MSA/Icon SMI - Its all about these two guys. Suh has to play the player he was last year and Stafford just has to keep slingin it.
In the NFL you can only play who the next team that gets put on your schedule. It's always a great argument whenever somebody puts a team down by saying, "Well, look at who they played! Of course they're..." If you take apart the Lions schedule this season and look at their 6 losses (2 losses to Green Bay, 15-1, 1 to New Orleans, 13-3, 1 to San Francisco, 13-3, 1 to Chicago 8-8, and 1 to Atlanta, 10-6), you might feel justified in keeping up with that argument. Five of those six teams are going to the playoffs and Chicago was a real contender until they lost their starting quarterback for the year. You might say that the Lions just can't beat the big boys...can't hang with the real contenders...
And you may be right...
But let's look at the Lions 31-17 loss a few weeks ago to this weeks wild card opponent, the New Orleans Saints.
1. 31-17 is only two scores...For the Lions, the way they've consistently come back in games this year, it's practically tied.
2. The first game was the first game Matthew Stafford played without his protective glove...and his hand was still sore...of course he still for over 400 yards in that game...
3. This was the first game of Ndamukong Suh's suspension. Nick Fairly played extremely well for the first quarter and then was taken out after re-aggravating his previously broken foot. So the pass rush was severely hampered.
4. Kevin Smith, playing for the already IR'd Jahvid Best, went down in the second quarter with a high ankle sprain.
5. S Louis Delmas didn't play. CB Chris Houston was held out with an injury too. CB Eric Wright went out with an ankle or knee injury during the game...The secondary was decimated.
6. The Lions were called for FOUR personal foul calls which greatly helped the Saints sustain drives and score. They were also called for an incredibly ridiculous face mask call on Nate Burleson when he tried to stiff arm a defender as he was going out of bounds.
Now let's look at what will be different this game...
1. Stafford is completely healed and on fire after throwing for 520 yards and 5 TD's against the Packers (5,038 yards this season, only the fourth QB in the history of the NFL to accomplish this feat.)
2. Ndamukong Suh will play. It appears that Nick Fairly will play.
3. The entire starting secondary of the Lions is set to play...and they have a lot to prove after they gave up 480 yards and 6 TD's to Aaron Rodgers' backup.
4. Kevin Smith is healthy.
5. New Orleans RB Mark Ingram, who scored in the first game, will be out this time around.
Now all that stuff is nice and all...but in the end, I really, really think that this game comes down two things...maybe three.
1. How good of a coach is Jim Schwartz...and his assistants? The Lions have already played the Saints. They know what they're all about. What did they learn? Will the Lions' adjustments prove to be better than New Orleans' coach Sean Payton's?
2. Penalties. Will the Lions continue their assault on the NFL rulebook? Will the whistles continue to blow against the Honolulu Blue? I'm sorry, but if you've noticed anything over this season...other than everybody and their brother calls the Lions "undisciplined and dirty"...is that they are not ever getting any calls, they are the victims of facemasks and holdings and offsides and pass interferences...and they do not get calls. The Lions are getting mugged every Sunday and they are the ones being called dirty.
If you watched the Packers game, which was the first time anyone has said anything about the huge discrepancy in calls, you saw a blatant shot to the Kevin Smith's head as he scored a touchdown, no call. A touchdown not called. A muffed punt by Jordy Nelson. A non-muffed bad call on Stefan Logan...
The Lions DO seriously need to stop with all of the dumb penalties and all of the regular penalties too. They had 11 penalties against the Packers...but the games need to start getting called both ways too.
I'm not saying that's why the Lions lost to the Packers on Sunday...or all of their other losses, but the evidence of unbalanced officiating just keeps piling up. The Lions lost to the Packers because they wouldn't have been able to cover a tree...but all those penalties and non-called Packer/Saint/etc calls.
3. Ndamukong Suh needs to have a Big 12 Championship type game...and if Nick Fairly and Corey Williams could chip in too that'd be awful nice. The more pressure on Brees, the better.