After wrapping up the 2011 season on Sunday with a 45-17 win over the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Saints (13-3) will host the upstart Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs tonight.
Today’s game will mark the first time that the Saints and Lions have met in the playoffs as the contest will also mark the end of an 11-season postseason drought for Detroit. The Saints lead the all-time series, 11-9-1, having won the last three meetings, including a 31-17 victory at the Superdome in primetime on December 4.
The Lions punched the ticket to their first postseason since the 1999 campaign with a 10-6 campaign, a mark that was last met in 1995. The roar to the Lions has been restored by wholesale changes on the coaching staff and roster since they finished 0-16 in 2008, led by the hiring of head coach Jim Schwartz and supplemented by the additions of talented players through the draft such as QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew and DT Ndamukong Suh, to supplement talented players that were already on the roster led by DE Cliff Avril and WR Calvin Johnson. In only his third NFL season, Stafford completed 421-of-663 passes for 5,038 yards, 41 touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and a 97.2 passer rating. Johnson has evolved into one of the NFL’s most explosive wideouts with 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011. In the team’s regular season-closing 45-41 loss to Green Bay, Stafford, the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, completed 36-of-59 passes for 520 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions to become only the fourth player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, while Johnson was the recipient of 11 of these throws, putting up 244 yards in receiving with one of the scoring grabs
As we saw the previous time we faced them as well as throughout the season, their offense is a lot like ours in that they have the ability to make explosive plays in the passing game,” said LB
The Saints enter the postseason after a record-setting 2011 season, where numerous team and individual franchise and NFL marks went by the wayside. With a 13-3 record, they tied the franchise record for regular season victories originally set in 2009. They were only one of three NFL teams to finish 8-0 at home, a feat which they accomplished for the first time. Winning their final eight regular season games, the Black and Gold finished tied with New England for the longest current win streak in the NFL.
New Orleans ended the regular season by shattering the NFL record for yards against in a season by 399 yards with 7,475. While well known for their explosive pass offense led by QB
While Brees was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl as a Saints, four of his teammates on the offensive unit also received the honor, showing there is no lack for firepower. Three of these selections were on the offensive line in T
Several members of the skill unit also enjoyed standout campaigns. A powerful run game increased in the league rankings from 28th to sixth, led by the quartet of
The passing game was headlined by the exploits of WR
A defensive unit fought injuries in the linebacker corps to surrender 20 points or less in each of their last five games, peaking at just the right time.
On the defensive line, DE
Vilma, a defensive co-captain with Smith, despite missing five games with a knee injury, finished with 67 tackles, four passes defenses, one forced fumble and a team-leading three fumble recoveries.
On the back end of the defense, the cornerback trio of
A New Orleans win tonight would advance the Saints to the NFC Divisional Playoff where they would face the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park next Saturday.