Not many teams quite exemplify the turbulent nature of the NFL this season quite like the two facing off in the Superdome this week. Now that both teams are eliminated from the playoffs, expect players and coaches alike to be looking to keep their jobs going into next year. The Lions, a playoff team last year, this year find themselves out of contention at 4 – 9, without the Team President, General Manager and Offensive Coordinator who started the season. Since Jim Bob Cooter came in to Detroit, the Offense has looked improved, with Matthew Stafford being allowed to play his game, hitting Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and letting them make plays. Saints fans are uncertain as to which team is going to show up week to week – Whether they will win a shootout against the Giants, or get blown out by the Titans. Drew Brees’ shoulder injury earlier in the season has contributed to the fact that New Orleans sit at 5 – 8 at the bottom of the NFC South. The Defense has also had difficulties, with Brandon Browner in particular giving up huge chunks of yardage week to week via penalties.
Keys to the Game
Penalties – New Orleans are third in the league in accepted penalty yards, with 999 on the season. Many of these have come from pass interference and holding calls on their secondary, which has drawn the ire of fans and resulted in the firing of Rob Ryan earlier this year. As a consequence, expect Matt Stafford to throw a lot of deep balls towards Browner to try and draw some free yards. Disrupting Rhythm – In Stafford and Brees, two of the most prolific passers in the NFL will be taking the field in this game. Pass rush is key, and it’s an area where the Saints have struggled, ranking 28th in the league with only 25 on the year – For perspective, Oakland’s Khalil Mack has 15 on his own. Detroit have fared somewhat better, with 34. Considering New Orleans’ secondary weaknesses, this could get ugly. Young Guys Step Up – Generally, we don’t highlight individual players in our previews, but Delvin Breaux is worth some spotlight. He’s been getting better and better over the course of the season, and his story is remarkable. Committed to LSU, in a high school game he broke three vertebrae in his back. LSU honoured his scholarship, although he never played. Breaux then went to the minor leagues, the CFL, and was signed by his home town Saints in January. Since then he has been getting better and better, and should continue developing into a useful part of New Orleans’ defense.
Matt Stafford vs. Saints secondary
This game could get out of hand, fast. Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter will be looking to establish their dominance through the air early and often. With Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson there are two of the best receivers in the game in Detroit’s arsenal. Add in the prospect of penalties and it’s easy to see that the Saints need their defensive backs to step up big.
It’s hard to call this game, and it’ll likely be a shootout coming down to the last drive. Matt Prater field goal wins it for the Lions, 41 – 39