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NFL playoffs preview: Lions vs. Saints

These two teams get points for being the most frequent fliers.

January 06, 2012|By Sam Farmer
  • Lions quarterback Matt Stafford passed for just over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns this season, but that wasn't as many as his playoff counterpart Drew Brees.
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford passed for just over 5,000 yards and 41… (Matt Ludtke / Associated…)

When it comes to the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints, everything is up in the air.

That's because their quarterbacks have thrown for a combined six miles this season.

In fact, their playoff game is the first featuring two 5,000-yard passers. There were three of those this season: the Saints' Drew Brees — who broke Dan Marino's NFL record with 5,476 yards — New England's Tom Brady (5,235), and the Lions' Matthew Stafford (5,038).

So the Stafford-Brees game Saturday will set the record for the matchup with the most combined passing yards (10,514), and No. 2 on that list will come Sunday when the New York Giants play host to the Atlanta Falcons. Eli Manning threw for 4,933, and the Falcons' Matt Ryan had 4,177.

Brand newcomers

When it comes to playoff experience, the Saints win in a landslide. They've reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons, whereas the Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 1999. Not surprisingly, though, Lions Coach Jim Schwartz is downplaying that as a factor in Saturday's game.

"Obviously, players that have played here for a long time don't have [playoff experience]," Schwartz said. But you might even argue that if you lived through 0-16 and 10 years of no playoff games, maybe you relish the opportunity even more.

"Maybe there is more urgency to take advantage of it. I think it plays both ways. There is something to the newness of it and embracing that."

But he conceded: "There is probably something to the experience of having done it before also."

Don't feed the Lions

San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh already had a memorable run-in with Schwartz this season after the 49ers beat the Lions in Detroit. Schwartz was enraged by Harbaugh's dismissive handshake and backslap after the game, went after him, with players ultimately separating the two coaches.

Harbaugh stirred things up again this week, perhaps unwittingly, when asked in a radio interview about how his team will prepare for one of three teams the 49ers could play host to in a divisional playoff game.

"It's more the Saints," Harbaugh said in a clip that was replayed in Detroit. "The greater share [of the preparation] is for the Saints."

At least one of the Lions interpreted that as a suggestion that Detroit won't beat New Orleans, not that the 49ers already have done much of their preparation for the Lions, seeing as they played during the regular season.

"That's pretty ignorant," Lions center Dominic Raiola said of Harbaugh's comment, according to the Detroit News. "The guy is outspoken. He's a young, energetic guy and that's fine. That's his opinion and he's entitled to his opinion. We will see if we can't change that."

Asked about the possibility of a rematch between the Saints and the Packers, Raiola said: "We know what we have in our locker room. We know the talent we have and we know what we can control. We will be the ones playing [Saturday in New Orleans].

"We will be the ones who have something to say about everybody's dream Saints-Packers magic ride. Hopefully we can score one more point than the Saints and ruin everybody's columns."

Another view

NBC's Cris Collinsworth: "The question is, can the Lions keep up with them? Last time they made a lot of silly mistakes, killed drives, took away touchdowns. They've got to be nearly perfect on offense. Can't see anybody slowing the Saints down a whole lot in that building, so the Lions may have to put up 50 to beat them."

By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):

Category / Lions / Saints

Points scored / 29.6 (4) / 34.2 (2)

Points allowed / 24.2 (23) / 21.2 (13)

Pass offense / 300.9 (4) / 334. 2 (1)

Rush offense / 95.2 (29) / 132.9 (6)

Pass defense / 239.4 (22) / 259.8 (30)

Rush defense / 128.1 (23) / 108.6 (12)

Sacks / 41 (10) / 33 (19)

Penalties / 8.0 (30) / 6.2 (15)

Turnovers /. +11 (4) / -3 (21)

Farmer's pick

If Packers backup Matt Flynn could hang six touchdowns on the Lions, Brees is capable of putting up 10. It won't be that bad, but Detroit will have to play a lot better on defense to avert a scoring bonanza. Saints 42, Lions 35

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