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Saints vs. Seahawks: Five things to watch

The Saints battle the Seahawks at 3:35 pm CT

1. STAY GROUNDED: The New Orleans Saints ran for 185 yards on 36 carries in their wild-card victory over Philadelphia, the second-most rushing yards they've totaled in a playoff game (trailing 208 rushing yards against the Eagles in 2007). They won't have to replicate that exactly against the Seahawks but, certainly, they'll have to be more productive than they were during their first trip to CenturyLink Field this season, when they had 44 yards on 17 carries in a 34-7 loss. Much of that will be predicated on whether the Saints fall into an early hole and are forced to throw to play catch-up. They trailed 17-0 after the first quarter during their regular-season meeting with the Seahawks, which brings us to our second point…

2. READY, SET, GO: A fast start, offensively and defensively, is critical against Seattle because, one, the Seahawks get into a feeding frenzy when they take an early lead and, two, it'll silence the crowd that the Seahawks feed off. New Orleans only turned over the ball once in its first meeting against Seattle, but it didn't move the ball (a season-low 188 yards, 90 in the first half) at all. It's going to be a challenge moving it this time, too, since the Seahawks were the stingiest defense in the league (273.6 yards per game). Defensively, the Saints didn't do much in terms of stopping the Seahawks, who had 429 yards and converted six of eight third-down attempts in the first half, and went 7 for 14 overall. Both units will have to be much more efficient this time.

3. THE WILSON FACTOR: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson gave the Saints' defense the blues in December. Wilson completed 22 of 30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for a game-high 47 yards on eight carries. The Saints can't afford for him to be that efficient again. Defensive end Cam Jordan (14 sacks, including playoffs) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (12 sacks) will have the dual roles of applying pressure and maintaining the discipline of keeping Wilson in the pocket. He hurt the Saints with throws on the run and scrambles, and the guess here is the Saints would much prefer to see him in the pocket rather than outside it. Boxing in Wilson is easier said than done – and he's going to escape pressure sometimes because he's that good. But minimizing his escapes is paramount to success for New Orleans.

4. LEASH THE BEAST, PART TWO: New Orleans did a fantastic job of stopping Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in the first meeting, holding him to 45 yards on 16 carries. Taking him away again won't be easy, but it's the key to making the Seahawks one dimensional. Already, the Saints have shown they're up to the task in terms of run defense – Philadelphia, the league leader in rushing yards entering the playoffs with 160 per game, was limited to half of that amount in the wild-card game. But Lynch can pop loose at any time. The Seahawk offense wants to pound opponents with its vaunted running game (136.8 yards per game, fourth-best in the league), so the Saints will have to match that physicality again.

5. LOOSE AND FREE: The Saints entered the wild-card game with the demeanor of a team that had nothing to lose. The team lost five of its last six road games during the regular season, the franchise was 0-5 on the road in the playoffs and it gave New Orleans an opportunity to have fun (green Gatorade, Popeye's chicken, new sweat suits, etc.) while it put in some serious preparation. Again, the Saints can approach this game carefree. The Seahawks are the No. 1 seed, they're at home and they beat New Orleans by 27 points in the regular season. The Saints will look to use that underdog status to their advantage again this week.

  1. HOT BREES. Our bonus point this week. The Saints didn't need a great performance from quarterback Drew Brees (20 for 30 for 250 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions) against Philadelphia. But they'll likely need the future Hall of Famer to play to that level this week against a defense that had 28 interceptions during the regular season, easily tops in the league. The Seattle secondary is special; but so, too, is Brees. Whichever plays to its level probably will lead its team to victory.

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