Of the four NFC teams matching up this wildcard weekend, the New Orleans Saints (11–5) and Philadelphia Eagles (10–6) figure to be the favorites in their games against the Seattle Seahawks (7–9) and Green Bay Packers (10–6) respectively. However, as is the common theme of the NFL, on any given day any team could win.
New Orleans Saints (fifth seed) at Seattle Seahawks (fourth seed)
Saturday’s game between the Saints and Seahawks pits the defending Super Bowl champion Saints against the worst team to ever advance to the postseason in the Seahawks.
While posing neither a defense (ranked 25th in points allowed) nor offense (ranked 23rd in scoring) that intimidated opponents during the regular season, what Seattle does have working in their favor is the home field advantage led by their infamous, raucous fans, collectively known as the 12th Man.
Another factor aiding Seattle is the fact that New Orleans has several key players listed as questionable—star safety Malcolm Jenkins (knee), running back Chris Ivory (foot), and tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle).
Other notable Saints players battling injuries are tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin), wide receiver Marques Colston (knee), and running back Pierre Thomas (ankle). Shockey and Colston are both confirmed to play though to what extent their injuries affect their performance is unknown.
For the Seahawks to stand a chance in this game, their defense must slow down a formidable offense led by last year’s Super Bbowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees and their offense must find a way to score against a stingy New Orleans defense (ranked seventh in points allowed).
Leading Seattle’s offense will be Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is a savvy veteran with playoff experience but Charlie Whitehurst, who played in the win against the St. Louis Rams, has the stronger arm and can stretch the Saints defense more effectively.
Look for Hasselbeck to pair up with rising star receiver Mike Williams early and often. Against the Saints on Nov. 21, Williams scorched their secondary catching six passes for 109 yards.
Seattle’s rushing game is definitely the unit’s weak link, ranked second to last in the league (89 yards per game).
When New Orleans goes on the attack, Brees will be leading a powerful passing game that ranked third in the NFL in yards per game (289.8 yards) and 11th in scoring (24 points per game). He also put up very respectable numbers (4,620 passing yards, 33 touchdowns).
When Brees is in a rhythm he is nearly impossible to stop, especially when paired with Colston who racked up 1,023 receiving yards.
If New Orleans has a weak spot, it could be their running game, which generated only 94.9 yards per game during the regular season. Should Ivory or Thomas not be able to play, their backups are former Seahawk Julius Jones and Reggie Bush.
Regardless of the injuries and crowd noise at Qwest Field, Brees feels confident in his team’s chances, saying on www.neworleanssaints.com, “This is what you play for. This is a new opportunity. I feel like we have just as good of a chance as anybody because I know what we are capable of.”
Game time: Saturday, 4:30 ET at Qwest Field
Next: The NFC Wildcard matchup has the Packers visiting the Eagles in the tough confines of Philly.