Andy Tisdel: First of all, congratulations to the Lions and their fans on the first playoff berth since 1999! How does it feel to finally be cheering for a playoff team?
Jeremy Reisman: Thank you! It's really an amazing feeling. For all that Lions fans have been through, just in the past FIVE years, it's a bit unbelievable to be here in the playoffs this soon. As a fan-base, we almost feel like we've accomplished something surviving Matt Millen, 0-16 and years upon years of mockery. Though it's just a playoff berth at this point, it all feels worth it right now.
AT: The Lions still have the No. 5 seed to play for. How important is it, do you think, to face the NFC East champion instead of the New Orleans juggernaut in the first round?
JR: The general opinion on this is that the Lions want to avoid the Saints at all costs. I, however, don't necessarily agree. Obviously, facing the Giants or Cowboys would be preferable, but if the Lions are serious about a deep playoff run, they will have to face a serious contender at some point. I understand that many just want to see this team win a playoff game (after all, they've only won one post-season game in the Super Bowl era), but I think this team has enough talent to match up well against any team in the NFC. Secretly, I'm hoping for the unlikely first round matchup with the 49ers. In addition to the great storyline of the rematch between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, I would actually be able to attend this game (I live in California).
AT: Of the playoff teams, which do the Lions match up best against? What teams would they have trouble with, and why?
JR: It's tough to pinpoint the kind of team the Lions match up best with. Ideally, it would be a team that is weak against the pass and doesn't have the ability to out-score the Lions in a shoot-out. There really isn't a team with that identity left in the playoff race. I think the best matchup may be based on venue. Since the Lions will be going on the road in their first game, I think Cowboy Stadium is the least threatening place to play. Besides the fact that the Lions already won there, it is also indoors and not as crazy as New Orleans.
AT: What's your sense of what Jim Schwartz will try to do against the Packers, in terms of playing his starters? Do you get the sense that the starters will be in for the whole game?
JR: It's almost impossible to know with Schwartz. He keeps everything very close to the vest. If I had to guess, I think Schwartz will play the starters for the entire game. But the players who have been struggling to stay healthy (ie: Corey Williams, Chris Houston, Louis Delmas, etc.) will get an extra week of rest, even though they'd likely play if it were a playoff game.
AT: Detroit has become known as a brash, outspoken team that plays "to the echo of the whistle", as Brian Urlacher put it. They've become much more disciplined in recent weeks in terms of penalties, but do you see penalties becoming an issue again in the playoffs?
JR: I think after the first Green Bay game and the following New Orleans games, the Lions finally have received the message. Though they can get over-emotional at times, I don't expect to see many more after-the-whistle infractions for the postseason. However, being that this defense is so aggressive during the play, I would not be surprised to see unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer penalties to continue into the postseason. That is just part of the defense's identity, and I don't expect that to change while Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are in town.
AT: Apart from free agents like Kyle Vanden Bosch, very few of the Lions have playoff experience. Could that be a problem for the Lions, especially if they face a more seasoned opponent like the Giants or Saints?
JR: That is certainly something to watch for, but I've never really been one to put much into the whole "playoff experience" thing. To me, teams with little playoff experience usually fail in the playoffs because the team is just starting to become a "playoff team". They typically don't have the talent of dynasties that make the playoffs yearly. While the Lions certainly fit that description, they didn't exactly make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. This team has a good amount of talent and could surprise a team or two in the playoffs.
AT: Finish this sentence (and maybe add a few): To make a deep playoff run, the Lions must...
JR: To make a deep playoff run, the Lions must continue to get outstanding games from Matthew Stafford and limit the penalties on defense. The Lions are 9-1 when Stafford has a passer rating of 90 or above. The one loss was against New Orleans, when the team racked up 11 penalties for 107 yards. The Lions season can pretty much be defined by: as goes Stafford, so goes the team. If he can continue his (should-have-been) Pro Bowl season into the new year, the Lions can beat almost anyone.
AT: Finally, here's a hypothetical scenario: The Lions have won their wild-card matchup and are headed to Green Bay for the divisional round. How do you envision that game going? Are the Lions capable of overpowering the defending champions on the road?
JR: 8. I have to say, my mind immediately went to: Wouldn't that be the perfect situation for the Lions to end their Lambeau drought? In all honesty, I think the Lions would have to play a near-perfect game (very similar to the game they played against the Chargers last week) to pull that one out. The Lions could put up plenty of points against the Packers, but they have struggled to stop elite offenses (outside of San Diego) for a full game. They've played good defensive halves against the Cowboys, Saints and Packers, but those teams lit up Detroit in the other half. The Lions could do it, but the odds are heavily stacked against them. I'd put the Lions at 20% to win that game.