Seattle Seahawks vs. New Orleans Saints: Wild Card Weekend's Best Matchup
The world is enthralled by the fact that, for the first time in NFL history, an under .500 team has entered the postseason. Everyone is keeping busy in the New Year writing hate-mail to Roger Goodell and drafting petitions to call for playoff system reform.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this were the BCS—a world where if the team you regularly root for doesn’t make the bowl game you regularly watch, no team deserves to play in said bowl game, regardless of pre-determined qualifying standards, season record, strength of schedule and (let’s be honest) media market.
In fact, people are so busy, few have noticed that the Seahawks-Saints matchup holds the best storylines of the weekend.
Sure, Rex Ryan is doing his best to lure people off the trail with his New York Post-headline grabbing taunts. And, sure, the Colts have entered their ninth straight postseason. Indianapolis was even the team that knocked the Jets out of contention last postseason.
So really, Jets/Colts is just another re-hash of a boring non-rivalry.
Green Bay and Philadelphia will be a high-flying battle of the titans but lacks intrigue.
The Ravens/Chiefs game is interesting solely because of the rarity of either team's appearance. Baltimore has been in the playoffs six times (before this year) and Kansas City only 11 (after the expansion).
Best vs. Worst
Arguably the worst playoff team in league history stands to eliminate the defending Super Bowl Champions.
A seasoned team racked with injuries, faces a predominately young and very inconsistent team with a dreamy look in their eyes.
Indeed, those injuries suffered by many of the Saints’ top players (Malcolm Jenkins, Christ Ivory, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey, to name a few) could be what gives the starry-eyed Seahawks a chance to come out ahead and advance to the conference championship game.
Plus, in a twist of fate, the 7-9 team claims home-field advantage over the 11-5 Wild Card, giving the tenants of Qwest Field a notable edge over the Saints who have never won a playoff game on the road.
By this point in the season, teams have gotten past early season hiccups like, for example, quarterback controversy.
Seattle, though, has let their QB controversy sit on the back burner until that crucial NFC West Championship game last weekend when they gave Charlie Whitehurst his second NFL start over long-time veteran Matt Hasselbeck.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Pete Carroll had still not announced which quarterback would be starting against the Saints on Saturday, had the two sharing reps in practice and even voiced a vote of confidence in each.
It’s worth turning on the game just to see who takes the first snap. It’s worth leaving it on to see if that starter gets pulled, when and why.
A defending champion has not won a playoff game since the Patriots did it in 2005.
The Saints are certainly not the Patriots (particularly this year), but against this year’s disorganized Seahawks, why shouldn’t they be the next to do so?
If the trend continues, though, and Seattle pulls out a win, you can bet it will have been an amazing game.
The Madden Curse has affected Saints' quarterback Drew Brees in just one way this year—interceptions. He has thrown double the amount of total interceptions he threw last year.
Seven of those interceptions were integral to the Saints embarrassing losses to Arizona and Cleveland.
Last week, Seattle’s defense was able to get their hands up and deflect ball after ball. Will Herring expertly intercepted a Sam Bradford pass—the same rookie Sam Bradford that, earlier in the season, threw 169 consecutive passes without an interception.
The Seahawks have proven the ability to take advantage of a poor stat like Brees’, they only need to capitalize on it and avoid turnovers themselves.
It’s still Pete Carroll’s first year back in the NFL since his previous unsuccessful stints as head coach of the Patriots and the Jets, and after pulling out this miraculous playoff berth (not to mention, a miracle-esque draft and some risky, miracle-themed comeback story acquisitions), one can’t help but wonder if he has any more miracles up his sleeves.
Pete Carroll needs this win to establish himself as a credible NFL coach rather than a misplaced college coach. Making the playoffs is one thing, but he’s still sporting an uninspiring 7-9 record.
If he wants to finish with a winning record, though, his work is cut out for him; he’ll have to win the Super Bowl.
Historically, the Seahawks and the Saints are evenly matched. The Seahawks trail the Saints by just one game (5-6) and very few of the score differentials have been close—the Seahawks beat the Saints by 10, 17 and 14 during their last win streak, putting the Saints 15-point win earlier this season in perspective.
A Seattle win this weekend would tie up the record between the two teams.
Reggie Bush and the Running Game
Neither New Orleans nor Seattle have had great run games this season (New Orleans averages 94.9 yards per game, Seattle 89) but, the same week Seattle’s run game stepped out of its shell, New Orleans’ was left in casts.
Two of New Orleans’ top running backs, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory were placed on injured reserve this week, and the Saints will have to do without them in the postseason. It will be interesting to see if Reggie Bush—who himself missed eight games this season—will have what it takes to carry the Saints against even Seattle’s subpar run defense.
Bush will have help from former Seahawk Julius Jones who was pushed up the depth chart in light of the Saints recent losses in the backfield.
With New Orleans’ running game almost completely out of commission, the Saints are likely to spend the game in the air.
Seattle’s pass defense is among the league’s worst, giving up an average of 250 yards per game (382 last time they played New Orleans).
If Marques Colston returns from his arthroscopic knee surgery 100 percent, and barring that Pete Carroll miracle and/or those Drew Brees interceptions, this game has the earmarks for another captivating trainwreck ala Denver’s 45-point loss to Oakland or Snooki from Jersey Shore.
Sets the Stage for Playoff Reform
Playoff reform will be the hot topic throughout the next month at least, and the details of this game will be cited as evidence for both sides of the argument.
If Seattle plays a great game and wins, it proves the system works because it turned out they were deserving of playoff berth.
If Seattle loses in a blowout, it also proves the system works because they clearly didn’t deserve to advance and therefore lost in the first round.
Both points work for the other side, too.
If Seattle plays a great game and wins, it’ll be because they had home-field advantage, and if a more deserving team had been there, then they would’ve had the advantage and won and kept the playoff pool pure and competitive.
Still, if Seattle loses in a blowout, the Saints will have advanced solely because their first-round opponent was a lesser team, and the Saints may not have won if a more deserving team had been facing them instead.
Either way, if the NFL does consider any revamping of the playoff seeding or qualification rules, this game will be the one sworn into evidence whenever the topic comes up.