they’ll need to keep applying pressure on Matt Stafford, and shut down the run game to force the Lions into passing over and over again. Though this match-up produced just 48 points in the last outing, both these teams come into tonight’s game off of 40+ point performances, and the defenses they face may not necessarily be much better. Expecting a ton of yards, and plenty of points, while I like the Saints to have the upper hand, you can likely count on much more success for the Detroit Lions in the passing game to put the lofty 59 1/2 points on the over/under to the test tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
This may be the toughest stage in all of NFL football for an opposing team to stand on right now, as the New Orleans crowd will be lit up and rowdy for tonight’s showdown, and the Saints will be more than prepared to avoid a second straight playoff exit in the first round after a sloppy performance last season. While Detroit will likely make a valiant effort and score plenty of points, expect the Saints defense to really be the biggest factor in this game, as they are tasked with shutting down a very prolific offense for the Lions, and holding that offense to under 30 points tonight will be the difference in the bottom line. Detroit on the other hand will also have to step up on defense to make this one close, but I still see this team being very young and very easily frustrated. Getting big games out of Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch are critical for the Lions D, as without pressure on Drew Brees, the Saints will simply run out the door with this game. However at the end of the day, Drew Bress is the man, and will lead his Saints to victory on home turf in a great shoot-out. New Orleans prevails in a fantastic game for NFL Wild Card Weekend, rallying to a 38-28 win.