Prompts: “Why The Saints Will Beat The Seahawks”

Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words (or in this case 800) on said topic on Fridays. Matt is a Washington native and thus a Seahawks fan. I am a south Louisiana native and thus a Saints fan.

This image needs to happen for the Saints to win Saturday night.

This image needs to happen for the Saints to win Saturday night.

Prompts: Why The Saints Will Beat The Seahawks

In the divisional round of the 2013 AFC playoffs the Baltimore Ravens traveled to play the top-seed Denver Broncos, having lost by 17 to Peyton Manning and Co. during Week 15 of the regular season. The No. 4 seed Ravens defeated the Broncos 38-35 in double overtime en route to winning Super Bowl XLVII.

If the New Orleans Saints are to unseat the Ravens as Super Bowl champions they will have to do what their AFC North brethren did in last year’s divisional round – defeat a top-seeded opponent who routed them in the regular season. The Saints take the field Saturday night against the Seattle Seahawks, a team that mauled them 34-7 in early December. The Saints will have to beat the Seahawks on the road – the same place as the regular season slaughter – to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

There is hope for the Black and Gold.

Since 2005, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 versus No. 1 seeds in the divisional rounds, with two No. 6 seeds (Green Bay 2011, Pittsburgh 2006) winning the Super Bowl. There is even precedent of a No. 6 team being blown out by 19 or more points in the regular season, only to vanquish the No. 1 seed in the playoffs (see: 2011 NY Jets over New England; 2006 Pittsburgh over Indianapolis). The No. 6 seeds’ recent success over No. 1 seeds contrasts with its 0-9 mark in similar contests between 1992 and 2005.

I am not suggesting it will be easy for the Saints to win based on their underdog status. Saints fans know their team fared 3-5 on the road in 2013 – although it’s worth mentioning they lost two of those games (New England and Carolina) in the waning minutes and just captured their first road playoff victory in franchise history (vs. Philadelphia, 26-24). Four of those five losses were games in which the Saints allowed 20 points. Both the Saints and Seahawks allowed 20 or more points five times in the regular season. The Saints finished 1-4 in those games. The Seahawks: 4-1.

While it is tempting to say the first team to 20 wins I don’t think it is that simple. The Saints will need to a) hold on to the football in the first quarter in spite of constant rain and a whistling wind b) score first to mitigate crowd noise and c) use their entire offensive playbook – run and screen game, Jimmy Graham, take shots downfield – to keep Russell Wilson off the field. It’s hard to emphasize the first quarter enough when last time the teams played the Seahawks emerged with a 17-0 lead in the first 15 minutes, effectively ending the game before it started.

The Saints thrive playing an uptempo, clean game indoors. To win Saturday they will have to play an ugly game. San Francisco and Arizona, recent victors over Seattle, provided the road map, each rushing for more than 130 yards. Both defeated the Seahawks despite scoring less than 20 points. The Saints defense will have to hold the Seahawks to field goal tries inside the 20 – i.e., trap Russell Wilson in the pocket and collapse said pocket. It goes without saying the Saints will have to do better than their 20-percent red zone touchdown efficiency mark against the Eagles last week. Also, Mark Ingram, who gashed the Eagles defense for 97 yards, will have to run authoritatively on first and second down. If recent history – both Ingram’s and the Seahawks defense’s – is any indicator I believe he will gain four yards per carry Saturday. Even with Drew Brees behind center third and long with gusting winds and a deafening crowd is not the recipe for success.

There is also the matter of motivation. The 7-9 Seahawks improbably ended the Saints’ hopes of winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 2011. That defeat coupled with this season’s earlier stomping will bring revenge into play. The Saints, as a team, know they are good enough to compete on the road (i.e., New England, Carolina games) and are hungry to avenge past defeats in Seattle. Armed with plenty of motivation, a road-tested squad, and a knowledge of what does and doesn’t work against the Seahawks, the Saints are destined to shock the NFL-watching world Saturday night.

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My Prediction: New Orleans 20, Seattle 17

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