New Orleans Saints
The second weekend of the NFL playoffs gets started with a rematch of two teams that were once thought to be the best two teams in the NFC, and possibly the entire league. They now meet with a spot in the NFC Championship Game on the line; let’s take a closer look at the Saint and Seahawks.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
The Saints traveled to cold and blustery Philadelphia last week and came away with the first road playoff win in franchise history, continuing the momentum they built up in their regular season finale after losing three of their previous four games, a run that started with a 34-7 loss in Seattle. The Seahawks have been virtually unbeatable at home this season, losing only to the Cardinals in week 16, and despite losing two of their final four games, Seattle finished 13-3, which was enough to give them a bye last week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
Despite some struggles late in the season, Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense have started to click again the past two weeks. Brees shook off a couple early turnovers against the Eagles and went on to throw for 250 yards, doing a great job of spreading the ball around to a multitude of receivers. More importantly, the Saints were effective running the ball, getting a surprising effort from Mark Ingram. If the Saints can repeat that performance this week, they’ll be in great shape. However, the Seahawks are much better defensively than the Eagles, and the New Orleans offense had all kinds of problems when they played at Seattle earlier in the season, as they were made one-dimensional after falling behind early. It’s imperative that the Saints establish a viable rushing attack, because without it the Seahawks will be able to blitz Brees and put pressure on him, which is when the Saints tend to struggle offensively. The Seahawks also have three players in their secondary who were either first or second team All-Pro selections, which puts them in good position to defend Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and the rest of the New Orleans playmakers, especially if the Saints aren’t a threat running the ball. If the Saints can avoid trailing by multiple scores and force Seattle to respect their running game, they’ll be in position to win the game with a quarterback like Brees leading the way; however, if New Orleans becomes one-dimensional offensively, the Seahawks should have their way against them, just like they did back in December.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Russell Wilson had his way with the New Orleans defense back in week 13, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but with the Saints having the second best pass defense in the NFL, he’s unlikely to repeat that kind of performance. Wilson has been solid but unspectacular this season, and with New Orleans getting a second chance to face him this season, they’ll be better prepared to face him than they were in the first matchup, especially after the Saints held Nick Foles and the high-flying Philadelphia offense in check last week, limiting the Eagles to 256 total yards. The Saints should have little reason to fear the Seattle wide receivers, which means the Seahawks will need to rely on Marshawn Lynch and their running game to move the ball, while hoping Wilson can make plays without turning the ball over. The Saints may have to sell out on stopping the run, especially against a powerful back like Lynch, and take their chances on Wilson not being able to beat them with a 300-yard passing game for the second time this season.
Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 during the regular season, but this game will be a lot closer, especially with the Saints getting the monkey off their back with regard to winning a road playoff game and the Seahawks not being perfect at home this season. Expect a close game without either offense having a lot of success, but expect the Seahawks to pull it out at home. Seattle 21, New Orleans 17.
The NFL has given us what could be a spectacular playoff game on Saturday night between two offenses that have the potential to be explosive. Let’s take a closer look at the wildcard matchup between the Saints and Eagles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Earlier in the season, the Saints were arguably the top team in the NFC, but they struggled heading down the stretch and in the end they needed to beat Tampa Bay in week 17 to secure a playoff spot after losing three of their previous four games. Even more troubling is that they’ve lost their last three road games, and their only road win since week 5 is a close game against the Falcons. As for the Eagles, they weren’t in great shape at the midway point of the season, but they went 7-1 during the second half of the season and won the NFC East, so they enter the postseason with plenty of momentum.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE
This is a matchup, which some might call a mismatch, between one of the top passing offenses in the NFL and one of the most porous pass defenses. Drew Brees had another outstanding season, but like the rest of the team he struggled on the road down the stretch, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions in the team’s three most recent losses. The forecast calls for low temperatures, but little wind or precipitation, which should help keep Brees somewhat comfortable throwing the ball, although the conditions are not what the Saints would like them to be. If Brees plays well and isn’t hindered by the weather conditions, he has the weapons to do a lot of damage against the Philadelphia defense, especially Jimmy Graham, who should be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. However, New Orleans doesn’t have the most balanced offense, and sometimes their running game is either under-utilized or ineffective. The Eagles are strong up front and have been good at stuffing the run most of the season, especially lately. Between that and a high-scoring offense, the Eagles have a chance to make New Orleans one-dimensional on offense, which would allow the Eagles to attack with their pass rush, and teams with a good pass rush have been kryptonite to the Saints this year. If Philadelphia is able to get consistent pressure on Brees, the New Orleans offense could have trouble moving the ball down the field consistently.
PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Over the last eight games, the Philadelphia offense has been nearly impossible to slow down for four quarters. Even in their only loss in the last eight weeks, the Eagles scored 30 points; and even when they were held scoreless for the first half in the snow against Detroit, the Eagles ended up with 34 points. Nick Foles has received a lot of the credit for making good decisions and playing mistake-free football, but LeSean McCoy has been the real catalyst for the offense. McCoy is averaging five yards per carry this season, and the fear opposing defenses have of him breaking containment along with a strong offensive line have given Foles time in the pocket and open passing lanes. However, the Saints have one of the best defenses the Eagles have seen in a long time, as New Orleans ranks second against the pass, allowing less than 200 yards per game. The Saints have the fourth most sacks in the NFL this season, and even against a good offensive line they’re going to have the ability to put pressure on Foles, which could lead to sacks, as Foles tends to hold the ball instead of risking throws that could lead to turnovers. If New Orleans can get pressure on Foles and keep the Eagles in long-yardage situations, it will make McCoy less dangerous and keep Philadelphia from moving up and down the field with great ease on every drive. However, stopping McCoy on early downs is another issue, and the Eagles will be able to get in a good rhythm and open up the playbook if McCoy is getting big chunks of yards on first down, so slowing him down on early downs will be the key to the game for the New Orleans defense.
This is a tough game to call; both teams can put a lot of points on the board, but both defenses have a chance to pressure the quarterback and at least slow down the opposing offense. Weather may not be much of a factor, outside of cold temperatures, but momentum coming into the game will play a role. The Eagles have played great football over the second half of the season and have won their last four home games, while the Saints have struggled on the road, especially on offense. Ultimately, the Philadelphia offense will be harder to keep under wraps for four quarters, and the Eagles will get the job done at home against a New Orleans team that looked more threatening two months ago than they do right now. Philadelphia 30, New Orleans 20.
The Saints and Seahawks could end up playing one of the best Monday night games of the season tonight, as well as one of the most meaningful. Let’s take a closer look:
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The top seed in the NFC playoffs will probably be decided by this game. The Seahawks are 10-1, which puts them a game ahead of the 9-2 Saints, and a win for Seattle would make it difficult for anybody to in the NFC to catch them for the top seed in the conference. A win for New Orleans would give the two teams the same record and give the tiebreaker to the Saints, giving them the inside track for securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Both Seattle and New Orleans are incredibly difficult teams to beat at home, meaning whichever team gets the top seed in the NFC will be the obvious favorite to reach the Super Bowl, making this game critical for both teams.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
The Saints are one of the top offensive teams in the NFL, but they’ve been vulnerable this year against teams that are able to put pressure on the quarterback, which is something the Seahawks are capable of doing, averaging three sacks per game. Seattle has one of the top pass defenses in the league, and despite the suspension of cornerback Brandon Browner, they should pose a challenge for Drew Brees and the New Orleans wide receivers, especially since the Seahawks are also one of the league leaders in interceptions. The Saints have sputtered on offense in their last two games, even against a mediocre Atlanta defense last week, and New Orleans will have to be sharp and at the top of their game if they’re going to have sustained success against Seattle’s defense, who will have the home crowd behind them.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Defense is a big reason for New Orleans’ success this year. The Saints are one of the best defenses against the pass this season, although that may not be much of a factor in this game, as the Seahawks are a run-based team. Marshawn Lynch has been the biggest contributor to the Seattle offense all season long, and stopping him will be the biggest priority for the Saints in this game. The Seahawks will ride Lynch for as long as they can, and if New Orleans can’t stop him, it’ll be easier for Russell Wilson and the Seattle passing game to have success. The x-factor in the game could be Percy Harvin, who will be playing in just his second game of the season. If Harvin can make an impact, it could give the Seahawks enough of a boost to be the difference in the game.
