The first playoff game of the weekend will be on Saturday between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have dominated both sides of the ball all year. Their tremendous defense has frustrated opposing quarterbacks.
New Orleans' Drew Brees is one quarterback who is able to handle tremendous pressure. Brees has silenced doubters his entire career and will have to do so yet again in order to give the Saints a shot at the win.
To get a good idea of what type of action will take place on Saturday, it is important to look at the type of season each team has had and things to watch for in the matchup.
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When: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2:35 p.m.
Where: CenturyLink Field in Seattle
TV Coverage: FOX
When the 2012-13 season ended, Saints head coach Sean Payton's year-long suspension came to an end. With Payton returning to the sidelines and Brees at quarterback, the Saints were geared up for a promising season.
The Saints started the 2013 season on a scorching 5-0 start, thanks to their offense that finished second in the NFL in pass yards per game. In addition to its offense, New Orleans had plenty of help from its re-energized defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints' pass defense was especially impressive, finishing second in the league in yards allowed per game.
It seemed that the Saints had returned to their former dominance, and although their winning streak eventually came to an end, they continued to win enough football games to be in contention for the division lead that came down to a Week 16 game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers won the game, clinching the division title. New Orleans finished with an 11-5 record.
Although the Panthers took the division title and secured the playoff spot, New Orleans had a good enough record to earn itself one of the wild card spots, which pitted them against Chip Kelly's high-octane Philadelphia Eagles team.
Coming into the game, the Saints had never won a playoff game on the road in franchise history, but they ended that streak with Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
The Seahawks entered the season with a big chip on their shoulder. They didn't think they were getting the respect that they deserved. They opened the season on an impressive 4-0 run, and the NFL began to view them as one of the dominant teams in the league.
After their hot start, they dropped a close game to the Indianapolis Colts. Instead of letting the loss get their spirits down, the Seahawks used it as motivation and went on to win seven straight games.
Because of devastating injuries to wide receivers Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, the Seahawks didn't pass the ball as well as they would have liked. But behind second-year quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, they were able to lead Seattle to become the sixth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL at 136.8 yards per game.
What made the Seahawks really special, however, was their devastating defense. They were the best in the NFL in total defense allowing just 273.6 yards per game, ranked third in the NFL in passing defense allowing only 172 yards per game and ranked seventh in rushing defense, allowing 101.6 yards per game.
In the end, their 13-3 record earned the Seahawks the top playoff seed in the NFC, which guarantees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl.
The Saints and Seahawks met during the regular season, and it's a game that the Saints would like to forget. The Seahawks dominated the entire game. They destroyed New Orleans 34-7.
Offensively, Wilson backpacked Seattle by throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He was nearly flawless and seemed to be in some type of zone. He also led the team in rushing with 47 yards.
Defensively, the Seahawks shut down Brees and the Saints offense. Although Brees threw the ball 38 times, he only tallied 147 yards — his fewest in a game since 2006. New Orleans punted the ball six times, turned the ball over on downs twice and fumbled once. The Saints' lone score came in the second quarter.
Brees will have to play much better than he did in the previous matchup, or Seattle may very well run away with another blowout win.
Seattle has developed a strong reputation for being dominant at home. The Seahawks have won 15 of the last 16 games played at home, as well as won five straight home playoff games. Their last home loss came in Week 16 vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
The Saints won their first road playoff game in franchise history last week against Philadelphia. They will look for their second on Saturday. Brees has an 84 passer rating on the road this season, compared to 126.3 at home. He'll need to overachieve to beat Seattle.
Saints running back Pierre Thomas is questionable with a chest injury. If he remains out, Mark Ingram will start again in his place.
Paul McQuistan (Weber State), Seattle offensive lineman
Robert Turbin (Utah State), Seattle running back
Bobby Wagner (Utah State), Seattle linebacker