NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-5)
at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (13-3)
NFC Divisional Playoffs
Kickoff: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Line: Seattle -8, Total: 48
The Saints look for double payback when they visit the top-seeded Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoff round on Saturday.
Not only did New Orleans lose its only playoff trip to Seattle, 41-36 three seasons ago, but it was clobbered 34-7 at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 2. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw 3 TD passes and totaled 357 yards in that win, which was nearly double the 188 total yards the Saints gained that night. Although New Orleans compiled 434 total yards, including 185 on the ground, in last week’s road win at Philadelphia, Seattle allows just 254 total YPG (4.4 per play) at home this season, where it is 7-1 SU (5-3 ATS) and outscores visitors by an average score of 29 to 14. The Seahawks are also 11-0 ATS versus good passing teams (7+ YPA), and 15-3 ATS (83%) coming off a home win in the past three seasons. But the Saints have also thrived versus good offenses (24+ PPG), going 19-7 ATS (73%) against such teams under head coach Sean Payton. And since 2011, they are 15-6 ATS (71%) after gaining 6.5+ yards per play in their previous game. Seattle is in great shape injury-wise after the week off, with WR Percy Harvin (hip) expected to play for the first time since Nov. 17. New Orleans is concerned about two players who are both considered questionable for Saturday. RB Pierre Thomas missed the win over the Eagles because of a chest injury, while CB Keenan Lewis suffered a head injury in that victory.
Can the Saints pull off another upset, or will the Seahawks roll to victory on their home field? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts closed out the regular season in style, combining for a 60% ATS record (68-45-7) over the final eight weeks, including 77% ATS (24-7) in Weeks 16 and 17. StatFox Brian was 8-1 ATS in Best Bets in the final two weeks, has a 67% ATS (31-15-3) mark since Week 7, and is 59% ATS (39-27-5) this season. StatFox Scott is 59% ATS (31-22-1) in Best Bets since Week 4, and is also a robust 63% (22-13) in NFL Totals since Week 9. StatFox Gary's 3-0 ATS mark in Week 17 gave him seven perfect weeks in Best Bets since Week 4, and is 70% ATS (15-7-2) in Best Bets since Week 10. The experts combined for a perfect 5-0 ATS record in NFL Totals during Wild Card weekend.
The Saints have averaged 25.9 PPG and 402 total YPG this season, but those numbers drop considerably on the road where they score just 18.7 PPG with 364 total YPG. This includes a pathetic 2.6 yards per carry and 3.9 yards per pass attempt when they visited Seattle in Week 13. But New Orleans was outstanding in all facets on offense in last week's win at Philadelphia, scoring 26 points with 5.1 yards per carry and 8.3 yards per pass attempt. QB Drew Brees finished with 250 passing yards and 1 TD, but was picked off twice. The interceptions were quite out of character considering he is 6-4 in his playoff career where he's thrown for 3,230 yards (7.7 YPA), 23 TD and only 6 INT in these 421 pass attempts. These numbers also include going 39-for-60 for 404 yards (6.7 YPA), 2 TD and 0 INT in the playoff loss in Seattle after the 2010 season. The key to the passing offense is TE Jimmy Graham, who gained 1,215 yards and 16 TD in the regular season, but caught just three passes for 44 yards in last week's win. The Seahawks did a nice job containing him on Dec. 2, limiting him to three catches for 42 yards, but Graham did score the lone touchdown for his team. But the three main running backs -- Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles -- could go nowhere against the talented Seahawks front seven in that Week 13 meeting, as the trio combined for 33 yards on 15 carries (2.2 YPC). It was a much different story last week when Ingram rumbled for 97 yards on just 18 carries (5.4 YPC) and a touchdown versus Philly, while Sproles gained 7.2 YPC and finished with 60 total yards from scrimmage. The Saints will need to sustain some long drives to stay in this game, and that is something they have done well all season, ranking fourth in the NFL in first downs (22.4 per game) and third in the league in third-down conversions (44%), leading to a 32:40 time of possession (3rd in NFL). The New Orleans defense hasn't been too bad on the road this year, allowing 22.6 PPG and 332 total YPG, but the run defense has surrendered 124 rushing YPG on 4.4 YPC away from home, while opposing passers are completing 65% of their throws for 208 YPG (7.1 YPA) in these road tilts. The Saints have also been unable to create turnovers, tallying a mere four takeaways in their past 10 games combined. However, they did post 49 sacks this season, good for fourth in the NFL. If they fail to rattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, he will pick them apart like he did last month when he was sacked only once.
Wilson has been outstanding this season (3,357 pass yards, 8.3 YPA, 26 TD, 9 INT), especially at home where he has a 103.8 passer rating with 8.4 YPA, 14 TD and 5 INT. But despite their 26.1 PPG (T-8th in NFL), the Seahawks rank only 26th in the league in passing offense (202 YPG). The probable return of WR Percy Harvin should give the air attack a boost, as his versatility creates huge mismatches. Wilson did not have Harvin for his huge Monday night game against New Orleans though, as he completed 4+ passes each to TE Zach Miller and WRs Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate. While these players are all capable receivers, this Seattle team leans most heavily on its ground game (137 rushing YPG, 4th in NFL), which Wilson contributes greatly to with 539 rushing yards on 5.6 YPC. RB Marshawn Lynch has done the most damage with 1,257 rushing yards on 4.2 YPC and 12 touchdowns. Although Lynch found little running room against the Saints in Week 13, finishing with just 45 yards on 16 carries (2.8 YPC), he had a monster game when the teams last met in the playoffs in January 2011. That day he rushed for 131 yards on just 19 carries (6.9 YPC) including an unbelievable 67-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Seattle's defense has been relentless this year, as the unit leads the NFL in total defense (274 total YPG, 4.4 yards per play), scoring defense (14.4 PPG), passing defense (172 YPG, 5.8 YPA) and red-zone defense (36% TD rate). In addition to all the gaudy yardage numbers, the Seahawks do a tremendous job of creating turnovers. They have racked up multiple takeaways in 12 of 16 games this season, forcing 39 turnovers overall (21 at home). This has been accomplished because of a lock-down secondary (CB Richard Sherman leads the league with 8 INT) and a pass rush generating 44 sacks (T-8th in NFL).