These two teams are starting to move in opposite directions. The Saints have looked fairly average the past couple of weeks, while the Seahawks are finding their stride at the right time of year. New Orleans will bring their A-game, but Seattle is too tough to beat on the road, and the Saints won’t be able to get over the hump after staying close with the Seahawks throughout the game. Seattle 27, New Orleans 20.
It may only be week 4, but a meeting between two undefeated teams deserves plenty of attention, especially when it happens on Monday Night Football. Let’s take a closer look at tonight’s matchup between the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Neither team’s season will crumble with a lost, but both have plenty to gain with a win. Miami could really make a statement with a win at New Orleans, especially after beating Atlanta last week. A 4-0 start for the Dolphins would leave no doubt that they’re for real this season, and would put a scare in the New England Patriots that their dominance of the AFC East could be in jeopardy. For the Saints, a win would allow them to retain a sizeable lead in the NFC South, which could help them runaway with the division early on in the season.
MIAMI OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Ryan Tannehill is off to a great start, but he’ll face his toughest test of the season, as Rob Ryan has completely turned around the Saint’s defense this season, turning them into a more than respectable unit. Last week, the Saints allowed just 161 yards passing against Carson Palmer and the great trio of wide receivers of the Arizona Cardinals, which was quite impressive. However, the Dolphins have a quartet of quality receiving options with Charles Clay providing a nice option at tight end alongside the wide receiver trio of Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, and Brandon Gibson. Wallace had just two catches last week, but if can break out the way he did in week 2 against the Colts, the Dolphins will pose a challenge for the Saint’s defense. The x-factor to this matchup will be Miami’s running game, which has been slow to get going this season. Lamar Miller averaged over seven yards a carry last week, but only had eight carries. Miami will need to make more of an effort to get Miller involved and keep their offense balanced or else Ryan is likely to come after Tannehill with a lot of blitzes, which could make things difficult for a young quarterback, even one that’s played so well this season.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. MIAMI DEFENSE
As expected, the Saints have been great at throwing the ball up and down the field, with tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston doing most of the damage. So far this season, Graham has continued to create mismatches and been a nightmare for opposing teams to defend, and that should be the case again this week. Miami’s secondary has struggled to slow down quality quarterbacks each of the past two weeks, and they’ll need their pass rush to step up in order to help out their secondary and slow down the Saint’s passing attack. Like Miami, New Orleans hasn’t gotten their running game going this season, but running back Darren Sproles does provide another option in the passing game, which will make things even more difficult for the Dolphin’s defense, who will likely have their hands full all game and will need to be at their best to have a chance to win on the road.
As impressive as Tannehill has been this season, being able to out duel Drew Brees in the Super Dome on a Monday night might be asking too much. The Miami defense hasn’t provided a ton of support this season, and that’s unlikely to change against the Saint’s offense. Tannehill will have his moments, but Ryan’s defense will eventually get to him, while Miami will have no way of slowing down Brees, Graham, and Colston. Miami has a good showing, but can’t get the win. New Orleans 31, Miami 20.
An Arizona Cardinals player suffered an unusually grisly injury on Sunday when he was hurt while tackling a New Orleans Saints player during a punt return. Rashad Johnson lost the tip of his middle finger when his digit was crushed and partially severed. The fourth-year safety was hurt during his team's 31-7 loss to the Saints.
The Arizona Republic's Kent Somers had the following tweet about the gruesome injury: “Johnson's injury happened on a punt return, tackling sproles. Not sure what happened, might have smashed in ground. #AZCardinals.”
He had a few more tweets about the nasty situation:
“S rashad Johnson lost top of right middle finger Sunday. Took glove off and finger was still in,” he tweeted. “Johnson had surgery yesterday. Bone was exposed so must watch for infection… Drs shaved bone on Johnson's finger and repaired. Lost about down to first knuckle.”
