Lions now face a much tougher route through the NFC playoffs

Posted Jan 2, 2012

The punishment for letting the Packers’ B-team run wild on them Sunday is now the Lions have the much tougher route through the NFC playoffs.

Instead of a favorable match-up with the Giants as the No. 5 seed, the Lions’ playoff journey begins as the No. 6 seed Saturday night in New Orleans against Drew Brees and the red-hot Saints.

The Saints head into the playoffs on an eight-game win-streak and set NFL records this season for offensive yards (7,474), team passing yards (5,347) and first downs (416).

Brees, who was 28-of-35 passing for 389 yards and five touchdowns in a Week 17 victory over the Panthers, finished with a record 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning’s 2010 mark of 450.

Brees completed 71.2 percent of those passes, too, breaking his own 2009 record of a 70.6 completion percentage.

Oh yeah, Brees also threw for more yards this season (5,476) than anyone in the history of the game.

That doesn’t bode well on paper for a Lions defense that allowed back-up quarterback Matt Flynn to set new Packers records for yards (480) and touchdowns (6) in a 45-41 loss on Sunday.

The Lions need to figure out some issues on defense, and figure them out fast, because they are about to stand toe-to-toe with a quarterback who’s playing the position better than anyone in the game right now.

The Saints were undefeated at home this season, which included a 31-17 victory over the Lions, and the Superdome will no-doubt be a loud and hostile environment for the Lions.

Let’s say the Lions are able to pull off the upset in New Orleans, their reward will be a trip back to Lambeau Field in two weeks to try and avoid a third loss to the Packers this season and break a 21-game road-losing streak in Wisconsin against Aaron Rodgers the rested Packers.

That’s a tough road, and the Lions have to be disappointed it’s the road they face.

But it’s not an impossible one, as the wild card Packers proved last year in their run to the Super Bowl.

Actually, since 2005, a No. 5 or No. 6 seed has advanced to the Super Bowl in every year but one.

“This is the best team that I’ve ever been on and I think this team can play with anyone in the league,” said Lions guard Rob Sims. “The games that we lost, we weren’t all sitting in the meetings saying ‘Wow, look what they did,’ it was ‘Look what we did.’

“We’d love another shot (at the Saints). We think we can play.”

In the loss to the Saints earlier this season, the Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards, including three personal foul penalties.

"Last time we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," said Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who ended the season with 244 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Packers. "We had a ton of penalties that negated plays, took us out of good field position. So if we don't have all those things, it kind of changes the momentum around."

It’s not just a matter of cleaning up the penalties for the Lions, though. They need to play their best game of the year in all three phases to beat the Saints (13-3) on the road.

It's troubling that five of the six losses for the Lions on the season are to good teams that now lie ahead of them in the NFC playoffs (Saints, 49ers, Falcons and Packers (2)).

Lions coach Jim Schwartz was understandably angry at his team’s performance against the Packers in the post-game press conference and was hoping his players felt the same way about the game.

"Maybe it makes us angry,” Schwartz said when asked what a game like Sunday does for momentum heading into the playoffs.

The follow-up question to Schwartz was whether that was a good thing or not.

"We'll see,” he replied.