The New Orleans Saints come into this game on a roll, having won eight straight games, and having scored more than 40 in each of the last three. No other team has entered the postseason with three straight 40+ point games.
33 teams since 1990 have entered the postseason with a perfect home record in the regular season. Did that home dominance continue in the postseason? Not really, at least not any more than for a normal playoff team. Those 33 teams went a combined 29-14 at home in the postseason (67.4%) while all other home playoff teams have gone 112-55 (67.1%). The teams that did in the last three seasons were the 2010 Patriots (Lost at home to the Jets), 2009 Vikings (beat the Cowboys), 2009 Patriots (lost to the Ravens), and 2008 Panthers (Lost to Arizona).
So, the home dominance may not be guaranteed based on past results of the Saints rolling teams this year, what about the win streak? 11 other teams entered by going 8-0 over the second half of the season. They went 6-5 in their first game, and 11-11 overall in the postseason. The 2003 Patriots were the only team from that list to win the Super Bowl.
New Orleans should be one of four or five top teams in consideration for the Super Bowl. Winning at home and coming in on a long winning streak, though, are not good reasons to favor them over the Packers.
Detroit, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They are in because Calvin Johnson is a freak, and Matthew Stafford can get him the ball in a variety of ways. The Lions started off hot at 5-0, but closed by losing 6 of the last 11. Among those losses was a 31-17 loss at the Superdome a month ago, when the Lions imploded with costly penalties (Titus Young had a particularly bad game, costing the Lions on several plays). Detroit did out gain New Orleans in that game, so it wasn’t the blowout the final score indicated.
The fact that the Lions have already played a game in New Orleans in the last month may also serve them well. They are a dome team. They also will be a little more familiar with playing at a place they don’t necessarily get to play all the time, a scenario where teams have shown improvement in the postseason.
The tale of the tape shows the Saints with the advantage in passing offense and rushing yards per carry, with both defenses struggling against the run.
Here is a look at the most comparable playoff teams to these Saints and Lions, using the passing and rushing rate stats on offense and defense. First, the Saints:
It makes sense that the two Super Bowl winners that most resemble this year’s Saints are the New Orleans team from two years ago, and the 2006 Colts with Peyton Manning, another team that struggled to stop the run but could pass it very well. The Buffalo Bills team from 1991 also shows up on the list, along with the 1995 Cowboys. The list is also a cautionary tale of how variable those runs can be, as the rush defense, and mediocre overall defense, can be an Achilles’ heel: the 2003 Chiefs, 2006 Chargers, and 2008 Panthers show up as home field victims.
The Lions have some similar comps to the Saints (thanks to rush defense, and somewhat due to passing offense), but are not quite as good. The similar teams did go 12-7 in the wildcard round, though, so the Lions are dangerous in a one game setting. The 2003 Chiefs show up as the #1 comp, and this Lions team is a version of that team, without Dante Hall. The Lions better hope that game isn’t duplicated: the Chiefs could never stop the Colts and make them punt, and lost a shootout.
The Line: Saints by 10.5
My Pick: I think the Saints are the better team, and I think they ultimately win this one. However, I think several of the factors favor the Lions against the line. The line is higher than I would put it based on the full season, the Lions shouldn’t have big eyes playing in the dome again, and I think there is an 8-0 boost (home, and late). My numbers say closer to a TD for New Orleans. Lions +10.5
[photo via Getty]