Last week, New Orleans put the notion that they couldn’t win on the road to rest. That isn’t to say we should crown them as Super Bowl champs, but the Saints delivered a gritty performance that relied heavily on their running game and a late field goal by recently signed Shayne Graham.
However, even diehard Saints fans would admit that the Seattle Seahawks are an entirely different beast than the Eagles. The Seahawks defense is nasty; it ranked 1st in both total yards and points allowed during the regular season. And while Nick Foles had a great run in his first season under Chip Kelly, Russell Wilson has valuable playoff experience and is more dangerous with his legs. Plus, the Saints must deal with the power of the 12th man.
So who has the edge?
Offensively, the Seahawks do have weapons. Marshawn Lynch is a monster who happens to be trapped inside a human body when he runs the ball. Wilson’s ability to improvise outside of the pocket can cause defenses fits, especially if that defense is missing stud rookie Kenny Vaccaro (Vaccaro is out of for the season after breaking his ankle late in the year). And Percy Harvin says he is at full strength, which means he may also return kicks.
But Wilson also has Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Golden Tate. Tate is a very serviceable NFL receiver but he’s not really a number one guy. The Seattle offense is capable of putting up big numbers, as evidenced by their 26.1 points per game during the regular season, but they also might put up a dud – like their 10 point debacle in a week 16 loss to Arizona.
The Saints are a much more well-oiled machine. A poised Drew Brees is worth something; last week he didn’t throw for a crazy amount of yards (a comparatively pedestrian 250), but he was in control the whole time. When New Orleans got the ball back with under 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, down by 1, the Eagles knew they were resigned to the fate of losing the game on a field goal.
Additionally, last week showed that the Saints are willing to adjust how they play when the pace and tone of the game demands as such. They ran for 185 yards, and somehow the much maligned Mark Ingram played a huge role. And Brees still has the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Darren Sproles at his disposal.
The caveat with this is that although the Saints ranked 4th on defense during the regular season, they don’t come close to the power of Seattle on that side of the ball. The Saints may have the better offense overall, but Brees will have much more trouble moving the ball against the Seahawks than Wilson will against New Orleans.
Both Pete Carroll and Sean Payton are coaches that do a good job of not pulling anything Andy Reid-like. This is to say that neither coach is likely to ruin the effort of their players by doing something dumb with clock management or play-calling late in halves. Carroll is a great motivator; Payton a great commanding general and offensive mind. They might negate each other’s impact, but that means it will come down to the men in uniform – which is how it should be.
The Seahawks 34-7 drubbing of the Saints in week 13 has to be on the minds of both teams. New Orleans certainly doesn’t want a repeat of that night, and Seattle will not want to assume it can repeat that performance. However, while this game will be more competitive, Brees and Payton will have to pull something out of their hats that they may not be capable of. Once the Denver defense was exposed around halfway through the year, Seattle established themselves as the best and most dominant team in the league. To have their season end in the divisional round of the playoffs would be a great disappointment. And it is something that won’t happen on Saturday.