NFL Playoffs Divisional Matchup Preview - Saints @ Seahawks
This is going to be a thriller. The Seahawks cruised through most of the season en route to a first-round bye, but they face a tough road to the Super Bowl as they host Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Drew Brees - Brees once again had a stellar year, throwing for over 5100 yards and almost 40 touchdowns. It’s becoming a foregone conclusion that Brees will pass for over 5000 yards, a feat that was only accomplished once before he did it in 2008. Oh, and he’s done it four times since then. It’s so hard to bet against Brees at this point, even against a very tough Seahawks team. However, I may do just that. The Seahawks have easily the best pass defense in the NFL, led by the fearsome Richard Sherman. Other superstars in the secondary include Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, while the defensive line boasts awesome pass rushers in Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. It’s almost unfair how many stars this defense has. The Seahawks were effective against Brees early in the season, limiting him to just 147 yards, almost 100 yards fewer than in any other game in 2013. Brees does have his weapons in Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, however the Seahawks are amongst the best in eliminating them. In fantasy playoff contests, it's hard not to bet on Brees, but with plenty of other options including Manning, Kaepernick, Brady and Wilson, it’s probably best to find someone else.
Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston - Drew is going to have to rely on two of his favorite receivers in this game. However, with Sherman covering Colston, we doubt that he will have any impact. Colston doesn't have a lot of speed and his physicality is completely held in check by Sherman’s. Sherman limited Colston to just 27 yards in their last meeting. Jimmy Graham will have to take advantage of any opportunities he has in the middle of the field and fight for some tough yards. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will be looking to cover Graham tight and hit him hard whenever he gets the ball. Sean Payton needs to get creative and find a way to keep Graham out of the way of the Seahawks safeties, whether it be by picks, screens or deep passes where he has to fight for jump balls. He had nine targets against the Seahawks in their last game, but converted just three catches, although one went for a touchdown. Even with the tough matchup, Graham is still the best bet to lead all tight ends in scoring, but Vernon Davis is a close second this week. He needs just one or two chances to make a huge play.
The N.O. rushing game - Last week against the Eagles, the Saints ran the rock and ran it often. Billy Davis, the Eagles defensive coordinator, said that he was willing to let the Saints run in order to make sure Jimmy Graham didn’t beat them. It ended up being a failed strategy, as the Saints run game looked as good as it had against Dallas a few weeks ago. Mark Ingram was finding open space behind blockers, and Khiry Robinson made some crucial third-down conversions by picking up yards in chunks. Darren Sproles also seemed to be rejuvenated. The going against the Seahawks will be a little tougher. With a better pass defense, it is likely the Hawks will be more willing to let Graham run freely than the Eagles had, as Seattle will try to stop every aspect of the Saints game, including the run. Seattle finished out as a top 10 team against the run, but there were occasions where they were beat pretty badly on the ground. With solid run-stuffing linebacker KJ Wright out, there is a chance the Saints may find some room. However, with the lack of a true feature back, it’s probably not worth taking any of these players in salary cap leagues. Darren Sproles did have seven catches in their previous game, but he failed to do very much with them. Pierre Thomas may not be healthy, and Mark Ingram will most likely revert to his old self. Khiry Robinson remains an intriguing player for dynasty formats, but he can’t be trusted as of now. While the Saints runners may find some holes, it’s a crapshoot on who it will be.
Russell Wilson - An impressive second season in Seattle continues for one of the NFL’s most impressive young players. Russell Wilson once again this year showed he can be a dual-threat quarterback that excels when passing, a rare quality in the NFL. Wilson ended the season with over 3300 passing yards and almost 600 rushing yards, pretty significant numbers considering the Seahawks are a run-first team. The Saints present a challenge for Wilson, as they have improved tremendously this year under Rob Ryan. As a team they ranked second against the pass. They have a few huge playmakers in Cameron Jordan and Keenan Lewis, however the latter has a concussion. If Lewis can’t get cleared for the game, it spells trouble for New Orleans. Kenny Vaccaro is also out with a leg injury. With a decimated secondary, it’s hard to justify the Saints ranking this week. In a game where the Saints spent most of their time trying to stop Marshawn Lynch, Wilson shined, throwing for over 300 yards with 3 scores while also rushing for 47. It’s likely that he comes close to the same, especially if Lewis is out. The Saints secondary is decimated, and Wilson should find some holes through the air and on the ground. Wilson is probably the best pick for fantasy playoff leagues other than Peyton Manning.
Receivers - Percy Harvin is probably back, again! After a brief showing against Minnesota, Harvin missed the rest of the year. However, he’s finally getting practice reps and is likely to play against New Orleans. This is nothing but good news for Seattle, and it should help open up their offense way more than it was before. Golden Tate will slide to the #2 receiver role, and Doug Baldwin will see snaps in the slot, his best position. If Keenan Lewis does play, it will be risky to bet on Harvin, as Lewis has been outstanding against #1 receivers. Pete Carroll should find a way to move him around, but it’s likely that Lewis will be on him most of the game. Golden Tate should find some room, as the Saints secondary outside of Lewis is burnable thanks to the injuries they've suffered. With all of this said, Doug Baldwin will probably be the safest receiver to own in fantasy formats. Baldwin is coming off a good season, having nearly 800 yards receiving. He really came on at the end of the season, averaging 66 yards and catching 4 touchdowns in a 6 game span. One of his scores came against the Saints, and that was when they had Kenny Vaccaro. It’s likely he’ll find some open room up the middle, and may even get open deep. Baldwin is a nice buy at a cheap price in daily leagues.
Marshawn Lynch - The heart of this offense is in the hands and legs of Marshawn Lynch. With a face only a mother could love, Lynch, aka Beast Mode, Lunch or Skittles, once again trucked his way to a monster season, rushing for 1257 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was also a factor in the passing game, having a career high 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Saints can be run on. They are in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed per game, but give up an average of 4.6 yards per attempt, good for 5th worst in the league. They did, however, make it a point to stop Lynch in their previous outing. Lynch will have Russell Okung this time around, a luxury he didn't have last time, but it’s fair to wonder if the Saints will try to shut down Lynch once again. With the way they were burned by the pass last time, it’s not likely, especially with a more decimated secondary. Look to see a few open looks for Lynch, and a chance for him to find the end zone, if the ‘Hawks coaches decide to give him the ball this time. He makes for a solid fantasy playoff running back, as he’s the most talented runner left and has a decent matchup.
Baller Prediction: Seahawks 31 - Saints 21