Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks vs Saints

Posted Jan 11, 2014

The Seahawks played all season for this chance to host a divisional playoff game as the No. 1-seeded team in the NFC. The opponent is familiar, as they also played the Saints in Week 13 and in their last home playoff game.

Greetings from a windy and wet CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks will host the New Orleans Saints in a divisional playoff game Saturday afternoon – and where the immortal words of Yogi Berra have never been more apropos, even if metaphorically mixed.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

The Seahawks and Saints played here in Week 13 on “Monday Night Football,” and the Seahawks prevailed 34-7.

The Seahawks’ last home playoff game was against the Saints, when the 7-9 NFC West Champion Seahawks hosted the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a 2010 wild-card game – and won in wildly entertaining fashion 41-36 as Matt Hasselbeck passed for four touchdowns and Marshawn Lynch went ultimate Beast Mode on a 67-yard touchdown run to ice the outcome in the fourth quarter.

The only other time in franchise history that the Seahawks hosted a divisional game was in 2005, when they beat the Washington Redskins – despite league MVP Shaun Alexander going out in the first quarter with a concussion – to advance to the NFC Championship game.

It is against this backdrop of we’ve-been-here-before efforts that the Seahawks will attempt to go there again. The winner of Saturday’s game between the No. 1-seed Seahawks and No. 6-seed Saints will advance to the NFC Championship game next Sunday against the winner of this Sunday’s matchup between the No. 5-seed San Francisco 49ers and No. 2-seed Panthers in Carolina. The highest-seeded remaining team will host the title game.

While the Seahawks and Panthers had byes last weekend, the Saints and 49ers were advancing to the divisional round the hard way. Each used a final-play field goal to win – the Saints 26-24 over the No. 3-seed Eagles in Philadelphia; the 49ers 23-20 over the No. 4-seed Packers in Green Bay.

Rest? Or momentum? The Seahawks used their bye week to get healthy, and also to get the versatile Percy Harvin back for only the second time this season. Meanwhile, the 49ers won their seventh consecutive game, and the Saints their first road playoff game in franchise history.

“We’ve had really two excellent weeks,” coach Pete Carroll said after Thursday’s final full practice. “I think the way we framed it last week – the work that we did, and the rest that we took – really paid off. We had great practices this week, to the point where we were really able to taper down.

“I’m looking forward to these guys feeling good, feeling healthy and strong and ready to play. I’m excited about that.”

And so is everyone else. The expectations for the Seahawks that began even before their first team meeting in April remain on track. They were 13-3 during the regular season to not only match the best record in franchise history, but win the NFC West title, the bye in last week’s wild-card round and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Now that they’ve reached this latest championship opportunity that is one step from hosting the conference championship game, with yet another chance to go 1-0, the Seahawks’ focus is unchanged.

“It’s about us,” All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said. “That’s how we’ve been taking it this whole time, it’s about us. We’re just enjoying this moment. I’m just lost in it. I’m one with it. It just feels good. It’s a great feeling. And we’re just excited for the chance.

“Whatever happens just happens.”

So sit back and enjoy what’s about to happen, with kickoff and televised coverage on FOX (Q/13) set for 1:35 p.m. PT.

Sunday showdown: Rob Ryan vs Darrell Bevell

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan: The Seahawks won in Week 13 because they were able to take advantage of the pressure that Ryan dialed up and the stacked fronts he used to limit Marshawn Lynch being held to a 2.8-yard average on 16 carries, his second-lowest of the season. That’s because second-year QB Russell Wilson took advantage of that “green grass” that was behind the blitzes, as he likes to put it. Wilson passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns. But in last week’s wild-card win in Philadelphia, the Saints held the Eagles’ No. 2-ranked offense to a 3-of-12 performance on third downs, limited NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy to 77 yards and did not allow DeSean Jackson to catch a pass until late in the third quarter.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: The other side of this sideline chess match that will influence what happens on the field is what Bevell calls against, and how he adjusts to, what Ryan and the Saints bring. Since converting seven of 14 third-down situations against the Saints in Week 13, the Seahawks went 14 of 51 on the pivotal down in splitting their final four games. In the losses to the 49ers and Cardinals, it resulted in the offense running just 50 and 51 plays. You can’t develop a rhythm, let alone impose your will, when you have only two possessions in 11 that generate more than 35 yards (against the 49ers) or seven three-and-outs in 14 possessions (against the Cardinals).