New Orleans returns to the field from its bye week on the heels of a successful, yet extensive road swing that had the Saints playing in Charlotte and then London. Back-to-back wins over the Panthers and the Dolphins got New Orleans back to .500 after losing its first two games.
Detroit (3-2) comes to the Big Easy after its fourth-quarter comeback against Carolina came up short last week. The Lions trailed by the Panthers by 17 with less than six minutes remaining before putting together a pair of touchdown drives. But the rally was too little, too late as Carolina was able to run out the clock.
The all-time series between the Saints and Lions is tied 12-12-1. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has fared quite well (9-4) against Detroit at home. But the Lions have beaten the Saints three times in a row with the past two meetings taking place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Detroit at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Lions’ offensive line protect Matthew Stafford?
Considering that the Panthers sacked Stafford six times last week, concerns about his well-being are inevitable. Already in five games, opponents have dumped him for a loss 18 times. That total is tied for fourth most in the NFL. With the ankle injury he sustained in the fourth quarter on Sunday, his mobility will be reduced. His offensive line must step up its efforts to compensate.
The Saints’ defense has piled up 11 sacks so far. While the total may place New Orleans in the middle of the pack (tied for 19th) of the league rankings, don’t forget that the Saints have only played four games.
2. Can Drew Brees carve up the Lions’ pass defense?
Brees is once again among the league leaders, averaging 277 passing yards per game (fourth). He also has eight touchdown passes in four games and has yet to throw an interception. Brees has done his usual solid job of getting rid of the ball quickly and his offensive line has done its job as well, as he’s been sacked just four times.
Detroit comes into this game with some issues against the pass. The Lions have given up an average of 256 passing yards per game, which places them 29th in the league. They have as many interceptions as touchdown passes allowed (seven each), and also have collected 13 sacks (tied for ninth).
3. How will the Saints’ running game look following the trade?
On Tuesday, New Orleans traded Adrian Peterson to Arizona for a conditional draft pick, ending his tenure with the Saints after just four games. Head coach Sean Payton called the trade “common sense,” as it became clear that Peterson just wasn’t the right for this offense.
With Peterson gone, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara figure to handle the majority of the backfield touches. Neither has filled up the stat sheet to this point, but New Orleans has been most successful early on when it puts an emphasis on running the ball. In their two victories, the Saints have had an average of 27.5 rushing attempts. In their two losses that number drops to 19.
Detroit has been solid against the run thus far, holding opponents to 75 rushing yards per game and just 3.3 yards per carry. However, New Orleans must avoid falling into the self-destructive pattern of recent seasons and not abandon the run too early. As tempting as it is to ask Brees to throw the ball all over the field, especially in the friendly confines of the Superdome, the Saints have to maintain some semblance of a running game if only to keep defenses from pinning their ears back and blitzing on every down.
With Peterson now out of the equation, is this the game either Ingram and/or Kamara really leave their mark?
The Lions need a win to make up for their loss at home to Carolina last Sunday. A victory in New Orleans would allow them to keep pace with Green Bay and at worst stay tied with Minnesota, depending on the outcome of the Packers-Vikings matchup. Additionally, this is a conference game so its outcome could factor into tiebreakers for either the NFC North title or a wild-card berth.
The Saints are pursuing a status which they have not held at any point since the end of the 2013 season – a record above .500. They have started this season and the three previous ones losing at least their first two games. Stumbling out of the gates partially explains why they have failed to qualify for the playoffs during this same span.
This game has the look of an even matchup. Fans should expect a nail-biter that might have to be settled in overtime.
Prediction: Saints 27, Lions 24
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.