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Sunday Night NFL Pick: New Orleans Saints Gets Visit From Detroit Lions

by Aengus Moorehead

Matthew Stafford - Sunday Night NFL Pick: New Orleans Saints Gets Visit From Detroit Lions

If there was a defensive lineman who could wreak havoc on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, it would be Detroit Lions All-Pro Ndamukong Suh.

For Brees' sake, Suh will not be anywhere near the field of play for Sunday's showdown between the Saints and Lions at the Superdome, and he will not be available for the following week's contest versus Minnesota. Suh was suspended for two games this week after blatantly pushing Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith's head to the turf a couple of times, then stomping on his right arm during a 27-15 loss to the Packers on Thanksgiving.

Suh's well known for playing with a reckless abandon and even visited with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a few weeks ago to get a better feel on how he should approach the game. Fines and penalties are beginning to add up for the ferocious second-year pro, and his presence will be missed up front.

Rookie Nick Fairley has yet to live up to his first-round selection back in April's draft and has been bothered by a foot injury all season. He has played in each of the last three games and said he is in his best shape right now. Head coach Jim Schwartz feels Fairley has been contributing nicely during his limited time and said his big tackle will be ready for the extended reps.

Even with Suh, the Lions defense has been average for much of this season, as the unit is 23rd against the run and 18th in points allowed. With New Orleans next on the docket, it will be important for Detroit's interior line to disrupt Brees as much as possible.

Defensive tackles Corey Williams, Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen are expected to rotate up front with Fairley for the Lions, who have alternated wins and losses over their last five games and are tied with Chicago for second in the NFC North behind unbeaten Green Bay. The Packers appear headed for a division title, leaving both the Lions and Bears fighting for a Wild Card berth.

Detroit may be able keep up with the Saints offensively in large part to quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The Lions have scored no more than 19 points in each of their four losses this season, but have lit up the scoreboard by accumulating an average of 36 points in the seven victories.

The Saints know a thing or two about scoring points and are second in the league with an average 32.9 per game. They just drilled the New York Giants at home by a 49-24 count on Monday night and Brees is starting to make a case for MVP of the league. He and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are the top two candidates for the honor.

Brees and the Saints are first in the NFC South, one game ahead of Atlanta, and racked up 577 yards of offense -- the second-highest total in team history behind a 595-yard explosion against Cincinnati in 2006 -- against New York. Brees had four touchdown passes and no interceptions and also ran for a score. He threw for 363 yards to reach the 300-yard mark for the eighth time this season. His 3,689 yards on the year leads the NFL, and the veteran quarterback is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing mark of 5,084 yards.

Brees, who came close to Marino's record in 2008 with a career-best 5,069 yards, instead has his sights set on Detroit.

New Orleans has been anything but dull lately in posting three straight wins and will look to stay unbeaten at home (5-0) this season. It is averaging 42 points per game as the host this season and may need to keep up with the Lions, since the defense hasn't been so spectacular, especially against the pass. The Saints are 27th in pass defense and 25th in yards allowed. The Giants' Eli Manning just threw for 406 yards and two scores against Gregg Williams' group, which could be in for a see-saw battle with Stafford and Johnson.

New Orleans took a 10-9-1 lead in its overall series with Detroit by virtue of a 45-27 triumph at the Superdome in the 2009 regular season opener, and also routed the Lions by a 42-7 count at Ford Field during Week 16 of the 2008 campaign. Detroit's last victory over the Saints took place in San Antonio in 2005, a 13-12 decision that was the last of three straight wins by the Lions over New Orleans. That string began with a 14-10 ousting at the Superdome on Sept. 3, 2000.

The Saints' Sean Payton has won both his two previous meetings with the Lions as a head coach, while Schwartz lost his only prior encounter with both New Orleans and Payton with that 2009 result.

Time & Venue:
- 8:20 PM ET, Sunday, December 4, 2011. Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

Last Week's results:
- Detroit Lions (+6) loses to visiting Green Bay Packers 27-15.
- New Orleans Saints (-7) beats visiting NY Giants 49-24

Last week's ATS:
- Underdog Detroit Lions (7-4) loses and does not cover
- Favourite New Orleans Saints (8-3) wins and covers.

NFL Football Odds: Saints -9, O/U 54

Next up:
- Detroit home to Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, December 11
- New Orleans at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, December 11

Detroit stayed close for a half before getting blown out in the third quarter by Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Suh’s ejection, for stomping on the arm of a Packer lineman, helped turn the game into a rout. RB Kevin Smith may be unavailable due to a high ankle sprain, and starting CB Chris Houston and S Louis Delmas are expected to sit out. That puts more pressure on the Matt Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection to produce points and keep pace with the Saints.

Only Green Bay has scored more points than New Orleans, which is coming off a 49-24 thrashing of the New York Giants. Brees threw four scoring passes and ran for another in the romp. He has at least 20 completions in an NFL-record 31 straight games and has tossed a TD pass in 38 consecutive games – second only to Johnny Unitas (47). Jimmy Graham caught two TD passes and leads NFL tight ends in receptions (67) and yards (957).

Johnson is Detroit's best option at beating the Saints in their own backyard, but only happens if Stafford is on his game. In what's expected to be a high-scoring affair with little defense, the Lions have a strong shot for an upset if their quarterback plays well.

Is there anything the Lions can do to slow down Brees and his many targets? Sure, but they will have to cause problems up front in the absence of Suh. Brees has to be elated knowing that he won't have to keep looking for No. 90 bearing down his back and is usually up to any challenge regardless. Fairley will get his chance to shine under the bright lights of the Big Easy, and Detroit needs the rookie to step up.

New Orleans rumbled for 205 yards rushing against the Giants and will look to duplicate that performance this weekend. The Lions are giving up 127.3 rushing yards per game and will find it tough sledding if they have trouble against Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles when containing Brees is at the top of the agenda.

Brees threw a career-high six TD passes in a 45-27 win over the Lions in 2009. New Orleans has outscored Detroit 87-34 in the last two meetings.

Lions WR Johnson has a league-high 12 TD receptions. He's only the third receiver (Lance Alworth, Jerry Rice) to reach that mark in three of their first five seasons.

One of the most memorable plays in NFL history occurred in a matchup between Detroit and New Orleans, when Tom Dempsey kicked a record 63-yard field goal in 1970 to give the Saints a 19-17 win.

New Orleans4-0-1 SU in its last 5 games at home
The total has gone UNDER in 8 of New Orleans's last 11 games when playing Detroit
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of New Orleans's last 6 games when playing at home against Detroit
Detroit is 5-1-1 ATS in its last 7 games on the road
Detroit is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games
Detroit is 11-4-1 ATS in its last 16 games

Whether Detroit pulls off an upset or not, the absence of Suh will have an impact either way. The Lions are a talented bunch mainly because of their offense, but will need the defense to pull out all of the stops Sunday in the Big Easy. That means playing perfectly against Brees is a must, but unfortunately it will be an impossible task for the upstart Lions. New Orleans is clicking at the right time and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, unless it's at Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI.

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NFL Football Pick: Take points and Lions..

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