The NFL Playoffs are set to kick off in a few hours. For football fans, this is the biggest moment of the year.
All the hard work, all the dedication, ups and downs from the long regular season culminate in one game. Win and advance or lose and go home.
This is Wild Card Weekend, and there are four games being played that will determine each conference’s final four.
The Saints are the defending champions and got the best possible match-up of all the Wild Card teams getting to play what is possibly the worst team in post-season history.
So is this game a blow-out waiting to happen or an upset of monumental proportions?
Home field advantage?
Seattle was 5-3 at home this season, but their wins consisted of all three NFC West opponents, the putrid Carolina Panthers and the disappointing San Diego Chargers all the way back in Week 3. That’s not exactly Murderers' Row there.
The Saints, on the other hand, were 6-2 on the road, with their crowning achievement being the giant win in Atlanta in Week 16. However, New Orleans is entering the playoffs having lost two of their last three games.
The Seahawks do score about a touchdown more per game at home, but New Orleans is the opposite of that, scoring about a touchdown more on the road than they do in the Superdome.
The Seattle crowd will no doubt be raucous to start the game, but unless some of them can suit up and play at a high level, look for Qwest Field to be quiet enough to hear a pin drop by the second half.
Case in point(s)
Seattle has only put up 30 or more points in a game three times this year, against the 49ers, Cardinals and Panthers. They haven’t put more than 20 points up against a good team since hanging 23 on Chicago back in Week 6.
(I don’t count the 24 they scored against Kansas City because some of those points were in garbage time of a blow-out loss.)
They played four playoff teams this season and averaged 21 points in those games, going 1-3.
The Saints broke the 30-point mark six times this year, including one run of five consecutive games. However, since scoring 31 against the Rams in Week 14, their point totals have dipped to 24 then 17 then 13 to finish the year.
They weren’t exactly world-beaters against playoff opposition, either, averaging a hair below 24 points in five games against playoff teams.
They did, however, post a season-high 34 on Seattle back in Week 11, and went 3-2 against playoff competition.
The Saints were sixth in the league in total offense against the 28th ranked Seahawks. Defensively, it’s the same story. New Orleans was fourth in total defense, Seattle was 27th.
If the Seahawks are going to hang with New Orleans, it’s got to be behind turnovers and points put on the board with defense and special teams. The can’t outscore the Saints toe-to-toe.
The guys under center
Drew Brees had what amounts for an off-year for him. He still racked up tons of yards and threw for 33 touchdowns, but he also had an uncharacteristic 22 interceptions.
If the Saints have any hopes of repeating, Brees will have to stop turning the ball over like he’s Brett Favre.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst checked in as the 52nd and 60th rated QB’s out of the 79 guys who took a snap during this season. Combined, they tossed only 14 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. (Brees was a fair-to-middling 20th for comparison.)
Whoever ends up playing for Seattle today will be a hollow shell of Brees.
I look for Brees to have a big game yardage wise, but watch out for the INTs, especially when you consider my next point…
Can anyone run the ball?
Reggie Bush is going to have to be the featured back for the Saints because their top two rushers, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, are injured.
Bush, who missed quite a bit of time himself because of injury, only had 36 carries for 150 yards and zero rushing touchdowns this year.
He’s never been all that great as the principle back, and he’ll have to be productive to take some of the pressure off Brees in this game.
Fortunately for him, Seattle give up nearly 120 yards per game on the ground with a run defense that is in the bottom third of the league.
Seattle also has its issues on the ground. They didn’t have a back exceed 600 yards this year. Bills castoff Marshawn Lynch led the team with 573 yards and six touchdowns.
They finished 31st in the league in rushing. But, fortunately for them, the Saints run defense isn’t a lot better than their own, ranking 16th in the league.
So who wins this battle? Bush has a tendency of being either spectacular or invisible. Don’t be surprised if he’s the latter this week.
I think Seattle is going to make a concerted effort to run the ball more to keep Brees and company off the field, and I expect the Saints to pass, pass and pass some more.
Who will win?
At the end of the day, I would be stunned if New Orleans lost this game. Seattle is simply not in their class.
That being said, I do think this will be a lot closer than many people expect. Look for a big day from Leon Washington in the return game for the Seahawks, a surprisingly successful rushing attack and at least two picks from Brees.
If Hasselbeck is the starter, he may just put in an inspired effort in what could be the final game of his career, and almost certainly will be his last game as a Seahawk.
New Orleans will have little success running the ball, and rack up big yardage through the air. Turnovers will kill them, though, keeping Seattle in the game until late.
Ultimately, the Saints will do what they done most of this season, squeak out a close win against a team they really should blow out.
Final Score: Saints 28, Seahawks 22
Wow. Seattle scored 41 points. I thought Matt Hasselbeck might have a big game, and that they could run the ball surprisingly well. And I knew Reggie Bush would be useless, and Brees would throw for a ton of yards. The only way I thought Seattle could even stay in the game was if Brees turned it over. I knew that if they didn't, the Saints would score 35 points. Seattle couldn't score enough to keep up with that, or so I thought.
New Orleans only had one turnover, scored 36 points and lost. I thought Arizona played some truly awful defense in the playoffs last year, but this might be worse. At least Green Bay and New Orleans have powerful offenses, it's understandable if they put up big points. But to let a team as mediocre as Seattle to break 40 on you in the playoffs! That hurts.
The glow is off that magical Superbowl reputation after this. The Saints are just another contender coming up short.
As for Seattle, can they go into Chicago or Atlanta and do it again? I don't think so, because both those teams can actually run the ball and both tend to play some pretty good defense on occasion. Plus, Seattle has been generally lousy on the road this year.
You can bet that the Falcons are breathing a bit easier. They did not want to see the Saints comin' to town after they beat Atlanta at home just a few weeks ago. It could be dangerous, though. There might be a bit of a letdown against Seattle. If it's Green Bay, they'll be up for that, no doubt.