In the first week of the NFL playoffs, the New Orleans Saints did something they'd never done in franchise history—win a playoff game on the road. Now, they'll have to do something that no one expects them to do by beating the Seattle Seahawks, a 15-1 team at home the last two seasons, on the road.
The Saints shook off their road woes from this season, but the daunting task that lies ahead of them could come down to players who come in as relative unknowns performing at their highest level to pull off the upset.
As for the Seahawks, a 34-7 victory earlier in the season against the Saints certainly gives them confidence coming into Saturday's showdown, but two offensive weapons that haven't been used much this year could come up big in the divisional round.
Before the game officially kicks off on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST, here are the X-factors for both teams that will dictate the outcome of the NFC divisional round.
Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
If you switched his first and last name, many people would recognize who Cameron Jordan is. But unlike Jordan Cameron, the breakout tight end for the Cleveland Browns, Cameron Jordan has made his name this season by tearing up backfields.
The third-year defensive end posted 12.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in the regular season and topped it off with another 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Wild Card Round against the Eagles.
Looking back to his last game against the Seahawks, which also came on the road, Jordan didn't finish with a sack but recorded two tackles for loss. One of the biggest keys to victory will be Jordan and the Saints' defensive line maintaining consistent pressure on Russell Wilson.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Percy Harvin has the ability to be one of the best receivers on the football field when he suits up, but his health has kept him off the field for all but one game this year.
But according to the Seahawks' official Twitter account, Pete Carroll said that Harvin is continuing to progress:
In just nine games during the 2012 season, Harvin put together a year with 62 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns. While he only caught one pass for 17 yards in his lone game with the Seahawks this season, his presence on the field is enough to open up the passing game more for Russell Wilson.
With the New Orleans Saints having to account for three different receivers in Harvin, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, one of the three will likely get more open looks than they are used to. If Harvin has a big game for Seattle, he might be looking at having to repeat his success in the NFC Championship Game.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
The former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't exactly set the NFL world on fire, but his presence in the first round for New Orleans was one of the crucial components to earning the win.
Mark Ingram finished the game against the Eagles with 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. The 97 yards Ingram posted in the first round are the second-most of his career, after rushing for 145 yards against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season.
Ingram's performance provoked Adam Caplan of ESPN to tweet this out:
Don't recall Mark Ingram running with this type of intensity and elusiveness along with downhill power.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) January 5, 2014
Though the status of Pierre Thomas is still unknown, Ingram has been a part of the Saints' game plan for the past three games. That includes rushing for over 80 yards against the Panthers, who have the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL.
With the Saints facing another difficult rush defense against the Seahawks, expect to see another heavy dose of Ingram even if Thomas does return and start.
Zach Miller, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Much like Ingram, Zach Miller has been a nice complementary piece this season who just so happened to breakout in a handful of games.
Ironically enough, one of those games came in Week 13 against the Saints. The seventh-year tight end finished the game with five receptions on eight targets with 86 yards and a touchdown—easily his best performance of the year.
If Miller can find a way to break off more plays like this 60-yard reception, the Seahawks might have yet another passing threat to add to the stable for Wilson.
Given his lack of targets in a number of different games this year, it's easy to say that Miller might not be a key for the Seahawks. But if he can find a way to finish the game with four or five catches, particularly another one in the end zone, Seattle should be able to exploit the Saints passing defense yet again.