The stage is set for a shootout in the Superdome when sharpshooting quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints take on rifle-armed Matt Stafford and the visiting Detroit Lions today in the NFL playoffs.
The climate-controlled indoor stadium is ideal for an airshow between a New Orleans team aching to return to the Super Bowl they won two seasons ago and an emerging Detroit (10-6) club in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
Last year, the Saints’ defense of the title was derailed when they lost a first-round playoff game against Seattle.
This season, Brees broke the NFL single-season record for yards passing (5,476), completions (468) and completion percentage (71.2) for the NFC South champion Saints (13-3), who enter the post-season on an eight-game win streak.
Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, was not far behind as he also exceeded the milestone 5,000-yard mark (5,038) and threw for 41 touchdowns, five fewer than Brees.
Brees, named this season to his sixth Pro Bowl team, tipped his cap to his young counterpart.
“I’m very impressed. I think he’s had a phenomenal season,” Brees told reporters. “I don’t think he’s received the credit that he deserves.”
The Saints beat Detroit 31-17 in Week 13, taking advantage of errors by the Lions, who were hit with 11 penalties for 107 yards and were without safety Louis Delmas (injury) and tackle Ndamukong Suh (suspension).
Brees acknowledged that the return of Suh and Delmas would make it tougher for the Saints.
Calvin Smith, one of Stafford’s prime targets, missed some practice this week because of an Achilles injury, but was expected to be ready for today’s clash.
New Orleans had the second-ranked offense in the NFL behind the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, while Detroit ranked fourth.
However, the Saints are better balanced as they stood sixth in the league in rushing thanks to Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and brilliant all-purpose back Darren Sproles, while Detroit rated only 29th in running the ball.
Defensively, Detroit relies on a strong front seven anchored by Suh, who missed their last meeting after being hit with a two-game suspension for a roughing incident.
New Orleans, who rank 13th in defense versus 23rd for Detroit, relie on blitz schemes to pressure the quarterback.
“You’ve got to hurt the blitz when they do bring it,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.