SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Series is tied, 11-11-1. After winning three in a row in the series, the Saints have fallen to the Lions each of the past two seasons. In 2014, Detroit won 24-23 with two touchdowns in the final 3:38. Then, last December, the Lions extinguished the Saints' flickering playoff hopes with a 35-27 victory at the Superdome. The Saints' most famous win in the series came in their second meeting on Nov. 8, 1970, when Tom Dempsey booted a then-NFL record 63-yard field goal on the final play for a 19-17 victory at old Tulane Stadium. The Saints also claimed the only postseason matchup between the two franchises, prevailing 45-28 in a 2011 wild-card game at the Superdome.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Lions had the worst rushing offense in the NFL last year, but they piled up 150 yards on the ground in a December win over the Saints. This year, they aren't running the ball much better -- they rank 30th -- but they will need another productive day to help a defense that will be stressed by Drew Brees. Brees is the most accurate quarterback in the NFL, and the Lions are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete a whopping 74 percent of their passes.
They'll need to put up points, control the clock -- or both -- if they're going to win for the seventh time in eight games.
Since the Lions rank around the middle of the NFL pack against the run and the pass, the run-pass balance the Saints have been getting in their most recent games should come in handy Sunday. Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower have provided another option for Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, so they don't have to rely only on Brees.
The Lions rank 16th against the run, allowing 102.5 yards per game, so the Saints, who are up to ninth at 114.6 and are averaging 145.2 in the last six outings, will certainly go that route early in the game.
Defensively, the Saints will key on a Lions offense that has had trouble running the ball, ranking 30th at 80.8 yards per game. The Saints have been salty lately against the run and now rank 12th at 99.1 yards a game after ranking near the bottom of the league earlier in the season. They gave up 149.3 yards per game in their first three, but just 80.3 yards in their past eight outings.
That means the Saints will be challenged by Matthew Stafford, who is completing 66.8 percent of his passes, with 19 TDs and only five interceptions. Keeping him from getting hot with tight coverage in the back end, along with applying enough pressure, will be key.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Lions CB Quandre Diggs. Diggs has had an underwhelming season as the Lions' nickel cornerback after playing well upon winning the job in the second half of last year. The Lions have used three safeties in their nickel package at times to cover up for some of Diggs' shortcomings, but Diggs should see plenty of action this week. Thomas, a rookie second-round pick, leads the Saints with 65 catches for 789 yards and plays plenty of snaps out of the slot despite being 6 feet 3.
--Lions TE Eric Ebron vs. Saints S Vonn Bell. Ebron had just one target and no catches in last week's win over the Minnesota Vikings; but, with 451 yards receiving, he has been one of the Lions' most productive pass catchers this year. The Vikings kept close tabs on Ebron, sometimes double-teaming him and using their speedy linebackers to make him a nonfactor. Bell has one pass breakup in each of the last three games, and the rookie rarely comes off the field for New Orleans.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT:
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
--Questionable: RB Mark Ingram (toe)
Lions LB Josh Bynes. The Lions lost a handful of linebackers to injury early this year, including Bynes, Jon Bostic and DeAndre Levy. While Bostic remains on injured reserve following a broken foot and Levy still hasn't returned from a Week 1 knee injury, the Lions cut Bynes in the preseason with intentions of re-signing him once he was healthy. They did, and Bynes has given the defense a huge lift. He has been a fixture in the Lions' base defense and nickel package, and he has come up with a number of key stops in the four weeks since he returned -- including a key fourth-and-1 stop on Matt Asiata in an early November win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford completed 22 of 25 for 254 yards and three TDs in the last meeting. He has 1,949 passing yards, 15 TD passes and four interceptions in his past seven road games.
Detroit RB Theo Riddick is tied for the NFL lead among RBs with four receiving scores. In the past two seasons, he leads NFL backs with 128 receptions.
Saints QB Drew Brees passed for 310 yards and four touchdowns, also rushing for one, last week. He leads the NFL with 3,587 pass yards and 30 TD passes -- his ninth season with 30 TD passes, tied for most all-time. He has thrown a TD pass in an NFL-record 60 consecutive home games.
Saints RB Tim Hightower has 100 scrimmage yards in four of the past five games.
Saints rookie WR Michael Thomas leads NFL rookies with 65 receptions, 789 yards and seven TD catches.
The Lions haven't played a game decided by more than a touchdown all season, but they also have played few offenses as explosive as the Saints' crew and have had trouble winning the close ones on the road.
OUR PICK: Saints, 30-27.