It came to me like a bolt from the blue. Set it in stone, the book is writ. If a curmudgeon like me can come around then it must be so.
Game over. Flawless Victory.
Okay, so there is still the little matter of 60 minutes of football to be played so let's figure out how it's going to happen.
The Lions have gone through something like a 90% personnel turnover since the last time they won a game, both on the field, in the coaching ranks, and above, so it is not so simple as to look back at prior victories and say 'they'll do it like that!'. But in a sense, this is one of the team's better weapons. We don't really know what they are going to do, and neither do the New Orleans Saints. But even so, here's how the victory will unfold:
Stafford Those who expect a big day out of Stafford will be disappointed, and that's probably a good thing. If Stafford throws for over 250 yards Detroit will almost certainly lose. Stafford will spend the afternoon practicing handoffs but will also manage to avoid any turnovers. Look for him to turn in an efficient 10/16/150/1 performance.
The Offense The key to this win will be Detroit's new ball control offense. Detroit finished tied for 3rd preseason in rushing attempts and 2nd for rushing yardage with a robust 5.1 yards per carry (tied for 1st). While the latter number is a little bit smoke and mirrors, take away Tristan Davis' 80 yard touchdown and the team was closer to 4.0 yards/carry, the rushing attempts are the true story. Detroit will run and run and run. New Orleans will have no answer for the right side of the Lions line, and when they do overload to stop the run the Lions will snap off screens to Kevin Smith or take shots downfield. Gregg Williams blitzes and pressures get thwarted as he gets outcoached by Linehan and Schwartz in each of their respective debuts.
The Running Backs Kevin Smith will get the most of the work but expect Morris to see about 10 carries and Felton another 4-5. Watch for a single sweep play for Aaron Brown. Detroit rushes 35 times for 150 yards and one touchdown.
Defensive Front Seven This is where the game will be decided. Pro Bowl left tackle Jamaal Brown is out for New Orleans and his absence cannot be underestimated. Watch for Sammy Hill to dominate his gap while the remaining tackle rotation gums up the interior. Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims will shut down the sweeps and off-tackle runs and by the end of the first quarter New Orleans will be forced to abandon the run. Detroit's soft zone will offer plenty of targets to Drew Brees but pressure up front will make it hard for him to breath and he will be forced into plenty of mistakes.
The Defensive Backs It is hard to imagine that they won't be exposed against this prolific passing team, but Detroit winning the time of possession battle and sustaining pressure up front will mitigate the damage. Brees goes for almost 400 yards and 3 TDs but also throws 2 INTs.
The Kicking Games Hanson is back strong. His kickoffs will lack depth but he is smart and will not expose the Lion coverage unit with bad kicks. New Orleans will get good starting field positions but not great. Watch for Lion drives to stall out and for Hanson to come through. On the other end of the field Garrett Hartley is suspended for taking a stimulant and the team signed John Carney to spell him. Carney made the Pro Bowl for the Giants last year on the back of his great accuracy but he no longer has the leg for deep kickoffs or long field goals. Look for Detroit to consistently get great field position with Aaron Brown shining in the return game. Also watch for New Orleans to be put into some awkward situations inside the Lions 40 where they are outside of Carney's range.
The End Game It will be a see-saw game. Detroit will jump ahead early and maintain the lead throughout the first half, going into halftime up 17-14, and will trade scores deep into the fourth quarter when the Saints go ahead 28-26 on Brees' third TD pass. The Lions will mount a clock grinding, back breaking, field-long drive culminated by Hanson's 3rd field goal with less than 0:30 to go for a 29-28 final.
So there you go. Sorry for the big spoiler. Now go cut the lawn.
Live Gameday discussion Here, in The Den