Defensive prediction almost offensive

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton gives instructions from the sidelines during the team's...

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton gives instructions from the sidelines during the team's NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Louisiana, December 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Sean Gardner)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:52 PM ET

This being the Big Easy and the home of voodoo, there are those here who believe mystical powers can make just about anything happen.

If that is true, count among the possibilities over the next few days: Bourbon Street running dry of booze on the busiest football weekend of the year, the Mississippi River freezing over and a straight-faced prediction from Saints coach Sean Payton coming true.

“I wouldn’t say (a shootout) is the direction this one is headed,” Payton said of Saturday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the Detroit Lions. “This one could end up being 17-10.”

If Payton truly believes his own words, he may be the only one.

Saints fans, who have seen their team, led by quarterback Drew Brees’ record passing season, put up an average of more than 41 points at home, certainly aren’t buying it.

The Lions can’t be anticipating a low-scoring affair either, not after their own offensively impressive campaign, plus the defensive difficulty they had slowing the Green Bay Packers reserves last Sunday in an important game.

And the oddsmakers certainly aren’t buying what Payton is selling. The over/under number for this game is 59, a bloated total reflective of what both teams have done this season and the highest ever set for an NFL playoff game.

While Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers were overshadowed by Brees, he too topped 5,000 passing yards and, between the pair, they had a total of 10,514 yards and 87 touchdowns.

So, how can the defences flex their muscles and be a factor in this one?

Well, the Saints are banking on their recent form of not allowing more than 20 points in any of their past five games, while the Lions are hoping that the return of Ndamukong Suh, the punishing defensive tackle who missed the regular-season meeting while suspended for his Thanksgiving Day stomping of a Packers player, will reverse the field.

“The thing that gets lost in this whole offensive explosion (the Saints) have had is that the most points the defence has given up in the last six weeks has been 20 points,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “That has been a big part of them getting as hot as they have been.”

The return of Suh can’t be underestimated, given how his absence was felt in that 31-17 loss at the Superdome on Dec. 4, though the Lions have struggled on D without him, as well.

“I don’t plan on anybody shooting our defence out,” Suh told reporters in Detroit this week. “You can’t discredit the type of offensive team that we’re going to face in the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is obviously a great quarterback and I look at it as a great challenge.

“We were definitely beat up the last time we were down there in multiple ways and for multiple reasons, (but) it doesn’t matter what you did in the regular season.”

What Suh doesn’t account for is the embarrassment in Green Bay last week when the Lions had an opportunity to get an easier first-round date with a win over what was essentially Packers backups. We know how well that worked out as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy, Matt Flynn, threw for six touchdowns on a defence aiming to be playoff-ready.

While Payton’s 17-10 prognostication isn’t going to happen, there exists the possibility that the Saints try to slow down the game, something they did in their Super Bowl win over Indianapolis two years ago. In that game, which had the previous playoff over/under high of 551/2 points, the Saints kept the ball away from Peyton Manning and Co., long enough to record a 31-17 win.

“We don’t want a shootout type of game,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “We want to go out and control the tempo as a defence and kind of put our foot down early and let our offence get as many possessions as possible.”

When they turn the ball over to Brees, it isn’t automatic that he will be throwing on every down, either. The Saints have concentrated on adding some balance with a running game that is just dangerous enough to help set up the passing attack.

The Lions, meanwhile, are doing their best to play down the fact that they need a taste of the playoffs before they can pull of a run in this, their first post-season appearance since 1999.

“There is something to being battle-tested and playing in a lot of games that are close and having to come back from being down,” Schwartz said in reference to some of the Lions’ big rallies early in the season. “I think you are a better team at the end of the season because of all that. It’s just life in the NFL. There has only been one team that has ever gone through and won them all.

“Every step along the way is a learning experience.”


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