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'Monday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Saints-Seahawks

New Orleans Saints
2021 · 3-2-0
Seattle Seahawks
2021 · 2-4-0

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Lumen Field

The Sean Payton-led Saints and Pete Carroll-led Seahawks have clashed six times in the last 12 seasons. The last three have been decided by eight points or less, with the most recent matchup in 2019 going to the Saints when they marched into Seattle. The quarterback play in those matchups varied over the years, but it's noteworthy that Monday Night Football will be the first time these teams have played in over a decade without a future Hall of Famer under either center. Both sidelines, however, still boast HOF-caliber talent at the helm, and the veteran quarterbacks leading their respective teams into battle bring their own flair and flavor to a matchup neither team can afford to lose.

Here are four things to watch for Monday night when the Seahawks host the Saints:

1) Wild, wild, Winston revisited? If 2019 Jameis Winston and 2021 Jameis Winston were in the same room, it’s likely no one would confuse one for the other. That’s just how much the former No. 1 overall pick has reined it in under Payton’s tutelage. A year of preening has sprouted a more refined version of Winston, who’s passing the ball at career-best levels of efficiency, albeit with less volume. Long criticized for holding the ball too long, Winston has been prolific on quick passes, completing 83.3% of them while tossing five touchdowns to zero interceptions. The overall improvement has been nice to see, but, every now and again, the ghost of risky passes past threatens to muck things up. So far, the risks have been kept to a minimum, but if there was ever a matchup for the more aggressive Winston to return, it's this one. Seattle is surrendering a league-worst 433.2 total yards per game and ranks 20th in points per game allowed (24.8). Winston, meanwhile, has yet to throw for more than 300 in a game this season. Insert eyes emoji here. If the Saints play their cards right, an offensive explosion could be in store, whether Winston goes crazy or not. Expect Alvin Kamara and Marquez Callaway to get even more attention than usual, especially with Taysom Hill (concussion) and Deonte Harris (hamstring) out.

2) Go, Geno, go. Any guy backing up a perennial Pro Bowler who’s never missed a game is going to look like an understudy who never attended a rehearsal. It hasn’t always been pretty -- word to the offensive line -- but Geno Smith has been giving it all he’s got, and 'Hawks fans have to respect that. MNF marks another foray into the prime-time limelight for Geno, who has been about as up and down as it gets since relieving an injured Russell Wilson in Week 5. Prior to Week 6, Smith hadn't recorded a start since 2017 when he was with the Giants; his last win as a starter came with the Jets in 2016. Despite falling to Pittsburgh in overtime last week, Seattle hung tough on the road, thanks to a second-half surge led by Smith and running back Alex Collins. One has to wonder how that outcome might've differed without Smith's OT fumble. With Collins nursing a groin injury, his impact could be minimized against Cam Jordan and the Saints' notoriously tough run defense, meaning more could be placed on Smith's plate. It'll be interesting to see how he handles the heat if he has to whip something up to keep his team in it.

3) Marshon vs. Metcalf: Who prevails? What a way to be welcomed back from a bye week for Marshon Lattimore and the Saints secondary. The shutdown corner had the pleasure (?) of matching up with some of the NFL's best through the first five weeks. This week, he draws DK Metcalf in what will be their second head-to-head battle. Two years ago, a then-rookie Metcalf was solid but not spectacular against Lattimore and Co., finishing with two receptions for 67 yards in a six-point Saints win. The Seahawks wideout has evolved into a bona fide top-five player at his position since then, a title Lattimore can say he's had on his resume for the past several seasons. With Chauncey Gardner-Johnson matching up primarily against the always-dangerous Tyler Lockett in the slot, the game plan should allow Lattimore to spend most of the night shadowing Metcalf. Known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve at times, Metcalf could be in for a potentially frustrating night against the three-time Pro Bowler that could beget a costly mistake or two as the game wanes on.

4) 'Hawks flying wounded. Seattle has been a model of consistency throughout the Carroll-Wilson era. Nine playoff appearances. Nine winning seasons. A shiny Super Bowl ring. As things currently stand, though, the 2021 campaign is shaping up to be one of the few blemishes on their cumulative record. Seattle has not finished last in the NFC West, where it currently sits, since 1996; the club has also not started 2-5 or worse since drafting Wilson. Both are in danger of happening, barring a turnaround. Historically, the Seahawks have fared well on MNF, posting an 11-2 record during Carroll's tenure. But, of course, the recipe for success this time around is missing a key ingredient. Coming away with a much-needed victory would give the 12s something to cheer about, but, more importantly, it would keep the 'Hawks in flight until their leader "1, 2 step"-s his way back into the lineup.

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