A couple of 1-2 teams seek to reach .500
The story has been the same for New Orleans early in 2020: they were once again hampered by penalties, especially in pass defense. The Saints were locked in a back-and-forth affair with the Packers but wasted a key opportunity when Taysom Hill fumbled the ball on the edge of field goal range with the game tied at 27. Green Bay scored on its next two possessions and never relinquished the lead.
The Lions, meanwhile, picked up their first victory of the season while handing Arizona its first defeat. Detroit shut out the Cardinals in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Matt Prater connected on two field-goal attempts. The second occurred as the game clock expired.
The Saints lead the all-time series, 13-12-1, although Detroit has the edge at home, 7-3-1. New Orleans won the most recent meeting, 52-38, in 2017 after dropping the previous three matchups.
New Orleans at Detroit
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Lions contain Alvin Kamara?
With the absence of Michael Thomas in the last two games, the Saints' offense has increased its reliance on Kamara. The running back contributed 197 yards from scrimmage against Green Bay and 174 at Las Vegas. He has scored two touchdowns in each game so far this year. Can Kamara continue such a high level of production?
The Lions have already been burned by a versatile running back in 2020. In the loss at Green Bay, the Lions allowed Aaron Jones to rack up 168 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He also caught a team-high four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown reception as well. Kamara is even more talented than Jones, so the Lions will need a much better effort in this contest.
2. Who will win the turnover battle?
Detroit's fortunes this season have depended on coming out ahead in terms of turnovers. The Lions' two defeats so far have pivoted on a turnover at a critical point of the games. Protecting the ball proved essential last week against the Cardinals.
In the season-opener, Matthew Stafford's interception set up the Bears at the Lions' 37 yard-line. Fewer than three minutes remained in the game at that time, and Chicago scored the game-winning touchdown as a result. That was the sole turnover in the game.
The following week at Green Bay, another Stafford interception crushed the Lions' hopes. Already trailing by 10 midway through the third quarter, Chandon Sullivan picked off a pass and returned it seven yards to the end zone. In contrast, the Packers never gave away the ball.
At Arizona, the Lions flipped the ratio in their favor. Duron Harmon intercepted a pass on the Cardinals' first drive, which had reached the Lions' 30-yard line. In the second quarter, Jamie Collins Sr. picked off a pass at the Cardinals' 28-yard line to set up the Lions' first touchdown drive. And midway through the third quarter, Jeff Okudah returned an interception 36 yards, leading to a field goal. Just as importantly, the Lions did not give away the ball.
Turnovers also played a role in the outcomes of the Saints' previous games. They picked off three of Tom Brady's passes while not giving away the ball in the win over Tampa Bay. An interception late in the second quarter in Saints' territory gave the Raiders the chance to tie the game going into the locker rooms. And, of course, Hill's fourth-quarter fumble against Green Bay, the sole turnover of the contest, led to the Packers' go-ahead field goal.
3. The return of a key wide receiver for both teams?
Michael Thomas has resumed practicing with the Saints this week. He missed the two previous contests after sustaining a high ankle sprain late in the season opener. Before leaving that game versus the Buccaneers, he had hauled in three passes for 17 yards. Last season, he led the NFL in receptions (149) and receiving yards (1,725) in addition to catching nine touchdown passes. Drew Brees' arm strength has left much to be desired this season, but they still expect more out of their star receiver when healthy since he's as dangerous as any player on slants.
Kenny Golladay is listed as questionable for this game. He missed the first two games of the season. During his only action so far in 2020, he caught six of seven passes thrown to him for 57 yards and a touchdown. In 2019, he had 65 receptions for 1,190 yards with his 11 touchdown receptions as the most in the league. Will his hamstring heal enough to contribute toward the Lions' offense again this week?
The Saints notoriously have struggled in the first quarter of the season under head coach Sean Payton. After Payton returned in 2013 following his year-long suspension, his squads started a season 1-2 or worse in four seasons (2014 through 2017). The Saints stumbled to 1-3 out of the gates in three of those seasons, finishing 7-9 and out of the playoffs each time.
Detroit already finds itself two games behind Green Bay and Chicago in the NFC North. That deficit also includes a loss to both teams. A second loss at home this early in the season would make any chance of winning the division implausible.
Can the Saints halt this early skid before they crash? Will the Lions start a winning streak after ending their slide of 11 straight defeats? The Saints should emerge with the .500 record after this matchup.
Prediction: Saints 34, 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.