It's fair to wonder if Monday night's meeting between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks is simply the warm-up for a January rematch.
The Seahawks lead the Saints by one game in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, and neither team has lost at home in 2013. Tonight's location -- Seattle's ultra-rowdy CenturyLink Field -- will be a factor.
For the first time ever, Seahawks passer Russell Wilson will face Drew Brees, whose outstanding season comes with one caveat: He's not been his best on the road.
Here's what we'll be watching Monday night:
- As mentioned, Brees is unstoppable at the Superdome, but he's struggled to produce equal fireworks in enemy territory. His home completion percentage (73.5) dips on the road (62.2), where he's throwing 50-plus fewer yards per game. His touchdown-to-interception ratio at home (19-3) is considerably higher than elsewhere (9-5), while his passer rating falls 32.5 points on the road. Look, it's Brees -- he's a Big Easy demigod for good reason -- but if you've got him on the schedule, you want him in your house.
- The vertically challenged nature of Brees and Wilson is a mass-media dead horse beaten into bloody submission. Still, Wilson has long viewed Brees as a mentor because of their shared physical traits. "He's my favorite player. Watching a guy like that, who's this much taller than me (holding his fingers half an inch apart), there's not too much of a difference," Wilson said.
"Russell is a much better athlete than I am," Brees said of Wilson, who needs just one more victory in 2013 to match the most wins by a quarterback in his first two seasons since 1950. Short people everywhere: Take heart.
- Quarterback chatter aside, this game might boil down to Rob Ryan's impressive Saints D keeping a lid on Seattle's third-ranked ground attack. The Seahawks unapologetically have hammered teams with the run, amassing the second-most attempts in the NFL this season at a meaty 4.5 yards per rush. Nobody gallops harder than Marshawn Lynch, who enters with 925 yards on the ground and 100-plus-yard outings in two of his last three starts. He's a headache to tackle, and we could see the Seahawks -- with that offensive line healthy again -- look to repeat what the New York Jets did to New Orleans back in Week 9.
- Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary is again among the league's best, but depth is a concern. Cornerback Brandon Browner is out with a groin injury and faces a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. The Seahawks expected Walter Thurmond to take his place, but he faces a four-game ban of his own after breaking the same league policy. That leaves Byron Maxwell at right corner and Jeremy Lane in the slot alongside Richard Sherman. Look for Brees to test this duo immediately.
- We were fired up to see a heavier dose of Percy Harvin, but that won't happen tonight. The Seattle X-factor's ailing hip required cortisone shots over the weekend, and Harvin views himself as a no-go against New Orleans, a source informed of the player's health told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. Seattle's best case scenario is a fully operational Percy for the playoffs.
- The Saints have zero wiggle room in the NFC South after the Pantherspulled even with New Orleans in the win column on Sunday. They play each other twice over the next threeweeks with the division -- and a playoff bye -- at stake. If you're Seattle, you control your own destiny and must simply do what you've done for two seasons at home without fail: win.