Saturday's NFC playoff preview: New Orleans at Seattle
KICKOFF: 4:35 p.m. EST
THE LINE: Seahawks by 8 (over/under 46 1/2)
KEY INJURIES: New Orleans -- Questionable: RB Pierre Thomas (chest), DE Akiem Hicks (ankle). Seattle -- Out: LB K.J. Wright (foot); Doubtful: DT Jordan Hill (groin); Questionable: S Chris Maragos (back).
EDGE >> SAINTS
The Saints' Drew Brees became the second NFL quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards twice in a career this season, but he struggled against the Seahawks' man-press coverage and top-ranked pass defense in a 34-7 loss in Seattle on Dec. 2. Since 2011, Darren Sproles leads all backs (including playoffs) with 255 receptions, 2,164 receiving yards and 17 TDs. TE Jimmy Graham (86 catches, 1,215 yards, 16 TDs) is Brees' go-to receiver. Seattle's Russell Wilson spreads his throws among several receivers, led by Golden Tate, who caught 64 passes. Doug Baldwin, TE Zach Miller and RB Derrick Coleman caught TD passes in win over Saints.
EDGE >> SEAHAWKS
RB Mark Ingram, in relief of injured Pierre Thomas, rushed for 97 yards in the first round at Philadelphia, the second-most by a Saint in a playoff game. The Saints are hoping Thomas, their leading rusher who has a chest injury, can be available. Sproles has four rushing TDs in nine career playoff games. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (1,257 yards, 12 TDs) is the only player to rush for 1,000-plus yards and 10 TDs in each of the past three seasons. In the Seahawks' 41-36 victory over New Orleans in the 2011 playoffs, Lynch's 67-yard TD run was nicknamed the "Beast Quake" after the crowd noise registered on a regional Richter scale.
EDGE >> SEAHAWKS
The Seahawks were the top-ranked defense in the league and rank first in fewest points allowed (14.4 per game), takeaways (39), INTs (28) and a plus-20 turnover differential. CB Richard Sherman led the NFL with eight INTs, including four in the last three games. The Saints improved vastly under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who took the worst defense in NFL history to fourth overall and No. 2 against the pass, thanks to the pressure applied by DE Cameron Jordan (12 1/2 sacks) and LB Junior Galette (12).
EDGE >> SEAHAWKS
The Saints won a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history last week at Philadelphia, but winning in noisy Seattle is a whole different proposition. During the past two seasons, the Seahawks are 15-1 at home and have won their last five home playoff games, outscoring their opponents 151-94.
FACE TO FACE
Saints TE Jimmy Graham vs. Seahawks OLB Malcolm Smith
OLB K.J. Wright held Graham to just three catches for 42 yards when the Seahawks beat New Orleans last month. But Wright is out because of a broken foot and Smith, a third-year player, will step in. Smith is stout against the run but not nearly as good in coverage, so Graham, whose six 100-yard games this season tied the single-season record for a tight end, could have a big day.
WHY THE SAINTS WILL WIN
What homefield advantage? No. 6 seeds have won five of the past seven meetings against No. 1 seeds.
WHY THE SEAHAWKS WILL WIN
Seattle feeds off the loudest stadium in the NFL (sorry, Chiefs fans), and that leads to creating turnovers and short fields for Wilson and the offense. The Seahawks also may get a boost from wide receiver/kick returner Percy Harvin, who is expected to play after missing almost the entire season because of a hip injury.
Randy Covitz's pick: Seahawks 30-20
(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services