For the second time this season, the New Orleans Saints will have to travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks. The first trip was far from successful, as the Saints returned home with a 34-7 loss and a missed opportunity at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Coming off a road win against the Eagles, the Saints now get a chance at redemption in Seattle.
Meet the Seahawks
The high-flying Seahawks won their first NFC West Division Championship since 2010 this season. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns for plenty of deserved headlines and running back Marshawn Lynch helped lead a rushing attack that was fourth-best in the NFL during the regular season.
The Seahawks defense was dominant, leading the league in total yards allowed and points per game, along with being the stingiest pass defense during the regular season. That strong defense helped carry them all season and Pete Carroll will need them to keep up that pace if they hope to reach the Super Bowl.
Meet the Saints
It's been an up-and-down season in New Orleans. The Saints stumbled to close out the regular season and lost out on the NFC South Division Championship. Drew Brees once again passed for over 5,000 yards in 2013, but against the Eagles, running back Mark Ingram was the star, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown. Brees will need to do better than his two-interception performance in order to beat the Seahawks.
Local Takes: Seattle
Marques Colston had the quietest season of his career from a statistical standpoint, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous ... at least potentially. Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls writes that the matchup between Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and Colston could be extremely important on Saturday.
Opposing quarterbacks threw at Sherman 58 times this season and completed 30 of those (51.7-percent, 14th-best in the league) for 421 yards. Sherman allowed 14 yards per catch (only 30th among corners) but 73 of those yards went to TY Hilton and the Colts in Week 5. I'm not saying that the play doesn't count, but any good analysis should throw out the extremes and if you threw out that one extreme, Sherman would've allowed only 39 yards after the catch instead of 112.
Local Takes: New Orleans
The offensive line played a big part in the Saints finally recording their franchise's first road playoff victory when they beat the Eagles. In order for New Orleans to win a second straight playoff game away from home, Cory Gunkel of Canal Street Chronicles says the Saints will need their "Hog Mollies" to have another big game.
The real heroes of this game won't be remembered, but it is their contribution that allowed Ingram to run and set up Graham to kick, and that is the play of the offensive line. The Saints absolutely dominated in the trenches last Saturday and it showed up on the stat sheet. New Orleans rushed for 185 yards behind the big boys up front, stunning Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly and providing a balance to Drew Brees' prolific passing game that kept Philadelphia guessing for most of the game.
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HARVIN FULL PRACTICE— Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) January 9, 2014
There is a slight chance I was Tre Mason's camp counselor for a summer. Might have been his older brother. Memory is a bit fuzzy. Not joking— Canal St. Chronicles (@SaintsCSC) January 7, 2014
The Saints have Drew Brees, playoff experience and excellent coaching. Seattle has home field advantage, some of the loudest fans in all of sports and plenty of confidence. For New Orleans to pull off an upset, Brees will have to avoid the mistakes that he got away with against the Eagles. The Saints will also need another big performance from the running game to help quiet the crowd and keep the Seahawks offense off the field. That's a lot of potential caveats, but it's not an impossible task.
The Seahawks just need to play their game and continue their consistent form that saw them claim the best record in the NFC. If Marshawn Lynch can help control the ball and Russell Wilson is his usual efficient self, it's hard to see Seattle losing. The weather could work against New Orleans with temperatures expected to be in the 40s and a 90 percent chance of rain in the forecast.
The Pick: Seahawks 27-17
Seattle opened as a 9.5-point home favorite, according to OddsShark.com. The total opened at 45.5 points.
There is no next week for the loser of Saturday's early game as its season will come to an end. The winner will face either San Francisco or Carolina in the NFC Conference Championship.