The New Orleans Saints overcame their road struggles Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field to defeat the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles on Wild-Card Weekend. Their reward: a date with the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where the home team owns a 7-1 mark.
Of course, these two NFC contenders met in a Monday Night Football showdown on Dec. 2, but only one team looked like a true power. The Seahawks routed the Saints, 34-7, in one of Russell Wilson’s best performances on the year. Seattle’s second-year quarterback threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns while the Seahawks defense limited the high-flying Saints offense to 188 total yards and a dozen first-downs, also returning a Drew Brees fumble to pay dirt in the process.
The Seahawks became the only team all season to score more than 30 points against Rob Ryan’s defense, as Ryan’s blitzes proved ineffective against Wilson, who has the ability to make plays outside of the pocket. Wilson was 8-for-9 when Ryan sent five pass rushers or more. He also found success throwing deep on the Saints’ pass defense, going 5-for-8 for 185 yards on passes at least 15 years downfield.
Seattle has not been as dominant since that win over New Orleans, though, dropping two of their last four games to end the year, including a 17-10 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals on their home turf.
The offense has not been as electric. Opposing teams have not allowed Lynch to rush for more than 100 yards since Nov. 10, while Wilson has not thrown for more than 206 yards since the New Orleans game. The defense, however, has still held opponents to fewer than nine points per game over their past five games.
New Orleans has also struggled since its defeat at the hands of Seattle, finishing this year with a 2-2 mark with both losses coming away from the Super Dome. The questions looming over the Saints on the road were answered — at least momentarily — with their win over Philadelphia Saturday.
Brees, who threw for 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the road this year, passed for 250 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions, amounting to a 75.7 quarterback rating. Still, his efficiency is not the same in away games, so it was a relief he received help from the Saints’ rushing attack. Mark Ingram and Co. totaled 185 yards, the team’s second-highest mark on the season.
One key injury to pay attention to leading up to the game is that of Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who sustained a head injury against Philly and was forced from the game. Lewis, arguably the team’s top defensive back, remains a question mark for the Divisional Round, and his absence could spell trouble for the Saints’ secondary which could not slow down Wilson in their meeting a month ago.
And one wildcard to consider is Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin, who played in just one game this season after battling a hip injury throughout the year. Harvin practiced all week and even drew praise from coach Pete Carroll. It’s likely Harvin is a game-time decision, and if healthy he adds a whole new element to the Seattle offense, which already makes defenses account for Wilson, Lynch, Golden Tate and tight end Zach Miller.
Prediction: The Saints may have proved their doubters wrong by knocking off Philadelphia last week, but the task becomes all the more difficult against arguably the best team in the NFL. Sean Payton will undoubtedly have his team more competitive in this one, but the Saints’ banged up secondary will be a problem against Russell Wilson. Conversely, it’s hard to bet against Drew Brees, but his statistics away from the Dome speak for themselves, and there is no venue more difficult to play in than CenturyLink Field. Seattle 31, New Orleans 21