The New Orleans Saints (No. 6 seed) are in the Pacific Northwest for an NFC divisional-round showdown against the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks. The two NFC powerhouses will kick off the action at 4:35 p.m. ET at CenturyLink Field, where Seattle's record the past two years has been 15-1.
The Saints (11-5) were humiliated by this same Seahawks team back in Week 13. New Orleans managed to scrounge up just 12 first downs, 188 total yards and one touchdown, losing by a blowout score of 34-7.
The loss highlighted a trend of poor play on the road for the Saints—a team that went 3-5 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2013. The team's road woes were conquered for at least a week when the Saints took down the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round, however.
Winning the first road playoff game in franchise history, New Orleans featured a relentless power running game against Philly to come away with an impressive 26-24 win.
While the Saints were busy dispatching the Eagles, Seattle rested up at home with a first-round bye. The Seahawks (13-3) are as healthy as they've been all year long, and the biggest concern at this point is whether or not Pete Carroll's team comes out a bit sloppy to start the game.
Focus won't be a problem, however, for guys like All-Pro safety Earl Thomas.
“It’s all about yourself, it’s all about you,” Thomas said, via Seahawks.com. “When you’re confident, you play confident, no matter who you’re playing. Everybody is the same. I think it’s who prepares well, and I think we prepare better than anybody. So I’m just excited for it.”
There's no doubt the 12th Man at "The Link" will be excited for it, too.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with injury reports, additional analysis and a final prediction.
When: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 4:35 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 46 points
- Spread: Seattle (-8)
Can New Orleans Replicate Success vs. Philadelphia?
Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. However, he's been less than stellar away from home in 2013, as is clearly illustrated by these statistics, via ESPN Stats & Info:
Drew Brees 2013: HOME: 2,835 Pass yds, 27 TD, 3 INT AWAY: 2,327 Pass yds, 12 TD, 9 INT— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 4, 2014
Brees wasn't exactly sharp in last weekend's contest against the Eagles, either. Completing 20 of 30 passes, he passed for 250 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions—the only two turnovers of the game by either team.
If not for the exceptional play of his offensive line and running backs on running plays, the Saints would have likely lost the game. Mark Ingram was phenomenal, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson pitched in another 45 yards on eight carries and the team finished with 185 total rushing yards on 36 carries.
That's six more running plays than passing attempts, which is something Saints fans aren't used to seeing. Throughout the season, the Saints passed the ball 651 times while running it just 391 times.
This is the formula New Orleans must utilize against Seattle, but it won't be easy. The Seahawks finished the regular season tied for the No. 7-ranked run defense in the league, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry. The last time New Orleans was in Seattle, the Saints totaled just 44 yards on 17 carries.
Bleacher Report's Tyson Langland doesn't think the Saints will find much purchase on the ground:
New Orleans’ run game ran wild [against Philadelphia]... Yet don’t expect similar results this weekend in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks possess the No. 1 defense in the NFL and average 2.4 takeaways a game. As long as Russell Wilson protects the football, Dan Quinn’s defense will do the rest.
If the Saints can't run the ball in this one, then the Seahawks will run away with the game. Brees can't win this game by himself. Seattle's pass-rushers are relentless, and there isn't a better secondary in the league than the "Legion of Boom."
The Saints did well to beat Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round, but the fun stops in Seattle.
The Seahawks had an extra week to rest up and get healthy, and they'll be raring to go when the whistle blows on Saturday, Jan. 11.
Percy Harvin, who has been practicing with the team all week leading up to the game, "looks unbelievable so far," according to Russell Wilson, as relayed by Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:
Russell Wilson on Percy Harvin in practice: "He looks unbelievable so far."— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) January 8, 2014
His speed will open things up for Wilson in the passing game, which will also help Marshawn Lynch find running lanes. Lynch was a powerhouse for the Seahawks all year, rushing for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Which team will win?
Weather will be a huge factor, and one that favors Seattle. According to Weather.com, there's a 100 percent chance of rain in the forecast, with high winds that could gust up to 50 miles per hour. The crazy (in the best way) fans in Seattle better be ready to act like ducks in the rain for this one.
Seattle is built to win an ugly game in the rain, but New Orleans isn't.
Combined with all the other factors in this matchup, it's easy to make the call in favor of the home team in this contest.
Seahawks win, 31-17.
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