In what has quickly become the most controversial storyline heading into the playoffs the New Orleans Saints must travel to Qwest Field to face off against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks snuck into the playoffs winning their division on the final day. The Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record record due to a tiebreaker over the St. Louis Rams. The fact that the Seahawks got into the playoffs with a below .500 record is stirring controversy among NFL fans and media however that should have no bearing on the team as they face off against the Saints.
The Saints struggled with injuries throughout the season and appeared to be getting healthy coming into the playoffs. New Orleans went 11-5 during the season but performed inconsistently throughout. They have somewhat limped into the playoffs and will be thankful that they have supposedly the easiest draw in the first round.
When you analyze the game on paper it is a blowout. In Irishcentral.com's final power rankings of the season the Seahawks were ranked 27th and 32nd respectively while the Saints were 2nd on both occasions. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have given the Saints(the away team remeber) a -10.5 spread.
It is hard to argue against the Saints in this matchup as the Seahawks come into the game having lost 7 of their past 10 games this season. Their sparks on offense are few, Marshawn Lynch and Mike Williams come to mind at a stretch while their starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is banged up from a back injury, while defensively they simply cannot get it done.
Matt Hasselbeck's injury has opened the door for backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to step in and attempt to lead his team to an unlikely victory. The Seahawks trade for Whitehurst during the offseason appeared to be a questionable one, a 3rd rounder for a 3rd string quarterback, and the player has done nothing to disprove that theory. In 6 games(2 starts) Whitehurst has thrown more interceptions(3) than touchdowns(2). Add his 2 fumbles and 57% completion rate to those statistics and you end up with a distinctly below average 65.5 quarterback rating.
Even if Whitehurst does improve and manage to shine during his first ever playoff start, the offense around him is toothless and will limit his ability to put up points against a very good Saints defense. The Saints are ranked 7th in scoring defense giving up 19.2 points per game and 4th in total defense giving up 306.2 yards per game. A Superbowl caliber defense should have no problems dealing with Whitehurst or his compatriots Marshawn Lynch, formerly of the Houston Texans, or Justin Forsett.
Forsett and Lynch have been reliable but average for the Seahawks this year combining for over 1'000 yards on nearly 300 carries. They will need to outperform their regular season averages(Lynch 3.6, Forsett 4.4) because the Saints secondary is outstanding ranking 4th in the league. The Seahawks have no chance of winning the game relying on the arm of Whitehurst, or even the unlikely return of Matt Hasselbeck's.
While the Seahawks only appear to have problems on offense, the Saints have returned most of the pieces to their league leading offense from last season. While the numbers aren't as good, and certainly the performances aren't either, Drew Brees has still thrown for 33 touchdowns, 4'620 yards and completed 68.1% of his passes. Brees is a proven big game performer also having won the MVP of Superbowl XLIV last season.
The sternest test that is likely to face the Saints on Saturday Night is the harsh conditions in Seattle opposed to the Seahawks defense that ranked 25th in points allowed during the regular season. The front seven has some high draft picks in it such as Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry but the back end is likely to be dismantled by Brees with ease.
The Seahawks were 27th in the league against the pass giving up 249.6 yards per game. Rookie Earl Thomas has been one of the better performers for the Seahawks secondary but Brees is likely to pick on the youngster's lack of experience by sending multiple receivers to his area during the game. In their previous meeting this season Brees threw two interceptions(1 to Thomas) however he also threw 4 touchdowns and to 10 different receivers in a blowout victory.
Even if the Seahawks somehow manage to deal with the Saints passing game, the running game is just as dangerous. Even without Pierre Thomas, who can't seem to stay healthy, at 100% the Saints combine the tough running of Chris Ivory with the outstanding elusiveness of Reggie Bush to destroy even the best of defenses. The Saints can win this game either through the air or on the ground on offense.
Even if they struggle on offense the defense has enough playmakers to put more points on the board than the Seahawks offense.
Yes it really is going to be that simple.
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