The Detroit Lions are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. For Lions fans, this has been a long-time coming. They ended the season with a bitter loss in Lambeau Field on New Year's day.
Jim Schwartz was disappointed with how the defense handled the Packers' backups. They gave up 45 points. This was not how he wanted the Lions to end their season, especially when they'll be heading into the Saints home-field territory for the Wild Card Round.
They will be facing the tougher road into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, rather than five if they had won their last game. The Saints are on an eight-game winning streak and the defense will be facing Drew Brees, who finished the season with 5,476 passing yards.
The Lions faced the Saints earlier this season and lost 31-17. They have a lot to work on this week in order to improve their game as they face New Orleans, especially the defense.
They Need Discipline
The one thing that has been killing the Lions all season is penalties. They need to limit that to a few or none—penalties kill momentum. Penalties give the opponent another chance. Most personal fouls committed are just stupid.
The Lions need to play a discipline game. You don't want to lose yardage or momentum nor do you want to give the other team extra yardage or momentum as well.
Detroit needs to work on playing a smart game.
Stop the Passing Game
If anything, the Lions defense cannot play like they did on New Year's day against the Packers. If they do, they will basically hand the game over to the Saints. Drew Brees is on fire—the Lions need to put out that fire. Unfortunately for the Lions, Brees is not the only threat. New Orleans is loaded on offense. They have talent everywhere; they all contribute to the passing game.
It is going to be a tough challenge for the Lions to limit that, but it is possible. The Lions need to pull out all of the tricks and confuse Brees. If the Lions can't anticipate the Saints' moves then they must keep the Saints guessing with their defensive packages.
Matthew Stafford and Offense Needs to Keep Playing Elite
Matthew Stafford and his favorite connection, Calvin Johnson, have been playing amazingly well in the past few games. As a third-year player, Stafford is already at the top with the elite quarterbacks—just behind Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
This offense is the best the Lions have seen in franchise history. If Stafford can keep playing like the elite quarterback he's been playing in the last few games, he'll keep up with the Saints offense. Luckily for Stafford, the Saints have one of the worst passing defenses in the league.
Brandon Pettigrew has also been a strong tight end this year and has improved greatly in the second half of the season. Calvin Johnson had two 200-plus-yard games out of the last three. He finished out strong and if he can carry that performance into the playoffs, Megatron will help lift the Lions over the Saints.
Play like a Playoff Team
If there was one time this season the Lions have played like a true playoff team, it was during the Christmas Eve game against San Diego. They went out and didn't hesitate to get on the scoreboard right away. They started strong and finished strong. The Chargers headed into that game on a winning streak but the Lions snapped it.
They only committed three penalties in that game for just eight yards. That's the kind of discipline the Lions need against the Saints.
The Lions' defense held the Chargers scoreless in the first half and stopped them from coming back in the second half. They only allowed 10 points.
The Lions played well in all aspects of the game.
Be the better team
There's an old saying that the team who wants it more wins the game. In most cases, that is true. If the Lions enter this game wanting this win more than anything, that mindset will be of great aid to them.
The special teams, the defense, the offense and even the coaching staff need to be the better units. They need to be better than the Saints.
It will be a tough challenge. But if they truly want it, they'll get the job done.
They wanted to clinch that playoff spot against San Diego and that mindset helped them blow out the Chargers. This is going to be one of the hardest games this group of Lions will play in.
It's the playoffs and anything can happen.
The Detroit Lions can beat the New Orleans Saints.
It's all a matter of who wants it more.