Saints vs. Lions Preview: Keys to UNDER-Standing the Wild Card Game of the Week

Mark CrystelContributor IIIJanuary 6, 2012

The Saints haven't forgotten what happened in Seattle last season
The Saints haven't forgotten what happened in Seattle last seasonChris Graythen/Getty Images

Creole dishes.  Crawfish.  Cajun flavor.  These are all the foods that help make New Orleans so famous, and those who travel there often leave with a delicious, spicy aftertaste in their mouths.

For the Saints, they've had bitter coffee stains on their teeth ever since leaving Seattle last January.

For the second straight season, the Saints open up as about a 10-point favorite on Wild Card Weekend, but they'll have a chance to make up for last season's early exit in front of their own fans. 

What's even higher is the over/under, which is set at almost 60 points.  After all, the Saints did finish second in the league in scoring while Detroit finished fourth.  Additionally, the Saints have scored over 40 points in each of their last three games. 

Will the Lions and Saints live up to the statistics and provide a Superdome shootout, or will defense and/or turnovers steal the headlines?

Let's take a closer look.

Since 2005, all of the teams which finished in the "top three" in scoring made the playoffs except the 2010 San Diego Chargers at 9-7.  But one thing stayed the same:  of all those teams, just two achieved a playoff game that totaled 60 points or more.  One of those teams was Green Bay in 2010, which won a wild overtime game at Arizona.  The other was the Colts in January, 2007 with a 38-34 win over New England.

The Lions went UNDER the total against the Saints and Packers this season, and both games were indoors.
The Lions went UNDER the total against the Saints and Packers this season, and both games were indoors.Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Drew Brees' Saints and Brett Favre's Vikings finished in the top three in scoring in 2009 and hit 59 points a couple of times in their playoff games, but not 60.

All in all, of the last 34 occurrences in the NFL playoffs which featured a team that finished top three in scoring for the season, only two times did their playoff games go over 60 points.  That's less than six percent!

Unlike bowl games in college football such as Oklahoma State and Stanford, NFL playoff football is often focused more on defense and even high octane teams sometimes play it more careful and conservative.  Teams that would normally pass the ball on 3rd-and-2 might instead run the ball, which will keep the clock running and potentially benefit those who dare to back the UNDER, especially when it's as high as 59 points.

It's true the Lions also finished toward the top in the league in scoring, fourth overall with just under 30 points per game, and the Saints come into this game with tremendous offensive momentum.

But if the first game between these two teams back in early December is any indication, Lions coach Jim Schwartz might attempt to employ the same type of game plan which kept his team within a touchdown of the Saints until midway through the fourth quarter.

In a 31-17 loss, the Lions held the ball for 35 minutes, the most of any Saints opponent this season, and threw the ball to 10 different receivers all over the field in an effort to keep the Saints offense off the field.

When the game was over, it ultimately didn't work, but the Saints also played a turnover free game.  If Detroit can force a couple of turnovers and stall Saints' scoring drives, while strategically milking the clock, the game total of 59 points could end up more like the 31-17 result the first time these two teams played.

In addition to their game with the Saints which went under the total of 55 points, the Lions also went under the total when they played the Packers, also indoors, and the Packers finished number one in offense ahead of the Saints. 

Like the Saints when they played the Lions, the Packers did not turn the ball over against Detroit and they still had only seven points by halftime.

Interestingly enough, the Lions went under the total in those two games against the Packers and Saints without linebacker Ndamukong Suh.  They were also without defensive backs Chris Houston and Luis Delmas.  All three defenders are expected to play this weekend.

This weekend's Lions-Saints matchup with a total set at 59 points by odds makers is by far the highest of the four Wild Card Round games.  Taking the one wild card game which featured the highest point total in the last five seasons, only two of the five match ups achieved 60 or more points.

Additionally, the first matchup between these teams featured a total set at 55 points, so odds makers have given the number a four point bump.  That's usually a fine time to go the other way- especially in playoff football. 

It's true the Saints come into this game with three consecutive high scoring affairs which broke the 60-point plateau, but prior to that, just four of their 13 games went over 60 points.  The Lions played in five 60-point games this season. 

Even some of the historic but recent powerful offensive teams have gone under the number in their highest total of the season.  Take the 2001 Rams, for example, who just went under 59.5 points in a 42-17 win over the Colts. 

The 2006 Colts, winners of the Super Bowl, went under the total against the Bengals in what was their highest number of the season (54). 

And back in 2007, Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots squared off against Peyton Manning and the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts in what was deemed to be a shoot out under the dome in Indianapolis with the total set at 57 points.  New England won the game on the way to a 16-0 season by a score of 24-20.

Don't be surprised if a similar result transpires in the bayou as the Saints dispose of the Lions.

Take game total UNDER 59 points