The anticipation has been building up, not only this week, but all year as to how the playoffs will pan out. I am personally excited for how the bracket has lined up, but this isn't about me; it's about the fans of football. I want to look at the pros and cons of the Saints-Seahawks Wild Card Matchup to better prepare myself for the unexpected.
First of all, I want to smash the concept that the Seahawks have no right to be in the playoffs. If they weren't supposed to be in the playoffs, then the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals should have done something about it; which they clearly did not. Seattle has the fortune of being a product of poor divisional setup, and conversely has the misfortune of the national spotlight being 7-9 and a divisional champion.
For how poor of a headline Seattle has been, New Orleans has been the opposite. The Saints are the defending world champions and dubbed as the saviors of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Drew Brees is getting more face time as the new NFL poster boy after his career year last year, which ended with a Super Bowl MVP. Contrasting styles or not, this game could be much closer than most critiques, including myself, think.
Now, let's break down the pros and cons between these two:
Pros: The first item that comes to mind is Qwest Field, home of the 12th man and arguably the toughest place to play in the NFL. This alone could energize Seattle to perform to another level, not to mention they have a healthy lineup which is always a plus. Of the healthy, Marshawn Lynch will be a major factor in the game. He has been averaging 4.4 yards per carry over the last three games and has been extremely under-utilized. Controlling the game clock will be vital for Seattle to succeed.
Cons: Over the last three games Seattle has scored 16.3 points per game while giving up 26.0 points per game. The Seahawks have also caused only two turnovers in this span while turning the ball over four times. Not only does the offense stall at points, but the defense seems to be transparent and easy to manipulate with poor awareness.
Recap: There is no question that this looks like an uphill battle on paper, but it will be a true test of stepping up for the moment in Seattle. A national spotlight win over the Saints can be accomplished by protecting the football and controlling the tempo with the running game. Causing turnovers is not crucial, but keeping pace with New Orleans will be difficult if they cannot stop them on a regular basis.
New Orleans Saints
Pros: Swagger and confidence are staples that have created the aura that is New Orleans football for the time being. Over the last three games New Orleans has gotten an average of 21.3 first downs and 318 yards per game. It is known that the Saints have firepower in every aspect of offense led by Drew Brees. Keeping the Seahawks on edge will be easy with a barrage of offensive weapons.
Cons: The Saints have given up 22.3 points per game over the last three games while turning the ball over seven times total. On top of that, New Orleans will be without Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory and a power running threat leaving more coverage options to be used against the passing attack. A lack of running game could keep the Saints from being able to open up the pass game.
Recap: New Orleans will need to avoid costly turnovers and prevent giving up too many points to the Seahawks who have plenty of offensive weapons to worry about. A strong performance from the backup running corps should be enough to paralyze the Seattle defense for an overwhelming balanced attack.
In conclusion, don't let the illusion of Seattle being a poor team blind you to the fact that no team is invisible. I expect the Saints to take care of business in a hostile environment and make us all continue the debate of who makes the playoffs in the future, but don't expect the Seahawks to roll over and give the game away. A strong performance on the ground could not only wear out the Saints defense, but could keep the offense on the sidelines. Just remember: on any given Sunday, anybody can win.