NFL Playoff Preview: Saints at Seahawks

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Published: January 7, 2014

NFL Playoff Preview: Saints at Seahawks

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (-7.5)

A mere five weeks after posting their worst performance of the 2013 season, the New Orleans Saints return to CenturyLink Field to take on the NFC’s top seeded Seahawks in the Divisional Playoffs. Coming off of a franchise-first playoff road victory, the Saints will hope for better results than they had in that 34-7 thrashing on Monday Night Football.

Meanwhile, the well-rested Seahawks are the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites and have a tremendous home field advantage. Seattle also enters this contest with the confidence that their league-best pass defense will again be able to frustrate and harass Drew Brees and the potent Saints aerial attack.

Vegas opened with the Seahawks as 8-point favorites, and that line has dropped a tad. Can Sean Payton and company make the necessary adjustments to make this a competitive game, or will Seattle continue to dominate at home on their march to the club’s first Super Bowl title?

New Orleans Saints 
Game Plan

It’s no surprise that the Saints offense is an aggressive, pass-heavy attack, but they added an unexpected, and ultimately successful new wrinkle in their upset of the Eagles last week. In that contest, New Orleans, despite not having leading rusher Pierre Thomas, rushed for 185 yards and controlled the clock for over 34 minutes.

Payton will need that kind of balance if he’s hoping to get more out of a passing game that was completely shut down back in Week 13. While the Seahawks will undoubtedly be ready for a more ground-bases approach in this rematch, the Saints will likely still attempt to run the ball to avoid Seattle’s #1 ranked secondary.

Keys of the Game

  • Establish the run early- It’s still unknown if Pierre Thomas will be available for this game, but it’s imperative for the Saints to come out and try to stick with a rejuvenated Mark Ingram to churn out some tough yards on the ground, early and often. Should that plan work early, it could put Drew Brees in position to take advantage of play-action opportunities downfield.
  • Take shots downfield- This is a battle of strength vs. strength, but Drew Brees must continue to take shots downfield to Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem. This tactic didn’t work last time, but it’s important for the Saints to utilize the middle of the field and the running game to keep possessions going. Taking deep shots makes that easier to accomplish.
  • Contain Russell Wilson- In Week 13, New Orleans went all out to stop Marshawn Lynch- understandable after that memorable playoff performance the last time these two clubs met up. Although successful slowing down Beastmode, the Saints ultimately were destroyed by Wilson’s play-action and scrambling ability.

Seattle Seahawks Game Plan

Russell Wilson had a brilliant game the the last time these two clubs met, passing for over 300 yards and tossing three touchdowns. There’s no reason for Seattle to try to deviate from their usual gameplan, which is to attack teams early and often with Marshawn Lynch and use the threat of Wilson’s legs to get Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin open down the field.

Defensively, the Seahawks are likely to be prepared for the Saints to run, but will ultimately dare them to. Shutting down Jimmy Graham will be the top priority. The aggressive Seattle pass-rush will look to harass and pressure Drew Brees into making arrant throws downfield, where the ‘Hawks elite secondary will capitalize with interceptions.

Keys of the Game

  • Enter Beast Mode- Early weather forecasts indicate temperatures in the lower 40’s with a good chance of rain. That sounds like perfect conditions to attack the Saints’ 19th ranked run defense. It also allows the Saints to keep the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands. Not to mention, we all remember what happened in this matchup in 2011.
  • Run with Russell Wilson- Rob Ryan has done wonders resurrecting the Saints woeful defense and establishing a much more aggressive approach. The Seahawks can take advantage of this by utilizing zone-read and called runs to Wilson, after they get the Saints committed to stopping Lynch.
  • Turn Drew Brees over- Seattle’s superb secondary leads the league in pass defense while also maintaing an aggressive style that is conducive to turnovers. Meanwhile, Drew Brees’ road struggles are well publicized. Brees has tossed only three touchdowns vs. six interceptions in New Orleans’ last three road contests.   

Playoff Prediction: Seahawks 27, Saints 24

Most signs point to a Seattle blowout, but never underestimate Sean Payton’s ability to adjust. Also, historically, it’s been difficult for non-divisional opponents to beat the same team twice in the same season. In this dynamic, the team that won the first meeting is only 13-26 ATS in the rematch. Look for the Seahawks to advance to host the NFC Championship, but the Saints should mount enough offense to keep it a competitive game.

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