Saints living on a prayer as they come to Seattle, and no additional puns

Editor’s note: For literally no money, we’ve signed Michael Cooper on to write about the Seahawks. He’s not the Michael Cooper from the Showtime Lakers. He’s not the Michael Cooper from any iteration of the Lakers. 

A 32-yard field goal to close the first NFC Wild Card matchup sent the New Orleans Saints on a path back to Seattle and marked the first road playoff victory in the history of the Saints franchise. Since it was only four weeks ago since the teams last met, let’s take a look at what’s happened to the teams since then:

- Both teams finished the regular season 2-2 after their meeting.

- Both teams had three division games remaining. The Saints went 2-1, splitting against the Panthers and beating the Buccaneers. The Seahawks went 1-2, losing to the 49ers and Cardinals before beating the Rams at home to close week 17.

- Brandon Browner, who was out with a groin injury last time, will be missing again on Saturday while he fights a league suspension.

- Percy Harvin has still not played since a 41-20 win over Minnesota that came before the bye-week that preceded the first Seattle – New Orleans game. However, Percy has practiced a few times in a row with very minor limitation and the word from the Seahawks organization has so far been positive regarding his chances to play Saturday against the Saints.

- The Saints will be without Safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was placed on IR following a broken ankle he sustained during the Saints’ final matchup with the Panthers. It appears that the Saints may be without CB Keenan Lewis who appeared to have sustained a concussion during the Wild Card game in Philadelphia. The Saints offense netted 249 yards passing, one touchdown, and two interceptions against a Philadelphia defense that was ranked 25th against the pass by Football Outsiders. However, the Saints managed to break out with 185 yards on the ground on Saturday in sharp contrast to their season average of 92.1 rushing yards per game.

If the previous matchups can give any insight into what the Saints can expect coming into Seattle, it would be that there is a difference between a smothering, top-ranked defense and a middle-of-the-road or below defense that was found in Philadelphia. On Saturday, the Saints put up 26 first downs against the Eagles; 11 went through the air, 14 on the ground, and one came from a penalty. Against the Seahawks in week 13, the Saints marked up a measly 12 first downs, seven of which were passing, with only two rushing, and three from penalties.

The Saints offense combined for 434 total yards against the Eagles with Drew Brees’s 249 yard passing effort bolstered by an atypical 185 yards rushing on 36 attempts that resulted in one touchdown and helped the Saints win the time-of-possession battle by almost 10 minutes. Against the Seahawks, the Saints netted only 188 total yards on offense and one passing touchdown.

Interestingly enough, the Saints actually had more yards taken away from penalties (7-85) and more turnovers (2) than they did in their decisive loss in Seattle where they only had 52 yards taken off 7 penalties and 1 turnover.

In all, there are only so many comparisons to be made between games that took place a month apart and in different circumstances. The matchup between the Seahawks and Saints in week 13 had the feel of a playoff game because it was largely (and correctly) believed that the winner would go on to have home-field advantage through the playoffs. The matchup between the Saints and Eagles actually was a playoff game and the Saints managed to come back from an ugly start to finish on top. The Seahawks have gotten healthier while the Saints appear to be pretty banged up—especially in the secondary—following their victory in Philadelphia. With Harvin appearing to be close to a playoff appearance, that secondary could be a major liability for the Saints.

Before any games were played, this was my preferred matchup for the Seahawks to face in the Divisional round. I think the Seahawks top-ranked pass defense can handle whatever Brees and Co. have to offer, especially considering the return of Walter Thurmond and the level of play that Byron Maxwell has been able to bring to the field. The Seahawks have shown their ability to contain the Saints’ rushing attack, limiting them to 44 yards in their last meeting. However, if the Saints can have a day of rushing near what they did against the Eagles, Jimmy Graham could be opened up for a big day while the linebackers move in to stop the run.

At the end of the day the Seahawks have their work cut out for them. In the last matchup they held the Saints to a ten year low in total offensive yardage and Russell Wilson had a career game statistically. If the Seahawks can play their game and not let any curveballs the Saints are undoubtedly going to try to throw at them affect them too much, it’s not crazy to predict the Seahawks easily covering the 8.5 point spread.

Stats

(All stats from Football Outsiders)

Quarterback Russell Wilson Drew Brees
DVOA 16.0% 27.1%
DYAR 779 1706
QBR 58.9 70.5
RushDYAR 133 37
Running backs Marshawn Lynch Darren Sproles
DVOA 5.8% 1.3% (>100 carries)
DYAR 183 175 (>100 carries)
RecDYAR 56 175
Robert Turbin Pierre Thomas
DVOA -17.1% -7.9%
DYAR -25 5
RecDYAR -6 129
Wide Receivers Doug Baldwin Marques Colston
DVOA 33.1% 19.2%
DYAR 273 277
Golden Tate Kenny Stills
DVOA 13.7% 41.8%
DYAR 200 208
Tight End Zach Miller Jimmy Graham
DVOA -1.0% 17.0%
DYAR 22 233
Team Defense Seattle New Orleans
DVOA -25.8% -5.9%

Predictions:

Seattle will have at least three turnovers, two of which will be interceptions.

Percy Harvin will play at least 17 snaps.

One of those snaps will result in a passing TD for someone besides Harvin.

Wilson has another 300+ yard game.

The Saints will get more rushing 1st downs than passing.

I have Seattle as the winner, 31-17