As a weekly feature, SideLion Report will be breaking down the opponent using the S.W.O.T analysis. Briefly, a SWOT analysis is a business term used to identify internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as outside, or external, opportunities and threats. SWOT is used for potential business expansion, including new sports franchises, consolidation, business-to-business talks, and a host of other benefits (including sports writing!).
This week, the Detroit Lions take on the New Orleans Saints in a game that likely will have major playoff implications. The Lions come into Sunday’s game at 7-4 and 1.5 games ahead in 1st place in the NFC North, while the Saints are 5-6 and two full games behind 1st in the NFC South. The Wild Card in the NFC is far too close to call at this point, with 11 teams with at least five wins on the year. The Lions best shot to make the playoffs is to win the North, and a loss to the Saints could hurt their Wild Card chances greatly. Let’s take a look at how the Lions can win this game and take more control over their playoff destiny.
Strength against New Orleans
This aspect is quite obvious. The Saints’ defense is well below average. Their biggest weakness on that side of the ball is their pass coverage. The Lions offense is above average, and the passing game is their strength.
The question is: can the Lions actually exploit a weakness? The only way this team has won games this year is by coming back in the final couple of minutes. No other team has ever, in the history of the league, done what Detroit has done this year in terms of winning games from comebacks. However exciting that may make the games every week, it is certainly not a sustainable way to go about a season. The Saints score in bunches just about every week. The Lions need to do the same on Sunday to have a chance.
Weakness against New Orleans
This is also blatantly obvious. Despite playing marginally better defense over the past four games, the Lions’ passing defense is still last in the league by DVOA. Only the Cleveland Browns are even close to that ugliness, and they might not allow the ’08 Lions team to pop the futility champagne after every team in the league has a win. Not something you hang on your fridge.
Drew Brees is having one of his best seasons of his career, and yet hardly anyone is shouting for his MVP chances. He is on pace for his second 5,000 yard season, and is currently sporting a 109.1 quarterback rating, good for 3rd in the league. He leads the league in completion percentage and touchdowns.
Breaking news: Drew Brees, still good.
Opportunities for Detroit
If you can believe it, the Saints on offense and defense have better DVOA rankings than the Lions do in every category. However, on special teams, the difference between the teams hardly could be any greater, and could be the wild card in this match-up.
The Saints rank 28th in special teams DVOA, and the Lions rank 4th. Wil Lutz, kicker for the Saints, has made 73% of his attempts this year (16/22) and has missed an extra point just to fit in, which ranks 31st in the NFL, only behind fellow rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo. The Saints also do not have a return touchdown this year, and rank 23rd in punt return average. The Lions and Matt Prater on the other hand, have made 87.5% of their kicks, and have two return touchdowns. Detroit also ranks 2nd in net punt average, while the Saints rank 4th. If the Lions want to try and slow down the Saints’ high-powered offense, doing so with fantastic special teams play will play a large part.
Threats against Detroit
Not only do the Saints have one of the best passing attacks in the league, they also boast a fantastic running game as well. New Orleans ranks 6th in rushing offense DVOA, which makes their offense nearly impossible to predict or stop. If the Lions focus their attention on stopping the passing game, the Saints can simply pound the ball and keep the Lions’ offense off the field. Knowing how the Lions’ offense tends to take full quarters off of moving the ball, this could be a crucial factor.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Drew Brees is top of the league in completion percentage, and the Lions give up the highest completion percentage in the league? This could get ugly if results stay the same.
This game could prove to be the toughest test that the Lions have faced yet. The Saints match up well in most areas against Detroit, and are dominant where the Lions are weakest. A loss against New Orleans would give a window of opportunity for both Minnesota and Green Bay to take the division lead, and would damage the team’s Wild Card chances greatly. This isn’t a “must win” game, but it is one that the Lions want to take to get some breathing room for the playoff push.