A matchup of two of the best. Drew Brees was sixth in the NFL in passing rating this year at 104.7 and Russell Wilson seventh at 101.2. Brees and the Saints’ passing game has to shoulder a heavier load than Wilson, though, and as a past Super Bowl winner, Brees gets a slight edge.
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Does Marshawn Lynch have another Beast Quake run saved up for another playoff game against the Saints? He’s certainly capable after another solid year with 1,257 yards. The Saints do it by committee, with former Heisman winner Mark Ingram having a big game against the Eagles last week.
Both lines have been inconsistent this season, and the Saints recently made a change at left tackle with rookie Terron Armstead replacing Charles Brown. New Orleans, though, protected Brees pretty well this year, allowing 37 sacks, fourth best in terms of sacks per pass play. Seattle needs LT Russell Okung back to full health.
The likely return of Percy Harvin could greatly change the dynamic here for the Seahawks, whose passing game was erratic down the stretch (and already without Sidney Rice). Jimmy Graham is a tight end in name but a receiver in production with 1,215 yards. Marques Colston added 943.
The Saints have a solid defensive front led by end Cameron Jordan, who had 12.5 sacks this season. And the group was a key reason the Saints were fourth in the NFL in yards allowed at 305.7 per game. But it’s hard to go against a deep Seahawks front that seemed to be playing its best the last month of the season.
One big change since the last meeting for Seattle is the absence of WLB K.J. Wright, out with a broken foot. Malcolm Smith, though, has been a solid replacement and will again get the call there. Curtis Lofton and former Seahawk David Hawthorne have solidified New Orleans’ linebacker corps.
While New Orleans enters with injury questions (safety Kenny Vaccaro, who had 79 tackles, was lost for the season after Week 16) Seattle will counter with the Legion of Boom, fortified by the return last week of Walter Thurmond. Seattle had 28 interceptions to lead the NFL, the Saints had 12.
Former Seahawk Shayne Graham has stabilized New Orleans’ kicking after Garrett Hartley was cut in December, and had the winning field goal with no time left last week at Philadelphia. Seattle had a few uncommon mistakes the past few weeks, but for most of the season was solid everywhere on special teams.
In four years, Pete Carroll has Seattle back on the brink of only its second Super Bowl. Sean Payton, meanwhile, is hoping to take the Saints back to their second Super Bowl, as well, after winning one in 2010. Simply put, two of the best in the game.
New Orleans has the momentum of a win last week at Philadelphia that ended the team’s road playoff woes. Seattle, though, is coming off a week of rest and has the backing of the home crowd at CenturyLink Field, where it is 15-1 the past two years.
Hard to imagine this will be a rout similar to Seattle’s 34-7 win over the Saints on Dec. 2. But Seattle has the best defense in the NFL and the home field, and if it can again find a way to make big plays on offense (a healthy Harvin would help), it should advance to the NFC title game.
Seahawks 20, Saints 13