The New Orleans Saints might be the most momentous, and by extension, the scariest team heading into postseason play when they host the Detroit Lions on Saturday at the Superdome. The Saints have won eight straight games by an average of 17 points with their number one rated offense clicking on all cylinders. Meanwhile, the Lions, who were anointed early on as the next-best NFC team to their division rival, defending-Super Bowl champ Green Bay Packers, have won three of their last four en route to their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Similar to the other NFC matchup between the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round, this matchup pits two teams together who have never met in the postseason before. However, they did meet during the regular season in a game in which the Saints took care of business, 31-17. After that game, the Lions lost five of their last seven, but hung on by the thread for a playoff spot. The Saints culled them into becoming mistake-prone by matching their physicality on defense, highlighted by tight end Brandon Pettigrew shoving an official who got between him and Saints safety Roman Harper. It was also after that game that the Saints really cemented themselves as having the best offense and could really go toe to toe with any other team, including the Lions, in a point shootout.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees also made history in that game by becoming the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in the first 12 games. Of course, he would later go on to break Dan Marino's 17-season passing yards record of 5,084 by throwing for 5,476. The point is that the Saints have had a stellar offense throughout the season. But when they last played the Lions, the Lions were without defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for two games for stomping on a Packers offensive lineman's arm while he was on the ground.
This time around, Suh will be ready to go in leading a defensive line that likes to attack, attack and attack some more. That might just be the primary plan to putting pressure on Brees, who is seldom mobile, and forcing him to throw rare interceptions. First, though, that line has to get through the Saints offensive line, which has three going to the Pro Bowl this year: Jermon Bushrod, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. If it does bulldoze through, then that's something an underrated Lions secondary that helped the team rank fifth in the league in picks can capitalize on.
Brees has gotten much credit for his accomplishments, but credit is also due to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who helped the Lions rank fourth in passing yards this season at just over 300 a game. Megatron a.k.a. Calvin Johnson leads a deep wide receivers corps just as spread-happy as the Saints'. But, the glaring weakness of the Lions that could end up preventing them from a deep playoff run is their lack of depth in the running game. Their best back, Jahvid Best, has been out since Week 7 with a concussion and their second-best back, rookie Mikel Leshoure, tore his ACL in a preseason practice, which forced him to sit the season.
The Saints have the better quarterback, more depth at runningback, a Pro Bowl offensive line and an underrated defense. They also have slightly more depth at receiver, but if the Lions receivers manage to keep up with theirs, then the key cog for the Saints to get over the top will be tight end Jimmy Graham, who has had a breakout year. All in all, the Saints should advance to the next round with a hard-fought win, 37-31.