Although they are very uncommon, injuries like this have happened in the past, WJLA reported. Hall of Fame player Ronnie Lott famously had a portion of his pinky finger amputated after it was crushed during a game while he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s unknown when Johnson will be able to take the field again.
The NFL year officially commenced on Thursday, with the Cowboys notching a 24-20 victory over the Dolphins in the first preseason game of 2013. That’s right— regular season football is just around the corner, so it’s time to address three burning questions facing NFC teams this fall.
1. How will Chip Kelly’s spread-option attack transition to the NFL?
When the season kicks off, all eyes will be trained on Philadelphia’s Week 1 matchup with the Washington Redskins—and not just to see RGIII’s return from a playoff ACL tear. New coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, spread-option offense arguably poses the biggest question mark facing any team this season. Kelly brings more than a game-changing offense; he brings a technological, outside-the-box approach to every aspect of the football process, and he’s not exactly revealing his methods.
Kelly has kept his offensive strategy and schemes under wraps, and the football universe will have to wait until September 9th to see how Kelly’s Oregon attack is adjusted for the big leagues. The success of Kelly’s system (or lack thereof) will have far-reaching implications that extend past Philadelphia; he is essentially serving as a guinea pig for new-wave thinking, and a smooth transition will lead the way for other football pioneers to get a shot with other NFL franchises. For now, though, the bigger picture plays second-fiddle to Kelly’s first task: to vastly improve on the Eagles’ NFC-worst 4-12 record.
2. Will Sam Bradford make the most of a new surrounding cast in St. Louis?
Quarterback Sam Bradford’s fourth NFL season has been well-established as a crucial year for the Rams’ signal-caller, especially considering the help he’s been given this offseason. St. Louis brought in underperforming tight end Jared Cook from Tennessee, and the fifth-year pro has already developed excellent report with his new quarterback. Despite the loss of long-time RB Steven Jackson, the trio of Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, and fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy are expected to share the rushing load, and an improved passing attack should open up running lanes for the three-headed monster.
The addition of West Virginia slot-man Tavon Austin in the first round is arguably the biggest reason to hold Bradford to a high standard in 2013. The praise heaped on Austin since his arrival in St. Louis has no bounds; respected talent evaluator Mike Mayock said that Austin “might be the most explosive player I've ever seen in my life,” an endorsement unlikely to quell expectations for the rookie receiver. Mayock added that Austin is “almost impossible to cover in short spaces,” which, if true to any degree, should set the Rams up for a much-improved offensive attack. The jury is still out, though, and it remains to be seen how Jeff Fisher will cater his offense to a new cast of starting backs and pass-catchers.
3. Can Sean Payton restore the Saints to pre-Bountygate form?
The return of head coach and amateur bodybuilder Sean Payton to the Saints’ sideline is one of the NFL’s least-discussed storylines, but may prove to be a crucial factor in the NFC playoff race. The 2013 Saints sported a 32nd-ranked defense that, miraculously, looked even worse on the field than their dead-last ranking suggests. New Orleans’ defensive unit wasn’t content with merely finishing as the far-and-away worst defense of 2013; they dug in their heels, stepped up (down?), and proceeded to allow the most yards in NFL history. The Saints’ 1st-ranked pass attack was a result of equal parts Drew Brees and weekly-deficits-caused-by-a-helpless-defense, and Payton is looking to revive New Orleans’ 25th-ranked ground game.
The Saints brought in defensive guru and Jerry Garcia lookalike Rob Ryan to help spark the side of the ball where Drew Brees can’t be of service, while Payton will look to bring the offense back to dominant form. Former 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram has been turning heads in training camp, and with his first fully-healthy offseason, the running back may finally have the breakout season he’s failed to notch through two seasons. While the Saints can be tentatively expected to display balance and confidence they desperately lacked in 2012, Payton’s return to the sideline may bring unforeseen curveballs. New Orleans will look to rebound from their disappointing 2013 campaign, and much of the credit and/or blame will fall on Payton’s shoulders.