NFL Playoff Predictions: Why The Seattle Seahawks Can Shock The Saints
I'm not saying it's going to happen.
I'm not saying the Saints won't impose their will and demolish the less-talented Seahawks. On paper, they absolutely should.
I'm just saying there's a chance - as there's always a chance in sports - that the Seattle Seahawks shock the World Champion New Orleans Saints at home on Saturday.
Here are five reasons why...
# 1: It's NFL Football
Anything can happen. All the bounces can go one way. All the huge penalties can be called on one team. God can make Steve Johnson drop a pass. An invisible forcefield along the sidelines can keep a James Jones fumble in bounds. Mike Thomas can haul in a tipped Hail Mary. Tony Romo can drop a simple hold. David Tyree can catch a pass on his helmet. Thurman Thomas can lose his helmet. Anthony Wright can play like Joe Montana for a half. The officials can choose to give one team four timeouts. Special teams can swing one way. Someone can play out of his mind. Someone can play the worst game of his career. Important players can get knocked out with injuries.
Throw records out the window. This is the playoffs.
On paper, the Saints may clearly be a better football team, but all that matters is how well you play on that day.
# 2: Homefield Advantage
Despite a better regular season record, the wild card Saints will visit the NFC West champion Seahawks, who boast one of the best homefield advantages in all of football. Qwest Field is arguably the loudest venue in sports and the crowd will undoubtedly be rocking from the start. That type of electric energy should not be overlooked. The Saints also have to prepare for two different quarterbacks and travel all the way across the country on a short week.
Based on the Saints road games this season, the Seahawks will most likely be able to keep this contest within reach. A close game at home in the NFL playoffs means both teams have a legitimate shot to advance.
Here’s what New Orleans has done on the road this year:
-Defeated Alex Smith and the 49ers by three.
-Lost 30-20 to Max Hall and the Arizona Cardinals. So the last time they went out West, they were beaten by a team the Seahawks defeated handily twice.
-Destroyed Tampa Bay. They got off to a fast start and the upstart Bucs played probably their worst game of the year.
-Destroyed Carolina. Please disperse - nothing to see here.
-Defeated Jon Kitna and the Cowboys by three on Thanksgiving (helped by Jason Garrett's ridiculous field goal decisions).
-Defeated the 4-12 Bengals by four.
-Lost in Baltimore.
-Defeated the Falcons by three in a dome.
Vegas has the road team favored by 10.5 here, but if you look at how they've actually performed away from the Superdome (especially outdoors), how can you back them to win in a blowout? And if it's a close game in the fourth quarter, the home team has just as good a chance to win it.
Finally, early forecasts call for showers. Slippery conditions tend to even out talent discrepancies and could negatively impact the quickness and precision-based Saints offensive attack.
# 3: The Saints Are a Good Team, But...
...they are not unbeatable by any stretch. In fact, they don't appear to be nearly as or dominant or determined as the team that won it all last year. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees, but he's turning the ball over more than ever this season. This very Seahawks defense forced Brees into two interceptions in Week 11.
They're also banged up. Running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, easily their best inside runners, were just placed on injured reserve. That means the workload inside the tackles will belong to some combination of Julius Jones, Reggie Bush, and Ladell Betts - an underwhelming trio to put it gently. Wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham are all also dealing with nagging injuries. But probably most significant, safety Malcolm Jenkins, arguably the Saints best defensive player this year, hurt his knee in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay. Pending MRI results, his status for Saturday is currently unknown, and although the pro bowl snub expects to be fine, he could be operating at less than 100 percent.
Finally, consider that the Saints somehow lost to the Browns and Cardinals this season. While those were different games on different days and don't mean anything in terms of Saturday, the point is that they’ve reached that floor twice, so it's at least possible to happen again. If nothing else, those two losses are proof that the 2010 Saints are vulnerable to the big upset.
# 4: The First Meeting in New Orleans
On November 21st, the Saints defeated the Seahawks 34-19 in the Superdome.
While it is true that the Seahawks defense simply could not stop Drew Brees on that particular day, Seattle did keep the game competitive, and had a few things gone a little differently, the outcome may have been different as well.
- It is very difficult to beat a team twice in one year in the NFL. It is extremely difficult to beat a team by 10+ points twice in one year in the NFL.
- After both teams’ first possessions went three-and-out, the Seahawks put together a nine-play 80-yard drive and were stuffed at the Saints 1-yard line. Olindo Mare kicked a 20-yard field goal. Punching that in to go ahead 7-0 may have changed things.
- Seattle actually moved the ball well all game. In fact, Mare kicked FOUR field goals. If two of those scoring drives go for seven instead of three, things are definitely different. Is it too much to expect slightly better red zone execution at home in the playoffs?
Here are some statistics to highlight how the Seattle offense performed in their individual matchups against the Saints defensive personnel:
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: 32-for-44, 366 yards, one touchdown, zero turnovers.
Offensive Line: Zero sacks given up.
Wide receiver Mike Williams: 6 catches for 109 yards on 7 targets.
Running back Marshawn Lynch: 5.1 yards-per-carry on seven carries, two lost fumbles.
A lot of blowout predictions are being thrown around. However, based on their previous contest, the Seahawks should at least be able to score some points. Their offense clearly isn’t overmatched by the Saints defense.
- The Seahawks only touchdown (a two-yard pass to Ben Obomanu) cut the lead to 21-13 but was immediately responded by Brees and Colston on a beautiful long touchdown against decent coverage – the type of covered reception you just have to tip your cap to. Cutting the lead to one score and then having that effort erased immediately on that type of a play was a huge blow mentally and momentum-wise.
- Marshawn Lynch lost TWO fumbles in that game. Those are the types of mistakes an underdog simply can't afford to make. After losing a costly fumble last week against the Rams as well, it's logical to assume that a large emphasis will be placed on ball security in practice this week.
Of course, if the Seahawks don't play better on defense, specifically in the secondary and in terms of generating a pass rush, the Saints are going to score at will again. But why can't they play better on this particular day – especially at home? They didn’t have defensive tackle Colin Cole in the first meeting either, and the Seahawks run defense still managed to hold lead runner Chris Ivory to an unspectacular 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
# 5: Special Teams
Jon Ryan is one of the best punters in the league. Olindo Mare missed just one field goal at home all year. Leon Washington can take it to the house on any given return. Garrett Hartley has missed some big kicks, Reggie Bush has been known to put the ball on the ground, and the relatively slow Pierre Thomas back deep on returns isn’t much of a threat to one of the top kick-covering teams in the league.
The Saints may be better on offense and defense but special teams is one-third of the game and the Seahawks have a clear advantage in that area.