Tuesday, January 7, 2014

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round - New Orleans at Seattle

Heading over to the other conference, let’s look at the first NFC match-up.

New Orleans at Seattle
A rematch of the infamous Beast Mode game, where Marshawn Lynch went off on his long run breaking tackles of nearly every Saint on the field. Lynch’s run is when he really took off as a runner after being shipped out of Buffalo. He may have been big before that game, but the win against the (then defending champion) Saints catapulted him to stardom. Anyway, let’s jump into the Saints and how they match up with Seattle.
New Orleans Saints
A year after going 7-9 without their head coach, this Saints team went 11-5 and still squeaked into the playoffs. Sitting in the sixth and final seed sent the Saints to Philly, where they won their first road playoff game in franchise history. Well, their second road win will be in one of the toughest places to play in the NFL today. The two teams met earlier this season and the Seahawks crushed the Saints 34-7, but now the Saints know what to expect when it comes the 12th man and the “famous” noise that comes with the Hawks. Now I’m not saying that the game will be easy, but the Saints will not struggle as much as they did in that Week 13 match-up.
Drew Brees was more like watching John Skelton, 23-38 passing 144 yards and a TD.  Four Saints RBs touched the ball and combined for 44 yards. The Saints as a team had 188 yards, FOR THE GAME. This is the same Drew Brees that has carved up defenses and made Defensive Coordinators look silly, but he couldn’t get anything going and only had 12 first downs in the game. Look for Sean Payton and the Saints to know what they’re doing this time around in the Hawks Nest. Expect almost all silent counts and minimal chatter between Brees and his O-line and his skill players too. Payton is smart enough to figure out how to “outsmart” the noise problem. Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem (the three main WRs for the Saints), WHERE YOU AT? Combined those three WRs had 46 yards receiving, that is only four more than Jimmy Graham had in that game. Colston, Moore, and Meachem will want to step up and show the world that they are good and that they can beat the Seahawks. Jimmy Graham will always get his own because he is a constant matchup problem for any team he goes up against. Darren Sproles is the same as Graham, a match up problem. Sproles comes out of the backfield and instantly gains 10+ yards.
Looking at the defense, the Saints are not great, but they’re good enough at times. Having guys like Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Jenkins, and Kenny Vaccaro are reason enough for me to believe in the Saints linebacking and secondary. Will Smith and Cameron Jordan are two other players that give me some faith in the Saints D. The only problem is that Vaccaro has been hurt and is on IR just like fellow DB Jabari Greer. It will be up to Rafael Bush to continue filling the holes. We’ll have to see where the defense can and can’t go. The only positive for the D is that the crowd will be quieter with the Hawks offense on the field, so the D should be able to communicate better than the Saints offense.
Seattle Seahawks
The NFC’s #1 seed has a chance to silence some doubters. Some may be surprised that a #1 seed has to prove anything, but after struggling to beat the winless Bucs at home and then losing to the Cardinals in Week 16, some questioned the Seahawks resolve and ability. I’m not worried about the Seahawks ability to win and play hard, but this game will come down to Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
Wilson will be called upon late in the game to drive and win the game with either a TD or a FG. Lynch could be able to run out the clock at the end of the game. However, what we do know is that in order for the Hawks to win the game they’ll need a complete game out of Wilson and his WRs and the running game. It may sound obvious, but the playoffs are a different monster and the Saints have played in and won the big game whereas these Seahawks were one drive away from reaching the NFC Championship game last year. So they may know some perils, but Payton and Brees know what it takes to make it. In order for the Hawks to win, they’ll need Lynch to open up the game by gaining about 4+ yards a carry to keep themselves from becoming one-dimensional. If the Saints can put 8 or 9 in the box, they can make Wilson’s life a living hell. If they have to respect Lynch, then Wilson can get big gains off of play-action. Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, and Zach Miller will need to find open holes in the zone and run precise routes so that Wilson doesn’t have to worry about throwing INTs. If the Hawks can get Percy Harvin’s services in this game, then I’d be less worried. However, who knows when the former 1st round pick will play again for Seattle.
Defensively, the Seahawks have one of the best units on paper. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Chris Clemons have made offensive lines look like tissue paper. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright have been a nightmare on blitzes. Lastly, the Legion of Boom (Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell, and Brandon Browner) has made life a living hell for QBs and WRs of the opposition. This defense has what it takes to make Drew Brees second-guess every pass he makes and every audible he calls.
Will the Hawks D be the difference? Will the Saints silence the crowd? Can Russell Wilson add to his list of accomplishments?
After a lot of talk and debate about the Seahawks legitimacy at the top of the NFC, I think they find a way to shut people up for one week. Seattle has a complete team that has beaten this same Saints team this season. I think the noise has little to do with the result, but that the Saints just can’t handle the pressure from the Seattle defense and thus can’t keep up with the prolific Seahawks attack. Seattle wins 35-24.