The New Orleans Saints pair the league's second-best passing offense with a renewed defense that has made them one of the NFC's toughest teams. There are myriad reasons why they're succeeding, but Monday Night Football will be the barometer for the team's playoff chances. Seattle don't need to prove themselves, the Seahawks already have. Now they're the measuring stick by which other teams evaluate themselves.
It's more than Russell vs. Drew
Russell Wilson and Drew Brees are similar quarterbacks in some ways, but wildly divergent in others. The former is the master improviser, a rare player who excels equally well outside of the pocket as inside. The latter the perfect pocket passer, who makes small movements to throw off pass rushers and find the open receiver.
Wilson is so dangerous because he's almost unflappable. The second-year quarterback boasts one of the league's lowest drops in passer rating under pressure. His quarterback rating is 117.8 in a clean pocket, and 84.7 under pressure according to Pro Football Focus. Wilson also retains a 100+ passing rating when blitzed, which is very rare.
Brees can be shaken, on the other hand. He avoids pressure by throwing quickly rather than escaping the rush -- but a defense can rattle him. His passer rating drops to 73.5 under pressure, and his normally stellar completion percentage falls to 48.6-percent.
These aren't two identical quarterbacks facing off, it's about two players and how they manage pressure. This is the key for both teams.
Can the Saints handle the 12th man?
One area where the Saints and Seahawks mirror each other is how the sides excel at home. Combined there's only three losses between the sides, but all three came on the road.
New Orleans boast one of the league's highest scoring offenses, but they struggle away from home. Inside the Superdome the Saints average 33.2 points per game, compared to 21.2 on the road. It's overwrought to try and attribute this to weather or fan impact, but there is a noticeable drop in performance no matter the reason.
The Seahawks are juggernauts at home. The defense is allowing just 15.4 points at CenturyLink field, and no team has managed to score more than 24 points in Seattle. If the Seahawks can hold New Orleans to their away game average then Russell Wilson will lead his team to victory on Monday night.
Secondary becomes primary
One area both teams excel is in their secondary, where each boast two of the NFL's best pass defenses. Seattle ranks first, allowing 180.4 yards per game -- but the Saints aren't far behind, giving up 198 yards, good for third in the NFL.
They diverge in forcing turnovers, with the Seahawks ranking second in interceptions and New Orleans currently 20th. This is where the game will be won or lost on defense. The Saints have only lost two games in the last three years when Drew Brees is interception-free, making conservative play of the utmost importance.
The turnover battle and mitigating the pass rush will decide Monday Night Football. This is going to be a fun one.