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Saints have clear advantage all across the field on Seahawks

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A breakdown of Saturday's wild-card showdown between the Saints and Seahawks:

Drew Brees has thrown for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns, but his 22 interceptions rank second-worst to only Eli Manning. He threw four TDs and two INTs vs. Seattle earlier this season. Still, Brees is a maestro when it matters. This matters.

Pierre Thomas and backup Chris Ivory were both placed on injured reserve this week, which hurts. Reggie Bush is a threat and Julius Jones provides depth, but the Saints will miss Ivory's power and Thomas' red-zone proficiency.

One of the most overlooked players in the NFL is WR Lance Moore. He has eight TD receptions and seems to shine when least expected. Leading receiver Marques Colston might not be back from knee surgery. Still, there are plenty of weapons.

Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are as violent as they come. They anchor a line that works well together in front of one of the most complex schemes in the NFL. Jon Stinchcomb and Jermon Bushrod will have to play well at the tackle spots.

Will Smith (5.5 sacks) is a force. The player that really has stepped up is DT Sedrick Ellis. He has six sacks and is now re-setting the line of scrimmage with regularity. Waves of fresh bodies are used up front and the unit is relentless.

Sedrick Ellis

MLB Jonathan Vilma is one of the smartest players in the NFL. His anticipation is unmatched and he'll be tough to block in the running game. He's also fast enough to help in the short passing game. OLB Scott Shanle is underrated.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins is questionable with a knee injury, which opens the door for veteran Darren Sharper to return at free safety. CBs Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer match up well, although Seattle's Mike Williams could present some problems.

Injuries have hurt the return teams but Bush is still one of the most dangerous punt returners in the game. PK Garrett Hartley has been very shaky. The coverage teams are solid and that will be huge because of Seattle's return teams.

Sean Payton is one of the most feared play-callers in the NFL because he has a quarterback who is equally as merciless. He will find mismatches and not relent. DC Gregg Williams won't waste much time getting after the QB.

This looks like a major mismatch. The Saints are injured at key spots, though. New Orleans' defense could cause huge problems for Seattle. The Saints want to defend their title and should be focused.

Matt Hasselbeck appears to be the likely starter, but Charlie Whitehurst didn't look bad in the season finale. At the worst, Seattle has options and depth. Hasselbeck put up big numbers in the loss to the Saints and his experience will help.

They have the second-worst running game in the NFL at 89 yards per game. The Saints are vulnerable against the run, though, and Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett could break off some chunks. Leon Washington could be a matchup advantage.

Mike Williams is the main target and, at 6-foot-5, he's as dangerous as they come. He will probably be doubled even though he will face a pair of good corners. It is stunning that he only has two TD grabs. TE John Carlson is someone to watch.

Things function much better with top draft pick Russell Okung at left tackle but he's been troubled by a bad ankle for much of the season. He'll have to deal with DE Will Smith, who is very tough. This group is decent in pass protection.

DE Chris Clemons has had a monster year (11 sacks) but he was shut out in the first meeting with New Orleans. His backup, Raheem Brock, has nine sacks. Seattle will scheme to get those two in favorable spots, but pressuring Brees isn't easy.

OLB Aaron Curry and MLB Lofa Tatupu are the recognizable names, but OLB David Hawthorne has been a machine with a team-high 106 tackles. Curry and Hawthorne will be stressed in pass coverage with Bush and Thomas as receiving threats.

Ageless SS Lawyer Milloy is the driving force of the defense but Saints coach Sean Payton will try to isolate him in coverage. While rookie FS Earl Thomas has played well, he will also be targeted deep and on intermediate routes.

Lawyer Milloy

Washington is one of the most dangerous punt and kick returners in the NFL. Odds are the Saints won't kick/punt to him much to reduce any chance of a big play. PK Olindo Mare has been reliable from 45 yards in.

Pete Carroll's team has been high and low all season and the master motivator must use the us-against-the-world mentality to prepare his team. The offensive game plan can't be too conservative because the Saints will score.

Seattle is definitely happy just to be here. At 7-9, everything is gravy at this point. There are some proud vets on this team and you cannot discount the element of the 12th Man. The danger of Leon Washington also could be a huge factor.


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