By Michael Ferro

The annual Thanksgiving Day game has come and gone, and the Detroit Lions are still in first place in the NFC North. By the looks of it, the Lions might be able to win the division and make it into the playoffs. After Matthew Stafford and his teammates mounted another fourth quarter comeback and stole the win from Minnesota 16-13, sweeping the Vikings for the season, Detroit proved that it belongs in first place.

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With just five games remaining and a 7-4 record, the Lions are heading into the final push for the playoffs. While other NFC North foes are falling prey to injuries, Detroit is finally getting healthy, with key players returning to the lineup. But, in order to continue the surge, the Lions now head down to New Orleans and must take on a Saints team that just brutalized the Los Angeles Rams 49-21.

Saints Season Record: 5-6

The Saints had a rough go of it early in the season, dropping their first three games. For the most part, though, New Orleans hasn’t had a very tough schedule, and still they’ve only managed to win five games. Of their last five match-ups, the Saints have won three, so they are certainly trending upwards.

Their last game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday was certainly the one that they’d been looking for. During their 49-21 rout, the Saints exploded on offense and quarterback Drew Brees passed for 310 yards and four touchdowns, looking much like the Brees of old. If that Saints team shows up against Detroit, the Lions could have their hands full.

Saints on Offense

Quarterback Drew Brees and his head coach Sean Payton colluded to put together an amazing show on offense this past Sunday. Brees was electric, going 28 for 36 for over 300 yards. In addition, running back Mark Ingram Jr. carried the ball 14 times for 146 yards (including one run for 61 yards), which should be a glaring warning sign for Detroit fans as the Lions have struggled to stop the run at times this season.

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The most-talked-about play on the New Orleans offense this past Sunday was when Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (who is a former high school quarterback) threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower. Detroit will have to keep its eyes open for a similar trick this Sunday.

Saints on Defense

While the New Orleans defense hasn’t been particularly good this season, much like the offense, they came to play against the Rams on Sunday. The Saints earned three brutal sacks during the game and New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro nabbed himself an interception to boot. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been accurate with his throws this season, but if the Saints bring the pressure, Stafford will need to carry the load on his back once more.

Players to Watch: QB Drew Brees, RB Mark Ingram, WR Michael Thomas

The thing about the Saints is this: They have all the weapons there to put their opponents away if things are working. With Drew Brees at quarterback, Mark Ingram looking like the number one back he was expected to be when drafted, and receivers like Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, New Orleans has plenty of offensive weapons. Looking to make an impact this Sunday will be wide receiver Michael Thomas, who caught nine passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns over the Rams.

Then again, when it comes to having Drew Brees as your quarterback, just about any wide receiver naturally becomes a big time threat.

Outlook 

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While Detroit is surging and looking to earn a playoff spot, the Saints proved on Sunday that they can’t be counted out just yet. If Drew Brees returns to form and has a full compliment of ground and air weapons to unleash, Detroit will have a tough time securing a win. Not to mention, they’ll be playing down in New Orleans, and Detroit has only won two road games this year.