SafePicks 2013-2014 – NFL Divisional Playoffs – Saints @ Seahawks – Preview And Prediction

New Orleans @ Seattle -8:  CenturyLink Field will be the venue for this NFC Divisional playoff matchup, when the Seahawks welcome the Saints.  The No. 6 seed 11-5 Saints head to the North West to take on the No 1 seed 13-3 Seahawks in this Divisional Round playoff.  While the Seahawks enjoyed an extra week of rest and preparation, the Saints recorded their first ever road victory in the post-season last Saturday evening as they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24.  Ironically, the last time these two teams met was during week 13 of the regular-season, and once again the Seahawks had the extra time to prepare.  Seattle produced a dominate performance following their bye week to emerge 34-7 victors.  Away from the familiar setting and home comforts of the Superdome, Drew Brees has encountered a few difficulties, throwing nine interceptions and 12 touchdowns, compared to the three interceptions and 27 touchdowns at home. In week 13, the Seahawks’ formidable defense held Brees to 147 yards. It was the first time since 2010 that Brees had failed to register over 200 yards passing in a game.  The Saints might well be tempted to once again incorporate the running attack into their game plan, after both Mark Ingram and Khirry Robinson averaged over 5.4 yards per carry against the Eagles. Darren Sproles was targeted seven times, reeling in four passes for 31 yards. Pierre Thomas missed the Eagles game and is once again listed as questionable this weekend.  Wideout Robert Meachem could also find himself centre stage, as he’ll look to expose any holes within the coverage as the Seahawks will most likely focus their attention on the physical presence of tight end Jimmy Graham and the explosive Marques Colston. With Colston and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman matched physically and with both listed at over 6’3″  it promises to be enthralling contest between the two.  The Saints defense, minus the talent of rookie safety Kenny Vacarro (ankle), faces potentially another huge blow as standout cornerback Keenan Lewis is listed as questionable (but he stated he expects to play).  With this in mind the Saints will require a momentous effort from defensive end Cameron Jordon, who has 12.5 sacks this season, as they try to prevent Russell Wilson from establishing himself.  Running back Marshawn Lynch will be looking to improve on his figures when the two teams met back in week 13 when he was held to just 45 yards. Despite an impressive average of 4.2 yards per carry, Lynch has been held to under 50 rushing yards four times during the regular-season.  One criticism of the Seahawks is the lack of game-changing talent in the receiving core outside of Percy Harvin. With Harvin listed as doubtful, expect the Seahawks to expose the Saints’ inability to contain opposing tight ends. Zach Miller caught five passes for 86 yards and a touchdown last time out against the Saints.   Wilson has only tasted defeat once at CenturyLink Field during his first two years in the league. During that period, Wilson has thrown 31 touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns and thrown just seven Interceptions. His best attribute is the ability the keep plays alive with his legs, while maintaining his eyes down-field before delivering an accurate pass.    While the Seahawks secondary gains most of the praise, the linebacking group should not be under estimated.  Bobby Wagner, KJ Wagner and Malcolm Smith have amassed 254 tackles and four interceptions.  The stadium in Seattle is so loud it actually registers on the richter scale at the University of Washington geology department when the crowd gets into the game. To go up there and beat the Seahawks is going to be a tall task for anybody throughout the play-offs.  The Saints are 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games in January and the Saints are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games following an ATS win.  The Saints are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 games following an SU win and the Saints are 1-6 ATS in their last 7 road games.  The Saints are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 road games versus a team with a winning home record.  The Seahawks are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 home games versus a team with a winning road record.  The Seahawks are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games after allowing less than 150 yards passing in their previous game.  The Seahawks are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games following a SU win of more than 14 points. The Seahawks are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following an ATS win.  The Seahawks are 12-3 ATS versus a team with a winning record and the Seahawks are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 playoff home games. The Seahawks are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 playoff games in January.  The Seahawks are 35-17-1 ATS in their last 53 games overall.  The Favorite and the Home team are 5-2 ATS in the last 7 meetings between these two teams.  The Saints are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 meetings versus the Seahawks.  The computer gives the Seahawks a 9 pt edge in this contest.  This is not just a rematch of Week 13’s Monday night shellacking, it’s also the three-year anniversary of Marshawn Lynch’s famous monster run against the Saints in the playoffs.  The Saints struggled mightily on the road during the regular season, with all five of their losses coming away from the Superdome.  The Seahawks’ defense should be a stiffer challenge, however.  Seattle relinquishes 101.6 yards rushing per game, and has allowed a league-low four touchdowns on the ground this season.   We’ve also learned that the officiating crew will be watching this game closely, especially Seahawks’s defenders, for borderline or dirty plays that have gone undetected in the regular season.  The Seahawks defense can create some matchup issues for the Saints up front, there is no question about it.  But we expect New Orleans to slow down the Seattle pass rush with Mark Ingram and the running game to control the upbeat Brees tempo.  Expect coach Payton to use the tape from their first meeting to pull off the upset here or at least keep things interestingly close.  And let’s not forget, Sean Payton is one of the best strategists in the NFL, and no team plays better with a chip on its shoulder than the Saints. There’s no way New Orleans, which was embarrassed in Week 13 in Seattle, is going to get manhandled again.  Plus, the Saints have momentum coming off a road win versus the red-hot Eagles.  And the Seahawks were defeated on their home turf in Week 16 by the lesser Cardinals recently.  So we will put up a red flag here in favor of the Saints.  We will take the Saints with the points in what we expect to be a closer game than meets the eye.  We will also have a small play on the Over.  Seattle 27, New Orleans 23 

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