Home-field advantage is up for grabs throughout the NFC playoffs when the (9-2) New Orleans Saints visit the (10-1) Seattle Seahawks under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
The Seahawks have been dominant at home winning 13 straight games at Century Link Field dating back to December of 2011, and have won 6 straight games overall. New Orleans has gotten its groove back since losing to the Jets back on November 3rd by winning 3 straight games.
Game-time temperatures for this one are expected to be in the early 30s, which doesn’t bode well for Drew Brees who sports a 4-8 record when the temperature is under 40 degrees. The last time these teams faced each other was during the 2010 post-season, when the 7-9 Seahawks beat the Saints 41-36 (The Beast Mode Game).
Everyone knows how prolific this Saints offense can be, but whether they can do it in the cold, on the road remains to be seen. Drew Brees is having a proto-typical Drew Brees season. He’s thrown for over 3,600 yards, 28 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions, and is completing a staggering 68.3 percent of his passes. Jimmy Graham is terrorizing opposing defenses with 11 touchdowns on the year. After that, it’s been a mix of Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles in the passing game. Sproles is arguably the league’s biggest matchup nightmare. Although the running game ranks 23rd, the fact that Mark Ingram is finally getting into a groove is great news for this offense.
Here’s how the Seahawks would prefer to run its offense: establish the run with Marshawn Lynch in order to set up the play action for Russell Wilson. It’s worked up to this point. Lynch ranks 4th in the NFL with 925 yards on the ground, and Russell Wilson has added 409 himself. Wilson though has only surpassed throwing for more than 300 yards once. That came in week one against the Panthers ironically at the same time the Seahawks scored the teams lowest points total of the season (12). Although he hasn’t had to chuck it around, Wilson hasn’t turned the ball over much which is huge. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions and is completing 64 percent of his passes. The weakest unit on the Seahawks is the receivers. Percy Harvin is listed as doubtful and likely won’t play. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are the leading receivers on the team, and the combination has combined for 7 touchdowns. Wilson has done a great job of spreading the ball around and has used the run game to set up the play action very effectively. If that continues, the sky’s the limit for this Seattle team.
Seahawks – Seattle gets the offensive edge in this one as a result of the weather, and the fact that these kind of games rely on the play of the running back. Marshawn Lynch has the ability to take over this game, something no one in the Saints backfield can do.
The Seahawks Legion of Boom defense will be without 2 of its top pass defenders on Monday Night. Cornerbacks Walther Thurmond was just suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and Brandon Browner remains out with a groin injury. This is a huge blow for Seattle who will be facing the most lethal passing attack the team has faced all season. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas will still be there, but Byron Maxwell and and Jeremy Lane will be filling in. Expect Brees to target Lane and Maxwell as much as possible to see whether or not they can live up to the task. If not, it will be a long day for the Seahawks defense. The key will be getting pressure on Drew Brees and that starts with Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons who must deliver if the Seahawks want to stay in the game.
Coming into week 13, the Saints revitalized Saints defense leads the NFL with 37 sacks. The combination of Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette has combined for 15.5 of them. Believe it or not, New Orleans pass defense ranks 3rd in the NFL allowing 198 passing yards per game. The pass rush certainly has a lot to do with that, but you can’t under-estimate the job Kenny Vaccaro and the Saints secondary has done this season. If the Saints are going to win this game though, they’re going to have to slow down Marshawn Lynch. New Orleans ranks 15th giving up 111.9 yards per game, and if Lynch can run over this defense like he did in 2010, that will spell a lot of trouble for the Saints.
Saints – In a shocker, the defensive edge goes to New Orleans. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Browner and Thurmond will be out. It’s unclear what kind of effect that will have on the Seahawks defense.
Kicker: Garrett Hartley vs. Steven Hauschka
Punter: Thomas Morstead vs. Jon Ryan
Return Man: Darren Sproles vs. Jermaine Kearse
In the kicking game, Steven Hauschka has missed just one kick all season, while Garrett Hartley has missed six, including a recent 2/6 streak. Hartley as responded though by making his last 4 tries.
In the punting game, Thomas Morestead’s 46.8 yards punting average is 3 yards greater than Jon Ryan’s. Both punters have done a good job keeping the ball out of the end-zone with a combined 7 touchbacks on the season.
In the return game, Darren Sproles and Jermaine Kearse both have the ability to break one at any time, but neither of them have scored a return touchdown this season. One would think it’s only a matter of time.
Seahawks – If this came comes down to crunch time, you have more faith in Steven Hauschka than Garrett Hartley.
The Seahawks are so dominant at home, it’s not even fair. Expect Drew Brees to play well, but that crowd noise and Marshawn Lynch will be too much.
Seahawks 29 Saints 26