To say the Detroit Lions faced a stiff challenge entering their first playoff game of the 21st century is a little like saying Calvin Johnson is going be a decent wide receiver by the time he plays his last game.
In other words, a mild understatement.
Obviously, the Lions were going to face a deficit in playoff experience no matter the opponent because of the aforementioned drought, but it added insult to injury to draw the 2009-10 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. The football gods slipped in another couple of gut shots when you consider New Orleans was a spotless 8-0 at home during the regular season and runs a relentless offense, orchestrated by the superlative Drew Brees.
Perhaps worst of all, the Saints were taking the postseason field for the first time since last year's embarrassing first-round defeat, suffered at the hands of the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks.
Sure, the wound is a year old—when you're the defending champs and you're eliminated by the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record, I'm sure the sting lingers.
So Matthew Stafford, Megatron and company had their work cut out for them, at least on paper. Through 30 minutes of football, however, reality has not matched paper and the Las Vegas oddsmakers are looking foolish to have given Detroit 11 points.
With these five halftime adjustments, the Lions can get not only cover that sizable spread, but they can also get their first playoff victory in two decades:
1. Strike a Better Balance in the Play Calling
The Detroit Lions aren't having much trouble moving the ball, but neither are Brees and the Saints' offense. That doesn't figure to change in the second half, so the Lions defense is going to need some help from its offense. One way to do that is to stretch out the drives using the run game.
2. No More Dirty Laundry
It's no secret that an underdog needs to be basically flawless to pull off an upset and the margin for error only gets smaller as the magnitude of upset increases. The Lions suffered an idiotic flag for too many men in the huddle on their opening drive, but they managed to play through it.
Detroit can't rely on such good fortune in the second half.
3. If Some Calvin Johnson Is Good, More Is Better
It's not much of a stretch to say that Megatron is uncoverable; he's basically open as long as he's not bracketed on either hip by defenders. Calvin was a prominent part of the game in the opening quarters, but he didn't disappoint, so I'd keep leaning on him until he does.
4. Find a Way To Free Suh
Much has been made about the absence of Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh when the Saints and Lions met during the regular season. Well, the enigmatic big man is back in there for the postseason, but you wouldn't be able to tell based on his play.
If Detroit is going to finish this thing off, they're going to need to get someone in Brees' face.
Who better than the second overall pick from the 2010 draft?
5. Exploit the Saints Mistakes
Detroit did a good job of forcing a couple of first half turnovers from the Saints, but they weren't able to turn either bonus possession into points. On the one hand, that's not a huge deal because the turnovers kept New Orleans points off the board.
Nevertheless, the Lions could've really pressed the advantage had they gotten even three points in those situations. If they can keep forcing turnovers and do a better job of cashing in, the upset is there for the taking.