Tale of the Tape: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
A spot in the NFC Championship Game is at stake Saturday afternoon when the Seattle Seahawks entertain the New Orleans Saints.
The Seahawks boast one of the most impressive home-field advantages in pro sports - and will get an added boost with the return of star wide receiver Percy Harvin. The Saints are no pushovers, boasting a top-flight offense led by Drew Brees and an underrated defense that should give Seattle fits.
Here is the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson didn't dazzle like some of the league's top signal-callers, but he was effective when he needed to be. The Seahawks finished 26th in the league with just 3,236 passing yards, but Wilson threw for a respectable 27 touchdowns with nine interceptions - the second-lowest total in the NFL. Wilson did contribute greatly to a Marshawn Lynch-led rush attack that compiled the fourth-most yards in football (2,188), racking up 14 scores.
Brees didn't return to the 5,000-yard passing club in 2013, but was still one of the top options in the NFL with 4,943 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. That said, the veteran signal caller struggled in last week's victory over Philadelphia (249 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) and will likely find the sledding even tougher against a stout Seattle defense. New Orleans ranked 25th in rushing yards during the regular season but had 185 in the victory over the Eagles.
Edge: New Orleans
The Seahawks rose to prominence on the strength of the best pass defense in the league. Seattle limited opponents to a paltry 2,752 passing yards - more than 350 fewer than the second-place Saints - while giving up just 16 touchdowns through the air and snagging a league-best 28 interceptions. The Seahawks were slightly more charitable in the running game - allowing the seventh-fewest yards - but surrendered only four scores on the ground while forcing seven fumbles.
Few teams can match what Seattle does on the defensive side of the ball, but New Orleans has proven throughout the year to be one of those teams. The Saints held foes to just 194 passing yards per contest while allowing 20 touchdowns and racking up 49 sacks - five more than the Seahawks. Like Seattle, New Orleans is more susceptible in the rushing department. The Saints allowed 1,786 yards on the ground while surrendering 11 scores and forcing three fumbles.
The Saints had one of the worst return games in the league this season, averaging a paltry 6.1 yards on 32 punt returns - the third-lowest mark in the NFL - and an even 23 yards per kickoff return with a long attempt of 82 yards. New Orleans struggled against opposing kickoff returns - allowing 25.2 yards per attempt - but limited foes to 7.5 yards per punt return. Veteran kicker Shayne Graham is 6-for-6 since replacing the ineffective Garrett Hartley in Week 16.
Seattle had the 27th-best kick-return average during the regular season (21.2), but finished ninth in the league in punt-return average (11.1) on a whopping 52 opportunities. The Seahawks were near the middle of the pack in kickoff-return average against (24) but held opponents to a paltry 3.9 yards per punt on 21 attempts. Kicker Steven Hauschka was nearly automatic, connecting on 33-of-35 field-goal chances - including 14-of-15 from 40 yards and beyond.
"They did a lot of things well. They rushed the passer well. They covered well. We didn't feel like, at the end of the day we felt like we didn't have much rhythm, we didn't have many opportunities ... the more balanced you can be is better." - Brees on the Saints' Week 13 loss in Seattle
"We're really a very disciplined, film-watching football team. I think when you work that hard, when you study that hard, when you're not out partying and you're spending that time watching film, and getting ready for your opponents, it benefits you." - Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman