A look at the 9-2 New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks’ Week 12 opponent:
When: Monday, 5:30 p.m., CenturyLink Field
Record: 9-2 and first in the NFC South after a 17-13 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta on Nov. 21
Where they rank: No. 3 on offense (23rd rushing, 2nd passing); No. 5 on defense (15th rushing; 3rd passing)
TV: ESPN, with Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Lisa Salters. Also on KONG 6/16 in Seattle.
Series: Saints lead 6-5 in the regular season, including wins in the past two meetings – 28-17 in Seattle in 2007 and 34-19 in New Orleans in 2010. But the Seahawks won the last matchup, 41-36 in a wild-card playoff game after the 2010 season.
Star power: Drew Brees. What’s harder to fathom? That Brees is 32? Or that he’s in his 13th NFL season? While Brees has the statistics to support his longevity, and productivity, it just doesn’t seem like he’s been around that long. But here he is, still putting it up with the best of them. The only QB in the league who is having a more productive season than Brees is Peyton Manning. Brees ranks second in the league to Manning in completions (300), passing yards (3,647) and touchdown passes (28). He’s also third in completion percentage (.683) and fourth in passer rating (107.3). But the odd twist to all this is that his that top three receivers are tight end Jimmy Graham (65 catches for 946 yards and 11 TDs) and running backs Pierre Thomas (56 for 406 and three) and Darren Sproles (48 for 463 and two). But the Saints’ passing game is not a dink-and-dunk show, as Kenny Stills is averaging 21.4 yards on 22 receptions and Robert Meachem 23.2 yards on 11 receptions.
On the spot: Whoever is matched against Graham. The Seahawks already have faced some formidable tight ends – the 49ers’ Vernon Davis, Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez, Panthers’ Greg Olsen and Texans’ Owen Daniels – and come out on top of those matchups. But Graham is another story. He leads all NFL tight ends in receptions and receiving yards and his TD catches share the league lead with Lions’ WR Calvin Johnson. And, Graham is the guy Brees looks to when he needs a big completion – his 20 receptions on third downs tie him for seventh in the league.
Burning question: Can the return of a coach make this much difference? If that coach is Sean Payton, the team is the Saints and the QB is Brees, the answer is yes, yes and yes. The Saints were 13-3 in 2009, the season they won the Super Bowl; 11-5 in 2010, the season they were upset by the 7-9 Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs; and 13-3 in 2011. They are 9-2 this season. Last year, when Payton was serving a one-season suspension in the fallout from Bountygate? The Saints were 7-9.
Familiar faces: There are almost a dozen, when you include former Seahawks, players from in-state colleges and the Saints’ front office and scouting department. ILB David Hawthorne was the Seahawks’ leading tackler from 2009-11 and is now third on the Saints with 61 tackles. Backup ILB Will Herring also played for the Seahawks (2007-10). FB Jed Collins played at Washington State, while practice-squad OG Senio Kelemete played at Washington. Joe Vitt, the Saints’ assistant head coach/linebackers coach, was an assistant with the Seahawks (1982-91); and his son, Joey, is a combine scout for the Saints. Area scout Terry Wooden was a starting linebacker for the Seahawks (1990-96). Executive VP/general manager Mickey Loomis, director of operations James Nagaoka, director of college scouting Rick Reiprish and area scout Mike Baugh also worked for the Seahawks before joining the Saints.
The last word: “Listen, they’re all big. But obviously we understand the implications of this one. ‘Monday Night Football’ at Seattle, it doesn’t get any better than that.” – Brees