Hoping to avenge the Week 13 loss that sent them into a late season tailspin, the New Orleans Saints (11-5) invade CenturyLink Field to take on the No. 1 seed Seattle Seahawks (13-3) on Saturday afternoon in the NFC’s Divisional round playoff.
Two interceptions aside, Drew Brees and the Saints squelched their road woes with a 26-24 win over Philadelphia in the wild card round last week, following a last second 32-yard field goal from kicker Shayne Graham.
Brees finished with 250 yards passing, and running back Mark Ingram made his playoff debut with 97 yards rushing and one touchdown. Brees snapped his three-game road playoff losing streak, but he’ll have to overcome CenturyLink’s raucous crowd where he went 23-for-38 for a season-low 147 yards five weeks ago.
The Saints would then split their final four games and drop from the NFC South and first-round bye races with Brees chucking four interceptions.
Ingram emerged after primary back Pierre Thomas went down with a chest injury. Thomas was still limited in practice this week and is questionable before game time, though should New Orleans move on he could make a return in the NFC title game.
These two teams last clashed back in the 2011 playoffs, when the 7-9 Seahawks exploited home field advantage over 11-5 New Orleans for a 41-36 victory with 150 rushing yards.
The Seahawks enjoyed a week off that allowed wide receiver Percy Harvin even more rest, and now he’ll reportedly start, according to The Seattle Times. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll was contemplating the injured reserve list for Harvin, but then said in a radio interview the receiver told him he was ready to go.
Harvin appeared in one game for the Seahawks this season before re-aggravating his surgically repaired hip, ripping off a 58-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 11’s 41-20 blowout win over former team Minnesota.
The 25-year-old has two playoff games under his belt, both in 2009, including Minnesota’s 31-28 road loss to New Orleans in which Harvin caught five balls for 38 yards, and made two returns for a total of 33 yards.
Seattle posted the NFC’s best record with the 26th ranked passing game, and instead won with a stellar defense and running game. The addition of multi-threat Harvin could be the final weapon for quarterback Russell Wilson’s arsenal.
In his second season, Wilson equaled his 26 passing touchdowns from a year ago and looks for the second playoff win of his career. Seattle trumped favored Washington in last year’s wild card round, and nearly toppled Atlanta in the next with Wilson completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and one pick in the two games.
The Seahawks also have the added advantage of running back Marshawn Lynch, who notched his third straight 1,000 yard season and totaled a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns.
The quarterback matchup of Brees and Wilson could be one for the ages, but both face the two best pass defenses in the league. Seattle allowed 172 passing yards a game and forced a league-best 28 interceptions, led by cornerback Richard Sherman’s eight picks.
New Orleans lost sensational rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro for the season to a broken ankle back in Week 16’s loss to Carolina, but defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Malcolm Jenkins should be able to hold down the NFL’s No. 2 secondary.
The Seahawks also boast the seventh ranked rushing defense in the league, but will likely miss defensive tackle Jordan Hill (groin) and linebacker K.J. Wright (foot), according to the team’s official injury report.
Betting Odds: Seattle -8
Over/Under: 45 points
Time: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Live Online Stream Info: Fox Sports Go here for xfinity, Midcontinent, AT&T U-verse, and Optimum, Sudden Link, Wow subscribers. Others must watch on TV.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Seattle 27