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.