The NFL Wildcard Playoffs. Is there a better named round of playoffs out there?
For those absolutests out there who clicked on this link just to see what cracked out argument I could possibly make for the Lions upsetting the Saints in the first round, I point you to this box score.
That box score is from last season’s Wild Card playoff where Seattle hosted these same New Orleans Saints, and beat them. That Seahawks team, as I’m sure you remember didn’t even enter the playoffs with a winning record. That Seattle team is no Detroit Lions either.
To be fair, the Saints had to travel to Seattle for that one, and it is said that the Seahawks do have one of the better home field advantages in the NFL. Still, it wasn’t suppose to happen that way. How could Seattle beat the high powered Saints?
I’m not basing my entire argument on this game alone, I only bring it up to show it can be done. If you go back to the box score you’ll notice Seattle only sacked Drew Brees once. A total the Lions will probably need to atleast triple to win. New Orleans looks unbeatable in the dome, but it’s not impossible.
These “keys” are all within reach for the Lions. I’m not asking them to do anything they haven’t shown they can do and can expect nothing less than a shoot out on Saturday.
Below are five things the Lions absolutely HAVE to do to win.
5. Matt Stafford has to be Matt Stafford:
I am least worried about this one, but the times Stafford has struggled are the times the Lions have looked hapless. Stafford has had the team on his back (sharing some of the weight with Calvin Johnson of course) all season and has looked nothing but comfortable with it. He came up big in Oakland when the Lions needed that win and he was superb in Green Bay. Sure he threw the interception at the end sealing the brutal loss at Lambeau, and a similar scenario could easily happen in a game with the Saints, but its hard to get down on a guy that threw five TDs for not throwing a sixth. In case you haven’t notice, he’s been a top 5 QB in the league.
4. Guys on offense have to catch the ball:
It’s been easier to overlook this season than in years passed because Detroit did win 10 games, but there have been some absolutely brutal drops from the Lions receivers this season. First on that list is Brandon Pettigrew. Make no mistake about it Pettigrew is a huge part of the Lions “running game,” so when he drops that wide open dink-n-dunk pass in the middle of the field, its very likely the Lions drive will stall.Despite having a case of the dropsies Pettigrew has been pretty reliable and he is a tough guy for defenses to take down when he makes catches. Titus Young will be in a tough place to play as a number two rookie receiver. He hasn’t had a huge problem with drops but his emotions got the best of him last time out in the Superdome, so he might feel more pressure than he should coming into this one. Nate Burleson has proved he can catch the ball, but he runs with it so carelessly I worry he’ll fumble just about every time. Kevin Smith has had a hard time catching as of late it seems, so he would be a bonus.
3. Keeping penalty yardage to a minimum:
I am not optimistic on this one but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Obviously the last time these two teams played the personal foul problem came to a head, and since then it really hasn’t been much of an issue. The penalty issue however, is still there and the Saints are going to get plenty of yardage on their own without the Lions help. Keep it under 50 yards and the Lions can win this game.
2. The secondary need takeaways, and to just be visible on the field:
Alphonso Smith was noticeably the worst player on the defense last week, and lets face it when he has a bad game he does it big (See New England game 2010). He also grabbed an INT for the Lions last week and has been reasonably anonymous the rest of the season (which is a good thing). With Aaron Berry going back on Saturday he’ll see reduced playing time but Berry hasn’t had an interception thus far. Normally I would give up interceptions for better coverage and in this case I have to assume they’ll spell one another, but the Lions defense won’t be able to STOP Drew Brees, so they should be be trying to take the ball away from him. Nobody stops Drew Brees.
1. The D-Line needs to have an influence on the game:
Heading into the 2011 season, there was talk of giving the defensive line a nick name. At the end of the season I must say there were games where I couldn’t name a player on the D-line that influenced the game. That can’t be the case this week, and I think everybody knows. The Saints are said to have the best offensive line in the league, but in the first five games of the season there was talk of the Lions D-line being of a very high caliber too. Well the stats don’t exactly back it up, but this group IS special. If the Lions get pressure on Drew Brees, that increases the odds he makes a mistake or two and that could be all the Lions need to out shoot the Saints in what is destined to be a shoot-out.
All hands are on deck for the playoffs, which means with the deep rotation the Saints O-Line won’t see much of a break. Nick Fairley had a great first half last time out against the Saints, and has basically disappeared since (he did re-injure his foot. Cliff Avril has quietly been the most consistent guy and if he has a stellar playoff he could sack himself into an even bigger payday than he is due. Ndamukong Suh has been a big name in 2011, but it hasn’t really been his play on the field… this could be a big stage for him to change that.