Detroit Lions (10-6 SU, 7-7-2 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3 SU, 12-4 ATS), 8:00 p.m. EST, NFC Wildcard Playoffs, Saturday, January 7th, 2012, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: NBC
by Badger, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Det. +10.5/NO -10.5
Over/Under Total: 59
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The Detroit Lions won 10 games this season and for the first time in over a decade theyve qualified for the NFC playoffs, but as their prize for a terrific season now the Lions will have to travel to the Superdome in the first round to play the red-hot New Orleans Saints in an NFC Wildcard Weekend matchup this Saturday night on NBC.
Of course the Lions had a chance to win and get out of the No. 6 seed and a date against the Saints, but the Lions couldnt stop Green Bay Packers backup QB Matt Flynn who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a, 45-41, Packers win last Sunday.
At least Matthew Stafford looks playoff-ready, throwing for a career-high 520 yards and five scores against the Packers, but the bad news is hell probably need to have another career day with Saints QB Drew Brees up next for the Lions beleaguered secondary.
Brees, who broke Dan Marinos most yardage in a season record in week 16 on Monday Night, kept on rolling in the Saints, 45-17, victory over Carolina in the finale. With over 600 yards of offense versus Carolina, 389 of those yards and five touchdowns from Brees, the Saints look almost impossible to stop on offense and have become the team nobody wants to play right now in the NFC going into the playoffs.
With eight straight victories and perfect 8-0 record at home in the Superdome, the odds are stacked against the Lions in Saturdays first round game against the Saints. The opening point spread for the game listed the Saints as large 10.5-point favorites, and after some of the early steam at the window the number is up to minus -11 at some of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and offshore.
The over/under total opened at 58.5 and it too has gone up after the early wagering, going up to 59 at most of the offshore sportsbooks and up to 59.5 in most of the books in Vegas.
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Offensively you can expect the football to be flying all over the field on Saturday.
Right now, the only way to stop Brees and the Saints on offense is to poison the water cooler. The past three weeks the Saints have averaged 551 yards of total offense and have scored 44 points per game, ridiculous numbers that even if they come back down to earth are still enough to cause Detroit major concerns.
Detroits only hope on defense is to force a few turnovers, because their secondary has been crushed in recent weeks. Besides giving up 480 yards to a backup in the finale, the Lions pass unit allowed 299 yards passing versus the Chargers and 345 versus Oakland, so something will have to give or its going to be a long game for the Lions offense playing catch up. I would say an improved Lions pass rush getting to Brees would help too, but Brees rarely holds the ball long enough and only took 24 sacks all season (tied for 23rd in NFL).
Stafford and the Lions offense can score points too (29.6 ppg 4th in NFL), but sooner or later they will need a defensive unit to help out. Without much of a running game to rely on (95 ypg 29th), Stafford will need to find tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler and receiver Titus Young in one-on-one matchups when the Saints roll the coverages to try and limit the damage done by Calvin Johnson.
Those players not named Johnson will get one-on-ones because the Saints defense will bring the blitz to pressure Stafford. New Orleans blitzes more than 50 percent of the time on passing downs, so setting the protections and finding the hot receivers will be paramount to Staffords survival on Saturday.
The Lions traveled to the Big Easy to face the Saints in early December of this season and it didnt turn out well, as Brees threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-17 Saints win. Stafford played well (408 yards, TD), but he had a hard time doing it alone and he took three sacks and the Lions were penalized 11 times in the loss (notice a theme developing?).
All told the Saints have beaten the Lions in three straight meetings and in six of the last nine games since 1992 (also 6-4 ATS). The average score during the three-game win streak has been 39 to 17 in favor of the Saints, which explains the big numbers the Lions have been chasing in the past (9-point underdogs in December) and on Saturday.
Most of the betting trend numbers favor the Saints too, including their 11-1 ATS mark in their last 12 home games and their 7-0 ATS record against the NFC this season. They are just 205 ATS in their last seven playoff games though, so covering the big number hasnt been the walk in the park most bettors may think.
The over looks like a solid trend play as well, going 4-0 in Detroits last four Saturday games and 10-4-1 in the Lions last 15 games as the underdog. The over is also 4-0 in the Saints last four home playoff games and 6-1-1 in playoff games overall.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This game will be a great proving ground to see how far Stafford has come as an NFL QB. If he can read the Saints blitz at the line and get in and out of plays before the snap, I think the Lions can hang around in this game. Plus, I know the Saints are red hot right now but they have to come down a little at some point. The Saints will win, but I think the Lions cover the spread. Im betting Detroit plus the 11 points.
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