The Detroit Lions are playing the 2020 version of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, not the legend whose place is assured as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.
What the Lions see now in the 41-year-old quarterback's performance has their attention. Their scouting reports from the first three games show them a quarterback who is still dangerous and cannot be taken for granted.
While critics and analysts claim diminished arm strength has reduced Brees' effectiveness – and the eye test supports that to some degree – Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin has prepared his unit to face Brees at his best.
"I've seen enough plays in the first three games where he can still throw it down the field," Undlin said this week. "Maybe not as much, but I'm not going to put into question his arm strength or where he can throw it or he can't throw it.
"All I know is, wherever he throws it, it's usually pretty accurate."
The warning for the defense is clear: Beware of what Brees still can do.
There are pivotal moments in every season, and this surely is one for the Lions. A victory today will send them into the bye week with a 2-2 won-loss record and a second straight win after last week's road victory over a Cardinals team that was 2-0 going into the game.
Despite being slight underdogs to the Saints – who are also 1-2 with two straight losses -- this is a winnable game for the Lions. The Saints do not resemble at this point the team that went 13-3 the last two years.
The Lions were improved in many ways over the previous two games in last week's performance against the Cardinals.
The defense came up with three turnovers, all on interceptions, and the special teams were strong in all phases – kicking, punting and coverage.
The offense needs to improve in the red zone, but the running game helped control the game, and quarterback Matthew Stafford led the 29th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of his career.
Finishing the game with a dominant fourth quarter was a positive sign.
They need a repeat today.
My pick predicts that will happen.
Quote to note: Peterson, on the opportunity to get to 2-2: "It's very motivating. It's something that Coach (Matt Patricia) has touched on. That's our goal. It's a huge difference being 2-2 than the alternative."
Home field advantage: The Lions have to create one for themselves, and they can't blame not having fans in the stands as a factor. They were 2-6 at Ford Field last year, 3-5 in 2018 and 4-4 in 2017.
Saint to watch: Taysom Hill had one catch for one yard and two runs for six in last week's game, and he hadn't done much more than that in the first two games – five runs for 21 yards and one catch for 14 yards.
That doesn't mean he can be ignored. Hill is a tremendous athlete and a versatile player. He has been used at running back, wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and on special teams. He has six career TD catches – all in 2018 on just 19 receptions.
Golladay's day: Golladay played well in his first game after missing the first two with a hamstring injury, even though he was limited in practice leading up to the game. He caught six passes, with one of them a leaping 15-yard TD catch over a safety he overpowered at the goal line. Golladay was not listed on the daily practice report this week – a sign that he was at full strength and not limited in practice.
Veteran mentor: Peterson played that role with rookie running back D’Andre Swift last week. Swift played only six of 66 snaps, and Peterson said he told Swift to keep his head in the game and ready if his number was called. Swift followed Peterson's advice and turned a short pass into a 19-yard gain in the last minute of the first half. Golladay made his TD catch on the next play.
Prediction: The Saints are favored, and they should be. They've won three straight NFC South titles, and there isn't enough evidence in a 1-2 start to write off a team that had 13-3 records the last two seasons, as the Saints have. But the Lions are developing into a tougher, better and more resilient team. At some point a team has to step out and assert itself as a legitimate contender. This is one of those times for the Lions.
Pick: Lions 31, Saints 27.