NEW ORLEANS — Having shed their long-held reputation for losing with bumbling ineptitude, the Saints open the playoffs as the Super Bowl contenders they expected to be.
Maybe even a little better.
Drew Brees broke some of the most prestigious passing records and the Saints (13-3) matched their franchise-best regular-season record from their 2009 Super Bowl campaign while also going unbeaten at home for the first time in their 45 years.
"In the big picture, if we were to win the Super Bowl this year, it would be looked at as that era when the Saints were dominating," S Malcolm Jenkins said. "But we've got to get there first."
One of the league's oldest franchises is in the role of playoff neophyte. The Lions haven't been to the postseason since 1999 and therefore have to earn playoff credibility, much like the Saints did six years ago.
"I remember being the team that didn't have any playoff experience or pedigree and was coming from a place where we'd perennially lost, and now all of a sudden we were in the playoffs," said Saints RT Zach Strief, referring to 2006, when New Orleans went 10-6 with then-rookie coach Sean Payton a season after going 3-13.
"I remember playing the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that at that point was a powerhouse in the NFC. The thing that you realize is, sometimes that hunger that comes from not being in the playoffs a lot plays to your advantage."
The Saints beat the Eagles before falling the next week in the NFC title game at Chicago.
more sAINTS: WR Lance Moore, who has been nursing a left hamstring injury for weeks, was ruled out of today's game, as was LB Jonathan Casillas (right knee).
JUMP RIGHT IN: Coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants recognize the advantages to earning a first-round bye, but they also know going all the way hardly is impossible when a team has to play four postseason games.
They did it in 2007 as a wild card, as the Steelers did in 2005 and the Packers last year.
Coughlin even sounds as if he doesn't particularly mind playing Sunday, when New York hosts Atlanta, as four teams await the winners. "I'll tell you what, it's exciting. When you're sitting there late at night, it's exciting," he said.
MORE GIANTS: Rookie LB Mark Herzlich was ruled out of Sunday's game with an ankle injury that has kept him out of the past six games.
FALCONS: Starting CB Brent Grimes practiced Friday for the first time this week and is listed as questionable for Sunday. Grimes has missed four of the past five games because of a sore right knee.