The Saints-Seahawks game has a universal opinion about the outcome already. Have you heard one person say they like the Seahawks to beat the Saints? Have you heard anyone claim the 12th man is a factor in stopping the defending world champions?
I haven't heard anyone claim they can see Seattle advancing in the playoffs, especially since it comes in with the distinction of being the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record in a full 16-game season.
My first thought is beware of the unanimous pick, particularly for a team on a short week that has some injury issues at running back. As for the 12th man, the Seahawks were 0-3 at home against winning teams and were outscored in those games, 117-49.
When these teams met in Week 11, it was a game where the two defenses decided to take the day off. New Orleans won, 34-19, but in the 87 combined passes, there were no sacks and only three punts the whole game. The Saints are much more aggressive now defensively than they were at that point. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have made adjustments to their losses on the defensive line and are much more likely to blitz off the edge with corners and safeties to cover up some of the deficiencies up front.
Here are the four pressing questions heading into the matchup.
1. Can Seahawks stop Brees?
Coach Pete Carroll will study his first game against Drew Brees as well as the Saints' final four games to build his game plan. In the past four weeks, Brees averaged 45.3 pass plays a game and completed 65 percent of his throws, but has been sacked eight times and thrown six interceptions in that span.
Carroll will look for clues on how to pressure Brees because Brees had four touchdown passes in the first meeting and wasn't sacked. I talked with Raheem Brock this week, the only Seahawk to even register a hit on Brees during that matchup, and he feels the Seahawks have a few tricks up their sleeve. If Seattle doesn't get to Brees, then watch out for wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, assuming Colston is cleared to play with a knee injury. Both had a pair of touchdown receptions last time and rookie tight end Jimmy Graham has become a dangerous weapon since the first tilt.
2. Can Seattle run the ball?
The last time these teams met, the Seahawks settled for four field goals and two of them were from 20 yards. They never got a running game going and finished up with just 16 rushes for 46 yards and 26 minutes of possession time. The Saints take most teams right out of the run game because they score quickly and force teams to play from behind. The Saints had 27 points by halftime in Week 11 and put up 205 offensive points in the first half during the regular season. Everyone talks about the Saints' offense, but the defense finished fourth in the NFL.
3. Can New Orleans contain Washington?
For the Seahawks to have a chance, they need to win the return game against Carroll's old pupil, Reggie Bush, and the explosive Leon Washington must lead the way. Washington had three kickoff return touchdowns in the regular season and is capable of taking back a punt as well. The Saints were in the bottom half of the league covering kicks and punts and need to be ready for Washington.
4. Can Saints rush the passer?
The Saints have sacks from 15 different players, including six defensive backs, clearly showing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is a scheme coach. He is not simply relying on his front four to get to the quarterback, which can put a lot of pressure on a guy like Charlie Whitehurst or an immobile Matt Hasselbeck. The Saints will not sit back and play vanilla defense. The unit has really fallen off in the interception department from last year with nine and now relies more on pressure than coverage. Williams has to keep an eye on Seattle's two big receivers, Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu, while in his pressure calls. The two receivers combined for 11 receptions, 196 yards and a touchdown the last time they met.
All things considered, I think the road team will win this game. Still, I'm not inclined to think it is a blowout. I like the Saints to separate late and win 30-14.