What We Learned - In the First Half  


Divisional Round Weekend preview: Saints-Seahawks


New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, FOX

The backstory

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If you don't think the Seahawks' 34-7 beat down of the Saints in Week 13 matters, consider this: Teams that lost a regular-season game by 27-plus points and played that same team on the road in the postseason are 2-9. In that matchup, the Saints gained just 188 yards of total offense, which is the fewest yards gained by the franchise in any game since 2003.

The Saints broke their road-game curse last week, but Seattle has unquestionably the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL. It absolutely matters that this game is at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks have won five consecutive postseason home games -- tied for the longest active streak with these very Saints.

Sean Payton is looking to run back his motivational magic of last week by putting the Seahawks' logo on their practice field. In truth, if revenge for an early season beatdown and retribution for the 2010 playoff loss -- in a game in which Marshawn Lynch caused a freaking earthquake -- isn't enough motivation, paint on a field isn't working.

Under pressure

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Drew Brees

The Seahawks' Cover 3, triangle defense in the secondary has helped negate Drew Brees' ability to stretch the field. He was a checkdown machine Week 13, completing just four passes for 10 or more yards. He completed only one pass over nine yards in the first half -- before the game became laughable.

Brees has been a different player on the road, compiling his seven-lowest passer ratings of this season away from the Superdome. Those seven road games includes last week's meh 250-yard, two-interception, one-touchdown performance that netted him a 75.7 rating.

The Saints need Brees to hit on a couple big plays to his wide receivers. New Orleans will not beat this Seattle defense by dinking and dunking its way down field.

Matchup to watch

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Jimmy Graham vs. Seahawks linebackers

Graham is the Saints' biggest offensive advantage. However, the league's touchdown leader hasn't topped 73 yards in a game since Week 12. The Saints need him to be prolific Saturday.

One positive for the tight end: He won't have to deal with linebacker K.J. Wright this go-around. Wright has been ruled out with a broken bone in his foot. In the last meeting, Wright was all over the field. The 6-foot-4 linebacker excelled in coverage against Graham and tackled Darren Sproles well out of the backfield. Watching the matchup on Game Rewind, Wright and Bobby Wagner made plays few linebackers have talent to produce.

Wright's replacement, Malcolm Smith, has filled in well, but he doesn't have Wright's coverage skills. He is also four inches shorter than Wright, which will make a difference in coverage against the 6-foot-7 Graham.

Mind-blowing stats

The NFC's No. 1 seed has been one and done in four of the last six seasons (2011 Packers, 2010 Falcons, 2008 Giants and 2007 Cowboys). ... Russell Wilson is the only player in NFL history to have a passer rating of at least 100.0 in both his rookie and sophomore seasons (100.0 in 2012, 101.2 in 2013). ... The Saints became the first team in league history with four players to catch 70-plus passes in a season. Only one of which was a wide receiver (TE Jimmy Graham, 86; RB Pierre Thomas, 77; WR Marques Colston, 75; RB Darren Sproles, 71). ... The Seahawks went 3-1 against the remaining NFC playoff teams, outscoring them by a total of 92-36 and did not allow more than seven points in any of their wins. ... The 256 yards allowed by the Saints in their wild-card victory were the fewest given up in a playoff game in franchise history, by 78 yards.


The Seahawks won't have as many fluky plays go their way Saturday and a struggling Seattle passing offense won't allow this game to be a blowout rerun of Week 13. However, one simple truth remains: The Seattle Seahawks have more talent and depth than the New Orleans Saints. So while it will be a closer game, Seattle still wins.

Seattle Seahawks 26, New Orleans Saints 13


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