Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 9:09 AM
The New Orleans Saints looked great last week against the New York Giants. They totaled an astonishing 577 yards of offense while making a run at the half-century mark on the scoreboard. No special teams points. No defensive touchdowns. New Orleans just went up and down the field for 49 points against a team many were picking to win the NFC East a couple of weeks ago.
Tonight, in a game time changed for prime time on NBC (make a note in your schedule!), the Saints will play host to another playoff contender in the form of the Detroit Lions. And, they'll be facing a team that just had some troubles of their own against a high octane offense indoors on a fast track. In fact, Aaron Rodgers basically did to Detroit what Drew Brees did to the Giants...
Rodgers vs. Detroit: 22-33-0-296
Brees vs. NY Giants: 25-39-0-372
Brees had more volume, but threw more incomplete passes too. We wouldn't say that Rodgers had the better game by any means. But...if a defense allows 22-33-0-296 at home to Rogers with Man-Monster Suh playing about half the game...what's going to happen on the road in New Orleans when Suh is out with a suspension?
Things could get ugly for the Lions pretty quick. Let's run our standard indicator stats for tonight's game...then we'll talk about what this one might mean in the playoff picture...
DRIVE POINTS PER GAME (scored and allowed on 60 yards or more)
Detroit: 14.3 on offense, 8.0 on defense
New Orleans: 21.2 on offense, 14.5 on defense
You longtime readers know that it's very difficult to pop a number like 21.2 this deep in the season for an average. Only the true superstar quarterbacks have a shot at something like that. Drew Brees and the Saints are hitting on all cylinders often enough to make the scoreboard and the stat sheets light up. They're not quite as consistent on the road as we'd like. But, they're not playing on the road this week so we'll save that conversation for another day.
Let's note though that Detroit's defense has done a great job of preventing long distance drives this season. And, even when the faced Rodgers and lost badly, they only allowed 14 Drive Points in that game. This does give them a puncher's chance to disrupt the Saints attack, even if their best puncher will be on the sidelines wearing street clothes.
Also, the Lions will have backdoor potential here because their offense looks to match up well with the Saints defense. You'll recall the Giants kept scoring last week in a second half that was all garbage time. Detroit could do the same...and may have a better shot at the number because the Lions have a better defense than the Giants do in this stat (by a good bit).
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Detroit: 31% on offense, 28% on defense
New Orleans: 54% on offense, 36% on defense
As we mentioned last week, the Saints are just gods at this stat at the moment. The defense, though softer than it should be, does rise to the occasion when they have a chance to force a punt. Brees hates seeing his own punter run onto the field. That +16 differential is something special. Detroit's offense still has a lot to learn in this regard. But, their defense leads the league. Let's hope Detroit's defense earns a reputation for excellence over time rather than one for thuggery. What happens on the first few third down plays for the Saints offense against that Lions defense tonight could shape this game significantly.
Detroit: +6 (23 takeaways, 17 giveaways)
New Orleans: -3 (11 takeaways, 14 giveaways)
Interesting numbers here. If you're thinking about the quarterbacks...you probably imagine that Matthew Stafford is a bit of an out-of-control gunslinger who's throwing too many downfield bombs...while Drew Brees is more of a master surgeon moving the ball with limited risk. But...the Lions only have three more giveaways than the Saints do...and their defense has been MUCH better at forcing turnovers. So, here we have another way for the Lions to stay in the game. Force a few third down stops. Pick off a pass, we've got a ball game. If that DOESN'T happen, then we're looking at replays from last week, where the Lions lost by double digits and New Orleans frolicked for four quarters.
It's important to remember that this game could be a playoff preview. New Orleans is in great shape to reach the postseason, and is favored to win the NFC North at the moment. Detroit has to hope for a Wildcard...but some of that is hoping that Caleb Hanie of Chicago can't play great in December. Not an outlandish hope.
Let's look at the NFC standings entering the weekend:
North: Green Bay 11-0
West: San Francisco 9-2
South: New Orleans 8-3
East: Dallas 7-4
WILDCARDS (best two qualify)
NY Giants 6-5
Atlanta and Chicago are favored Sunday afternoon, over shorthanded Houston and Kansas City respectively. Detroit and the Giants both have tough draws, as New York hosts Green Bay. Should form hold based on the spreads, Detroit would fall a game back of the top two spots with a loss to New Orleans. They would have to climb back in the mix against this remaining schedule.
DETROIT'S FINAL FOUR
Versus San Diego
At Green Bay
Far from a cinch, because Minnesota is a divisional rival and Suh will miss that game too because of his suspension. Maybe the Packers will rest their starters in that season finale, giving the Lions a late win that puts them over the top. Let's see what's left for the other two main contenders (we'll rule the Giants out based on their tough schedule until they play their way back in...which could start as early as today if they shine vs. the Packers).
Atlanta: at Carolina, vs. Jacksonville, at New Orleans, vs. Tampa Bay
Chicago: at Denver, vs. Seattle, at Green Bay, at Minnesota
Atlanta is in good shape with that schedule (particularly if they move to 8-4 today with a win in Houston). Note that the Falcons beat the Lions straight up, which would give them the tie-breaker. Chicago has it tougher with three of their last four on the road, while trying to win with a backup quarterback. Chicago and Detroit split head to head, and both are currently 2-2 in divisional play. Chicago holds an edge in conference play, which would grow bigger were Detroit to lose in New Orleans.
So...BIG GAME TONIGHT! And, a very interesting Wildcard race ahead even if we don't have the usual number of teams still alive with a month left to go in the season.
JIM HURLEY always tries to get you the Sunday Night winner because he knows how much you live piling up your afternoon profits. Be sure to check our "buy picks" page here at the website for details on the Sunday card. We're starting the annual "build your bankrolls for Christmas" rush in the NFL today. Among the games getting closest scrutiny are a few we've mentioned already, plus Cincinnati-Pittsburgh, NY Jets-Washington, Denver-Minnesota, and Dallas-Arizona.
And, be sure you come back tomorrow for the Monday Nighter. We'll have a stat preview for you here in the NOTEBOOK, as we try to decipher what got Jack Del Rio fired last week when everyone knew all along this was going to be a crappy season for the Jaguars!
Today's a great day to check in on rates for the rest of football. Tonight's bowl announcements should have you ready a great month in the colleges! Call 1-800-323-4453 for more information. Be sure to check on our basketball rates when you call.
Get busy...the games are about to start!