DETROIT LIONS (3-2) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 12-11-1. Detroit has won the past three, including a 28-13 victory in New Orleans last December. New Orleans is 8-5 in home games, which includes a 13-12 loss at the Alamodome in San Antonio in 2005 when the Saints were displaced because of Hurricane Katrina. The first meeting in New Orleans was memorable because Tom Dempsey kicked a then-NFL-record 63-yard field goal on the final play to give New Orleans a 19-17 victory at Tulane Stadium. New Orleans won the only playoff meeting, 45-28, in a wild-card game at the Superdome during the 2011 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Matthew Stafford won’t be 100 percent because of the ankle injury he suffered against the Panthers, so the Lions will have to take some pressure off him with a good running game and better pass protection.
The Saints are averaging almost three sacks a game and have Cameron Jordan wreaking havoc off the left end spot. Stafford has had big games against the Saints in the past, but the Lions might try to get Ameer Abdullah going early.
On defense, the Lions need to get back to their turnover-forcing ways, but that won’t be easy against a Saints team that has yet to lose a fumble or throw an interception.
This game could turn into a shootout between Drew Brees and Stafford, though Detroit is uncharacteristically ranked 29th in total offense and 23rd in passing offense. New Orleans would like to be balanced on offense, but it likely will be up to Brees to set the tone through the air.
The Saints’ defense, which had four sacks against Miami two weeks ago, will try to duplicate that kind of pressure against Stafford.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Lions WR Golden Tate vs. Saints S Kenny Vaccaro. Third wide receiver Kenny Golladay is on track to return this week, which means Tate will play primarily out of the slot in three-receiver sets. The Saints roll with three safeties in their nickel package often, which means Tate will see plenty of Vaccaro. With a team-high 29 catches for 267 yards, Tate is the Lions’ go-to receiver.
–Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Slay had his worst game of the season last week against Kelvin Benjamin, and while Thomas might be a better receiver overall, this matchup should be more up Slay’s alley. The 6-5 Benjamin gave the 6-foot Slay fits with his big frame. Thomas is two inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Benjamin. Slay has had a good season, and his performance will be key to a victory against the Saints.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Out: LB Paul Worrilow (knee)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions TE Darren Fells. It’s about time Fells started getting respect as the Lions’ No. 1 tight end. The Lions have opened all five games this year in two-tight-end sets, but Fells has played more snaps than Eric Ebron (and been more effective) the last two weeks. He has just eight catches for 75 yards, but Fells scored two touchdowns in last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers and he’s an invaluable part of the offense as a pass and run blocker.
FAST FACTS: Lions QB Matthew Stafford passed for 229 yards with two TDs and no interceptions last week. In the past five meetings (including playoffs), he has 1,682 passing yards, 11 TDs and five interceptions. He has 1,399 passing yards, 11 TDs and no interceptions in his past seven games vs. NFC South. … Detroit RB Ameer Abdullah has 315 scrimmage yards and two TDs in his past three road games. … Detroit DE Ezekiel Ansah had a sack in Week 5 and has five sacks and a forced fumble in his past four road games. … Saints QB Drew Brees has 1,367 passing yards, 12 TDs and four interceptions in four career home meetings. He has 300 passing yards in all six career meetings. In the past 11 home games, he has 3,876 passing yards (352.4 per game), 28 TDs and seven interceptions. … Saints RB Mark Ingram has four TDs in his past four games at home. … Saints DE Cameron Jordan aims for his third game in a row with a sack. He has 40.5 sacks since 2013, tied for fourth most in NFC.
PREDICTION: The injury wheel of fortune hit the Lions this week with the loss of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (biceps) for the season. In a close game like this one figures to be, going without your best interior D-lineman can make a difference. That will help the Saints make it three in a row.
OUR PICK: Saints, 27-21.