At first glance, this looks like a Saints rout. But when you dig a bit deeper, this one may be closer than people think.
Do the Seahawks belong in the playoffs? Record-wise, absolutely not, but that’s how the current NFL system works. If you win your division, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you go 16-0, or 7-9, like Seattle. You just have to be better than the other three teams within your division.
The Saints are 1-1 on the road against the NFC West. Against Arizona, the Saints fell to the Cardinals 30-20. On a Monday night game at San Francisco, the Holy Ones squeaked by the 49ers 25-22 on a 37-yard Garrett Hartley field goal as time expired.
Yes, you have to take in account that took place in the first five games of the season. The Saints have played much better football since then. They’re 8-3 after starting 3-2.
Talent wise, the Saints are the superior team, but the Seahawks are at home; anything can happen at Qwest Field, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
One more thing, you can’t discount experience; Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has that. He may throw interceptions in overtime to cost playoff games, but he’s a competitor who doesn’t get raddled on the big stage.
Let’s look at the matchups.
Saints Pass Offense vs Seahawks Pass Defense
NO 277.6 (3) vs SEA 249.6 (27)
This is where Seattle has to get lucky; they need to force some turnovers. They are severely mismatched in this aspect of the game.
Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and corner Marcus Trufant are fine football players, but it’s the other guys in the secondary that are getting exposed. This is where the depth of the Saints receiving corps should flourish. Guys like Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore should have huge days.
The Seahawks boast a trio of solid starting linebackers in outside backers in David Hawthorne and Aaron Curry and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. They should be able to cover tight ends Jeremy Shockey and the suddenly emergent Jimmy Graham. Reggie Bush is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield who is tough to bring down in space. All three linebackers are solid tacklers but Bush is nifty.
An ex-factor on the Seattle defensive line is Chris Clemons. He had 11 sacks on the season. The Saints offensive line is usually fabulous, but they’ve been a bit off this year. Brees has made a fair share of miscues; he has 22 interceptions on the season.
Saints Rush Offense vs Seahawks Rush Defense
NO 94.9 (28) vs SEA 112.3 (16)
If New Orleans happens to hold a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter, can they run time off the clock with Reggie Bush, Julius Jones and DeShawn Wynn? Christopher Ivory and Pierre Thomas are on injured reserve.
This is where Drew Brees comes into play. The Saints don’t necessarily have to hand the ball off. Brees is accurate enough to throw some screens and short routes. These are basically extended hand-offs for a guy who is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in football.
Seahawks Pass Offense vs Saints Pass Defense
SEA 208.8 (19) vs NO 93.9 (4)
Yes, Charlie Whitehurst looked great in the Seahawks NFC West-clinching win over St. Louis, but you have to go with the wily old vet. Matt Hasselbeck has the playoff experience.
New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to bring the blitz, but Hasselbeck quick recognizes a blitz coming and gets the ball off in a hurry.
The Seahawks don’t have much to work with at the receiving positions. Mike Williams has been a great comeback story, but he’s average. Tight end John Carlson is okay, but that’s about all they've got.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is out, and that most likely means Darren Sharper is starting. Jenkins is a big loss, but Sharper isn’t the worst backup.
Seahawks Rush Offense vs Saints Run Defense
SEA 89.0 (31) vs NO 112.3 (16)
Seattle didn’t have a runner who rushed for over a 100 yards all year, the first time since 1982, a strike-shortened season.
They did pickup Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo earlier on in the year. Last week, Lynch rushed for a crucial 76 yards in the second half to help clinch victory.
For the Seahawks to have a shot they need to shorten the game and drain clock. I expect Seattle to utilize the running back tandem of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett immensely. Again, the issue is whether or not they can average a fair amount of yardage a carry.
Saints Three X-Factors
1. Reggie Bush
2. Drew Brees
3. Receiving Depth
Seahawks Three X-Factors
1. Matt Hasselbeck
2. Marshawn Lynch
3. Special Teams
Prediction: New Orleans 23, Seattle 20
I just can’t do it. I guess I don’t have the ultimate intestinal fortitude to make such a preposterous prediction.
I will say this, I think this game can get wacky, but ultimately Brees guides the Saints down the field to set up the game-winning field goal.