Saints at Seahawks: Divisional round preview and prediction

Centurylink Field Seattle Seahawks

Louis East previews the New Orleans Saints daunting play-off road game at the Seattle Seahawks.

The second round of the NFL playoffs get underway on Saturday night at 9:35pm UK time with the New Orleans Saints (12-5) heading to CenturyLink Field to face the Seattle Seahawks (13-3). T

he Divisional round means that the NFL’s top-seeded teams enter the action this weekend, after enjoying a bye-week last weekend.

The Seahawks, Patriots, Panthers and Broncos will all play conference rivals who made it through an epic wildcard weekend last time out.

The first game this weekend will take place in Seattle in a rematch of the week 13 Monday night meeting between the two sides. Seattle destroyed New Orleans 34-7 on that occasion and Drew Brees and his Saints offense could not get going. Things will need to be very different if the Saints are to reach the NFC Championship game next week.

New Orleans beat the Philadelphia Eagle 26-24 last week, winning on the road in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They managed to do so without relying solely on outstanding quarterback, Drew Brees, as the running game worked so effectively last time out.

Mark Ingram carried the ball 18 times for 97 yards, scoring a touchdown as well, as ground game really helped carry the team through. This was non-existent the last time these two met, as the Saints were only able to rush for 44 yards in week 13.

An improved run game will be vital for the Saints if they are to get anything out of the Seahawks, who are ranked as the best defense in the NFL in all areas, apart from defending the run. But they are not far off the top, letting up just 3.9 yards per carry, and 101.6 yards per game.

The weakest link in an extremely strong Seattle defense can be found in the interior defensive line, and Mark Ingram will be looking to exploit the gaps here, as he did so effectively last week in Philadelphia.

Though, Jimmy Graham is Drew Brees’ biggest weapon on offense, and the giant tight-end could be set for a big game. The Seahawks will be without outside-linebacker K.J Wright, who was able to keep Graham quiet in the previous encounter, and Jimmy Graham will benefit greatly from Wright’s absence on defense.

Drew Brees goes into this game in poor form by his standards. He has now thrown at least 2 interceptions in his past three games for the first time in his career. He’ll need to be at his best to avoid throwing any more, with Seattle’s ball-hawk secondary a daunting opposition for any quarterback.

The Saints will likely adopt a balanced pass-run offense scheme for this game as a result. They will not want Brees throwing the ball too often, especially with the incredibly loud CenturyLink Field crowd in attendance. Expect a lot of emphasis to be put on the running game, as the Saints will look to keep Russell Wilson and co. off the field.

The Seattle defense have been incredible all season, averaging only 14.4 points against and letting up 273.6 yards per game. They limited New Orleans to just seven points earlier in the season and will be looking to give up even less this time round.

Cornerback, Richard Sherman, is an influential member of the defense and he will take the Saints receivers out of the game. Lance Moore or Marques Colston will most-likely line up against Sherman, but they will do well to get anything out of him one-on-one.

Second-year Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson, will need to have another big game to help steer his side towards the Superbowl. Wilson completed 63.1% of his passes in the regular season, throwing 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions for the year. His ability to make plays from outside the pocket make him so dangerous for any defense.

Wilson is also protected by a very strong offensive line, who will protect any pass-rush that New Orleans throws their way.

Though the biggest factor in this game may just be the home crowd. The Seattle fans were so loud last time these teams met, that they set a Guinness World Record for the loudest outdoor sports stadium noise, with a decibel reading of 137.5. They will make it a hostile atmosphere for Brees and his offense, and the incredible support is a major factor behind why the Seahawks have only lost one of their last 16 home games.

This will be a closer affair than the last time these two met in week 13, but the same result appears inevitable. The Seahawks will simply be too strong for the Saints. With a week off behind them and the CenturyLink Field audience, it is difficult to see the Saints walking out of town with a win.

Predicted Score: Saints 20-28 Seahawks

images: © Neal D, © Noah Meyerhans