The game of the year is finally here. Last Sunday, the AFC showcased their best with the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos giving us a game for the ages. The NFC’s best will have their turn this week as the New Orleans Saints (9-2) travel to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to face the NFC’s best, the Seattle Seahawks (10-1). This is a classic matchup of the immovable object, Seattle’s second-ranked defense, versus the unstoppable force, the Saints’ third-ranked offense.
There are plenty of story lines surrounding the matchup of two of the strongest units in the NFL. Seattle’s secondary, which features All Pro Richard Sherman, will face their toughest test yet as they will try to defend an offense with weapons galore. Sherman, in all likelihood, will be matched up with the Saints’ own All Pro Jimmy Graham. As tantalizing a matchup that will be, the real story will be how all the other weapons will be dealt with now that the Seahawks have lost two of their other corners, Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, to suspension.
Though the Seattle secondary and Saints’ receiving corps deserve a lot of attention. The game will be decided in the trenches and by the Saints’ ability to run the ball. Though they had their struggles, the Saints have come on strong with their ground game. Ol’ Reliable Pierre Thomas has been shouldering the load and really been playing some good football. The Saints will need more the same from him and Mark Ingram to maintain balance.
Finally, the offensive line, as always, will need to protect Drew Brees. However, the more important task, and probably one of the most difficult, is avoiding pre-snap penalties. CenturyLink Field is one of the loudest venues, and causes close to three false starts a game. Those five yards can be game changers against a defense as stout as Seattle’s’.
What makes these two teams great, and this matchup as well, is the completeness of both teams. Even their “weaker” links, Seattle’s offense and New Orleans’ defense, are very formidable. The Saints’ defense, ranked 5th, are going to try to rid the ghost of Marshawn Lynch (we all know what happened, we don’t need to talk about it) that has haunted Saints’ fans since 2010. Lynch and the Seahawks have the 3rd ranked rushing attack, a spot where the Saints are vulnerable. However, the Saints proved against the San Francisco 49ers that they can handle a physical style of play similar to Seattles’.
Similarly, the Seattle passing attack, which is ranked low at 24, will have to contend with the Saints’ pass defense which is ranked 3rd. This is where the most intriguing matchups takes place. Percy Harvin, I would imagine, will see a full snap count for the first time this season and can make this offense very explosive. The Saints are well equipped to contain him with Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Vaccaro, but that’s easier said than done. Their case can be helped if Cameron Jordan, who is coming off a monster performance against the Atlanta Falcons, can get pressure with the front four. The Saints lead the league in sacks, but Seattle’s offensive line, in combination with the running game and read option do a good job in slowing down opponents’ pass rush.
I am not in the business of predictions (mainly out of superstition), but they say something has to give. The thing is we don’t know what is going to give since both teams are strong in so many places. This game can be a shootout, which neither team has a problem with, or a defensive battle, a scenario that both teams have won in. No matter the situation, the game is going to be close; both teams are too disciplined and well coached for this to get out of hand.
Whatever the case, there is a good chance we will see this matchup again in the NFC Championship, but the question is, where will it played?
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