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Five matchups to watch: Seahawks vs. Saints
A look at the Seahawks’ divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, including five matchups that could impact the outcome:
When: Saturday, 1:35 p.m., CenturyLink Field
Records: Seahawks were 13-3 during the regular season to win the NFC West and clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason; Saints were 11-5 to finish second to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South and wrap up the No. 6 seed. The Saints beat the NFC East Champion Eagles in their wild-card playoff game in Philadelphia last Saturday night.
Playoff implications: The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the NFC Championship game next Sunday against the winner of this Sunday’s divisional game between the No. 5 seed 49ers and No. 2 seed Panthers in Carolina.
TV: FOX (Q13), with Kevin Burkhart, John Lynch and Erin Andrews
Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 KIRO FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
One to watch
Third downs: In their Week 13 win over the Saints at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks converted seven of 14 third-down situations, ran 69 offensive plays and won in a romp 34-7 to push their record to 11-1. Since then, however, the Seahawks have converted 14 of 51 third-down situations, or 27 percent, while going 2-2. In those losses, they ran 50 plays against the 49ers in San Francisco and 51 plays against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field. Yes, the 49ers and Cardinals have Top 10 defenses. But the Saints have made the greatest one-season turnaround in NFL history, going from allowing a league-record average of 440.1 yards per game last season to 305.7 this season. That allowed the Saints to rank No. 4, and their 134.4-yard difference is the largest about-face in the 94-season history of the league.
Fun to watch
One tough task
The Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked defense vs. Saints TE Jimmy Graham: In the “Monday Night Football” game against the Saints on Dec. 2, the Seahawks used the length and athletic ability of linebacker K.J. Wright to limit the 6-foot-7 Graham to three catches for 42 yards. But Wright is out with a foot injury that required surgery and has forced him to miss the past three games. So covering Graham, who led all NFL tight ends in receptions (86) and all NFL players in touchdown catches (16), will be a by-committee approach depending on where Graham lines up and whether the Seahawks are in man-to-man or zone coverage. The All-Pro trio of cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will get their turns covering Graham. So will linebackers Malcolm Smith, who is starting for Wright; Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin; as will cornerback Byron Maxwell and nickel back Jeremy Lane. Whoever’s on Graham can’t allow him to have a game-breaking afternoon.
The Seahawks lead the series 7-6, including their victories in Week 11 this season and the 2010 wild-card playoff game. … The Seahawks’ defense led the NFL in average points (14.4), yards (273.6) and passing yards (172.0) allowed, as well as turnovers (39) and interceptions (28). … Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions and also has a league-high 20 since 2011. … Each team has scored and allowed its most points in the second quarter – 140 scored and 108 allowed for the Seahawks; 155 and 112 for the Saints. … DE Jordan Cameron had 12.5 of the Saints’ 49 sacks. … While Graham had 16 of the Saints’ 39 TD catches, the Seahawks had three players combine for 15 of their 27 – WRs Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and TE Zach Miller, with five each. … The Seahawks allowed 16 TD passes and held opposing QBs to a league-low passer rating of 63.4. … MLB Bobby Wagner (119) and Thomas (100) were the Seahawks’ leading tacklers during the regular season; while ILBs Curtis Lofton (139) and David Hawthorne (122) led the Saints.