NFL Nation: Lions-Saints WC 2012

Final Word: Lions at Saints

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
1:30
PM ET
Wild-Card Final Word: Bengals-Texans | Lions-Saints | Falcons-Giants | Steelers-Broncos

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Lions-Saints playoff game:

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesSaints TE Jimmy Graham has become one of the toughest matchups for opposing defenses in the NFL.
The Graham Factor: You can make the case that New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t really a tight end. He might be more of a wide receiver in a tight end’s body and that’s going to create matchup problems for the Lions. Linebackers don’t have the speed to stay with Graham and defensive backs don’t have enough size to shut him down. Graham finished the regular season just one reception short of becoming the third tight end in history to have 100 catches in a season. Of Graham’s 11 touchdowns, nine came on passes outside the yardage numbers on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was a league high among all receivers and four more touchdowns than the next tight end.

The blitz is coming. It’s no secret that New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to use the blitz. The Saints led the league by sending five or more pass-rushers on 51.1 percent of opponent dropbacks during the regular season. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford isn’t used to a lot of blitzing. Stafford was blitzed on 24.6 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest of any quarterback in the league. But Stafford struggled when he did see the blitz. He threw six interceptions in situations in which he faced five or more rushers. Only four quarterbacks threw more interceptions in those situations.

At home in the dome. Saints fans always have been a dedicated bunch. But in recent years, the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome has made it one of the NFL’s most intimidating venues. With a Saturday night game, Saints fans will have all day to get ready and that’s only going to help New Orleans on the field. The Saints went 8-0 at home in the regular season. In those games, the Saints averaged 41.1 points and 492.6 yards per game.

Final Word: Lions at Saints

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
1:30
PM ET
Wild-Card Final Word: Bengals-Texans | Lions-Saints | Falcons-Giants | Steelers-Broncos

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Lions-Saints wild-card game:

Historic battle: I did my best this week to make our preview coverage about the actual game and its matchups, as opposed to just how unprecedented a victory Saturday night would be in recent Lions history. (Here's a link to our handy "Lions-Saints" tag.) But here goes: The Lions are one of two NFL teams never to have won a wild-card playoff game, tallying an 0-6 record since its advent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They haven't won a playoff game of any sort since the 1991 season, and its been 54 years since they've won a playoff game on the road. (A 31-27 victory at the San Francisco 49ers in the 1957 Western Conference playoffs.) The Lions are 11-point underdogs against a Saints team that hasn't lost at home this season. It's no surprise that the Twitter hashtag #shocktheworld has emerged this week. For any number of reasons, there aren't many people counting on a Lions victory Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Pettigrew
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireBrandon Pettigrew has just as many catches (27) as teammate Calvin Johnson over the Lions' past four games.
More than Megatron: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams noted this week that "guys that are 6-5 end up being 5-5 when they get flipped over on their head," an obvious reference to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. But no matter how much attention the Saints pay to Johnson, they'll no doubt be aware of the impressive across-the-board production the Lions got during their 3-1 finish to the regular season. Johnson caught 27 passes and four touchdowns over that span, but tight end Brandon Pettigrew also caught 27 passes, while receiver Nate Burleson had 22 and Titus Young 17. Young scored four touchdowns, Pettigrew two and Burleson one. The Lions aren't likely to win if Johnson gets shut out, but they have the capacity to compete even if he is limited, especially if quarterback Matthew Stafford can beat the Saints' blitz as we discussed earlier this week.

Impact player: As the quarterback, Stafford will have more opportunities to impact the outcome of the game than any other Lions player. But a close second will be any of the Lions' key pass-rushers up front. Whether it's Ndamukong Suh or Kyle Vanden Bosch or Cliff Avril, someone needs to make Saints quarterback Drew Brees uncomfortable in the pocket early and maintain the pressure for the duration. Otherwise, Brees will pick the Lions apart. In the teams' first meeting, the Lions put Brees under duress on only three of his 38 dropbacks. He completed 26 of his resulting 36 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Suh, Vanden Bosch and Avril have each had dominant games at one point or another in their careers. At least one of them must produce another Saturday night.

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