The Detroit Lions are the biggest underdogs of wild-card weekend. The New Orleans Saints were 11-point favorites at last check. The game shapes up on paper as an epic shootout, and on Wednesday we discussed the circumstances that must occur for the Lions to pull off the upset in that scenario.
Namely, they will have to pressure quarterback Drew Brees with their vaunted front-four pass-rushers -- and force a turnover or two, as well. Thursday morning, my friend Jeff Duncan of the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune illustrated just how difficult that will be.
As Duncan writes, the Saints have the best tandem of guards in the NFL. Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks were both named to the 2011 Pro Bowl, giving Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and his interior teammates the most formidable set of opponents imaginable. Evans and Nicks helped limit opponents to a total of five sacks over the Saints' final eight games, and no NFL team allowed fewer sacks per pass attempt than the Saints this season (3.63 percent).
Suh was suspended for the teams' Week 13 meeting, when the Lions managed to put Brees under duress on only three of his 38 dropbacks. Rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley did most of that damage; Fairley had the Lions' only sack before departing because of a sore foot.
Perhaps Fairley can reprise his success Saturday night. But this is more about Suh, who was left off of the NFC's Pro Bowl roster after an inconsistent sophomore season. In most cases, teams advance in the playoffs because their top players rise up and carry them. The Lions need their best players, including Suh, to make an elite impact Saturday night. If the best two guards in the NFL swallow him up, as they have many other opponents this season, it's hard to imagine the Lions having a chance.