NFL Playoff Previews: Seahawks Versus Saints

Posted: January 8, 2011 in NFL
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

The NFL Playoffs are set to kick off in a few hours.  For football fans, this is the biggest moment of the year.  All the hard work, all the dedication, ups and downs from the long regular season culminate in one game.  Win and advance or lose and go home.  This is Wild Card Weekend, and there are four games being played that will determine each conference’s final four.  The Patriots, Steelers, Falcons and Bears get to be like the rest of us and sit in their comfy recliners and watch all the action, waiting for who they will suit up against next week.

The first game on the schedule is the 7-9 NFC West Champion (should I still call them that when they have a losing record?) hosting the 11-5 Wild Card New Orleans Saints.  The Saints are the defending champions and got the best possible match-up of all the Wild Card teams getting to play what is possibly the worst team in post-season history.  So is this game a blow-out waiting to happen or an upset of monumental proportions?

Home field advantage?

Seattle was 5-3 at home this season, but their wins consisted of all three NFC West opponents, the putrid Carolina Panthers and the disappointing San Diego Chargers all the way back in Week 3.  That’s not exactly murderer’s row there.  The Saints, on the other hand, were 6-2 on the road, with their crowning achievement being the giant win in Atlanta in Week 16.  However, New Orleans is entering the playoffs having lost 2 out of their last 3 games.  The Seahawks do score about a touchdown more per game at home, but New Orleans is the opposite of that, scoring about a touchdown more on the road than they do in the Superdome.

The Seattle crowd will no doubt be raucous to start the game, but unless some of them can suit up and play at a high level, look for Qwest Field to be quiet enough to hear a pin drop by the second half.

Case in point(s)

Seattle has only put up 30 or more points in a game three times this year, against the 49ers, Cardinals and Panthers.  They haven’t put more than 20 points up against a good team since hanging 23 on Chicago back in Week 6.  (I don’t count the 24 they scored against Kansas City because some of those points were in garbage time of a blow-out loss.)  They played four playoff teams this season and averaged 21 points in those games, going 1-3.

The Saints broke the 30 point mark six times this year, including one run of five consecutive games.  However, since scoring 31 against the Rams in Week 14, their point totals have dipped to 24 then 17 then 13 to finish the year.  They weren’t exactly world-beaters against playoff opposition, either, averaging a hair below 24 points in five games against playoff teams.  They did, however, post a season-high 34 on Seattle back in Week 11, and went 3-2 against playoff competition.

The Saints were 6th in the league in total offense against the 28th ranked Seahawks.  Defensively, it’s the same story.  New Orleans was 4th in total defense, Seattle was 27th.  If the Seahawks are going to hand with New Orleans, it’s got to be behind turnovers and points put on the board with defense and special teams.  The can’t outscore the Saints toe-to-toe.

The guys under center

Drew Brees had what amounts for an off-year for him.  He still racked up tons of yards and threw for 33 touchdowns, but he also had an uncharacteristic 22 interceptions.  If the Saints have any hopes of repeating, Brees will have to stop turning the ball over like he’s Brett Favre.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst checked in as the 52nd and 60th rated QB’s out of the 79 guys who took a snap during this season.  Combined, they tossed only 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.  (Brees was a fair-to-middling 20th for comparison.)  Whoever ends up playing for Seattle today will be a hollow shell of Brees.

I look for Brees to have a big game yardage wise, but watch out for the INTs, especially when you consider my next point…

Can anyone run the ball?

Reggie Bush is going to have to be the featured back for the Saints because their top two rushers, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, are injured.  Bush, who missed quite a bit of time himself because of injury, only had 36 carries for 150 yards and zero rushing touchdowns this year.  He’s never been all that great as the principle back, and he’ll have to be productive to take some of the pressure off Brees in this game.  Fortunately for him, Seattle give up nearly 120 yards per game on the ground with a run defense that is in the bottom third of the league.

Seattle also has its issues on the ground.  They didn’t have a back exceed 600 yards this year.  Bills castoff Marshawn Lynch led the team with 573 yards and six touchdowns.  They finished 31st in the league in rushing.  But, fortunately for them, the Saints run defense isn’t a lot better than their own, ranking 16th in the league.

So who wins this battle?  Bush has a tendency of being either spectacular or invisible.  Don’t be surprised if he’s the latter this week.  I think Seattle is going to make a concerted effort to run the ball more to keep Brees and company off the field, and I expect the Saints to pass, pass and pass some more.

Who will win?

At the end of the day, I would be stunned if New Orleans lost this game.  Seattle is simply not in their class.  That being said, I do think this will be a lot closer than many people expect.  Look for a big day from Leon Washington in the return game for the Seahawks, a surprisingly successful rushing attack and at least two picks from Brees.  If Hasselbeck is the starter, he may just put in an inspired effort in what could be the final game of his career, and almost certainly will be his last game as a Seahawk.

New Orleans will have little success running the ball, and rack up big yardage through the air.  Turnovers will kill them, though, keeping Seattle in the game until late.  Ultimately, the Saints will do what they done most of this season, squeak out a close win against a team they really should blow out.

Final Score:  Saints 28, Seahawks 22

  1. Monex says:

    People were booing and leaving Qwest Field early…But with a championship even one as tepid as this on the line last Sunday the fans responded. The stadium was as wild and loud as it was in the Mike Holmgren years…This Saturday for the second time in seven days all of football including most NFL players will be watching the Seahawks…Free agents-to-be will be looking to see what the Hawks are about. They will be watching the superheated scene at Qwest Field and imagining their place in that place…This game for Carroll one of the best recruiters in the sport will be an opportunity to showcase his franchise to every wideout and offensive lineman who will be shopping for a new team this offseason…Through the buildup to this game it will be a chance for Carroll to sell Seattle sell Seahawks football sell the future…This game is as much about 2011 and beyond as it is about 2010…Have you seen the Hawks 2011 schedule?

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