Divisional Round Playoff Preview: New Orleans (6) at Seattle (1)

Intern Files, Kevin Joyce, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks
Can Drew Brees and the Saints keep their momentum with an upset over the #1 seed?

Can Drew Brees and the Saints keep their momentum with an upset over the #1 seed?

I’ve put together some playoff matchup previews to get you all set for my favorite weekend of the year in professional football: the Divisional Round. It’s the one weekend when fans get to watch four Grade-A games, each featuring two Top-8 teams duking it out to get a coveted spot in their respective conference’s championship bout. The quality of football is never better, and the stakes are the highest they’ve been all season. To say the least, each of the teams remaining deserves to be in the spot they’re in, and while some weren’t projected to be in this position even a month ago, none of that has any bearing on the outcomes of the weekend’s contests. One team might be better on paper, one team might be better on the road, one team might be better in certain climates, but when it comes down to it, you have to play the game. Nevertheless, I’ll be laying out all the stats, trends and analysis you might need to be prepared and knowledgeable for each postseason battle. Let’s dive in.

Game Info:

Location: Century Link Field

Date: Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kickoff Time: 4:35 PM ET

Weather Forecast: Partly cloudy, 46 degrees

TV: FOX

New Orleans Saints (11-5):

Offense:

  • Total YPG: 399.4 (4th)
  • Pass YPG: 307.4 (2nd)
  • Rush YPG: 92.0 (25th)
  • PPG: 25.9 (10th)

Defense:

  • Total YPG: 305.7 (4th)
  • Pass YPG: 194.1 (2nd)
  • Rush YPG: 111.6 (19th)
  • PPG: 19.0 (4th)

Seattle Seahawks (13-3):

Offense:

  • Total YPG: 339.0 (17th)
  • Pass YPG: 202.2 (26th)
  • Rush YPG: 136.8 (4th)
  • PPG: 26.1 (9th)

Defense:

  • Total YPG: 273.1 (1st)
  • Pass YPG: 172.0 (1st)
  • Rush YPG: 101.1 (1st)
  • PPG: 14.4 (1st)

Most recent matchup:

December 2nd, 2013 – New Orleans at Seattle – Final: Seattle 34, New Orleans 7

Analysis:

Everything at first glance points to a Seattle victory – it’s almost impossible to refute the statistical and on-field evidence that favors a (potentially big) Seattle win at the CLink. Defensively, Seattle is beyond outstanding. The “Legion of Boom” lived up to it’s billing this year as by far the best secondary in football, with All-Pros Richard Sherman (8 INT), Earl Thomas (105 tackles, 5 INT) and Kam Chancellor (98 tackles, 3 INT) leading the way. Good luck finding a way to gain any significant yardage through the air against that group. New Orleans’ first game against this squad, a primetime matchup that would decide who had the inside edge for homefield advantage in the NFC, ended up being a clunker by the normally explosive Saints attack. Drew Brees mustered only 147 yards passing and the Saints only managed 188 yards and 7 points in all, compared to 429 total yards and 34 points by the Seahawks.

However, while the majority of evidence does lean towards Seattle advancing, there are some positive signs for the Saints coming into this game. The team has showed resilience in the face of criticism, having just won it’s first road playoff game in franchise history. While they were ranked 25th in the running game over the year, Mark Ingram and the Saints’ rushing offense exploded for 186 yards against the 10th-ranked run defense in the NFL, on the road, in the cold, in a playoff atmosphere. If Seattle has a “weakest link” on it’s otherwise stellar defense, it is their front seven’s run-stopping, though they’re still ranked 7th in the league overall (they’re also much better at home than on the road, giving up only 94 yards per game in Seattle). Could the Saints take advantage of that and repeat their surprising ground effectiveness? If they do, this game becomes much more exciting.

The Saints defense, not to be overshadowed, has also been playing lights-out this season. Rob Ryan has maximized this team’s talent, turning it into a Top-5 caliber blitzing machine. The Saints ranked 4th this year in sacks with 49.0, and boast, much like their upcoming opponent, an elite passing defense. However, Russell Wilson shredded the Saints secondary for 310 yards and 3 scores in their meeting just five weeks prior. Conversely, New Orleans had some success against the run, holding Marshawn Lynch to an uncharacteristic 45 yards on 16 carries in the previous matchup, and would have stifled the Seahawks’ running game completely had Wilson not rushed for 47 yards on 8 carries. On defense, if New Orleans can mimic their previous success against Lynch, find a way to contain Wilson on the ground, and live up to the numbers that say they are the 2nd-best pass defense in the league, they’ll certainly have a shot. Even so, they’ll have to force a turnover from the 4th-best team in the league when it comes to maintaining possession. On offense, if the Saints can find a modicum of success on the ground, eat up some clock, win the time of possession, and protect the ball the entire game, their chances rise significantly. Of course, this is a recipe for success in every football game, and is much easier said than done. Essentially, New Orleans will have to turn into the Seahawks to beat the Seahawks. Not to be ignored is the fact that, recently, the Seahawks have shown a chink in what previously seemed to be impenetrable homefield armor, losing a game to the scrappy Cardinals late in the season. Does that mean anything going into this game? It’s something to watch going forward.

Prediction:

So do I see all these dominos falling for the Saints? To put it shortly: no. While I don’t project the Seahawks dominating the Saints quite like they did back in Week 13, it’s hard to go against what has been the best team in the NFC (and perhaps the league) all year on perhaps the most advantageous homefield in professional football. Anything’s possible, but there’s a reason the Seahawks are playing in Seattle, have the most-feared secondary in the league, and are favored in this game. Barring some special teams fluke for New Orleans (against a team that, until the final game of the season, was on pace to shatter the record for stingiest punt defense in a season), the Seahawks will be hosting the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2005 season.

Seahawks over Saints, 31-21

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