New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Saturday January 11, 21:40
Live on Sky Sports 1
This is a re-run of December's 34-7 mauling inflicted on the New Orleans Saints by the Seattle Seahawks. Anyone anticipating a repeat, however, should remember that a month is a long time in the NFL. Especially this year, one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory, where one week's fallen have often picked themselves up the next to perform against expectations.
The Saints now bid to set their own record straight. Trouble is they must do it at the most intimidating home ground in the league: Century Field. This raucous arena has accounted for the loudest fans in sport (breaking the 130-decibel sound barrier last year), enough to throw the play calls of even the veteran Drew Brees off his stride. Make no mistake, it's a long way from safe confines of New Orleans' Superdome to this threatening Thunderdome.
Nevertheless, there's every reason for a closer encounter tonight. Brees will take heart from securing an upset win last week against Philadelphia in another unnerving venue, where he largely kept his head and kept it simple to prevail.
True, that woeful effort against the Hawks contributed to his worst figures in a decade (a trifling 147 yards) starting under center. But the seasoned pro was soon chasing the game and a losing battle against the best defense in the game - physical up front, dynamic in the secondary. A foreboding combo, especially for a quarterback who likes to air it out.
Remember, though, that the 2009 MVP is accustomed to turning the tables on his rivals. And he has just the tools to do so in the second-best second-best receiving crew in the league (behind Denver). Marques Colston is the heartbeat of this athletic unit (franchise leader for career catches, receiving yards and touchdowns). Now back playing at full tilt after a mid-term knee injury, he one of the likeliest lads to turn Sean Payton's troops from Saints into Sinners.
However, New Orleans have also been exhibiting some rare equilibrium on offense of late. Their pass-run ratio against Philly was encouragingly balanced and took their opponents by surprise. Darren Sproles (blessed of dual-threat versatility as both rusher and receiver) finally stepped up and played tough, while Mark Ingram continues to keep the chains moving from scrimmage. The Seattle D is daunting full-stop, but they could be thrown by some differing, creative formations this weekend. And Sproles could prove the game-changer.
Over on the Seahawks' offense, though, there are no such sleeping giants or surprise packages waiting to be unwrapped. They simply heap their hopes on star running back Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson (357 yards for three TDs last time against the Saints) and back their stroed defense to keep them on the park. It's a simple-yet-sound strategy which fully entitles them to their number-one seeding in the play-offs.
Slowing Lynch (you can't stop him) will be the key for New Orleans, since they actually boast the number two pass-defense the NFL. And despite some commentators saying Rob Ryan's men seemed short-staffed before the current campaign began, it's worth noting that the Hawks have been the only team to rack up over 30 points on them since the season's midpoint.
In conclusion, then, there should be no further embarrassment this evening for the Saints. They could even stun Pete Carroll's oh-so-solid crew. However, if they keep those unnecessary false-starts to a minimum in this house of hell, their seven-point head-start on the handicap will hardly be necessary.
Back New Orleans Saints (+7.5) to beat Seattle Seahawks on Match Handicap @ 2.0421/20 or better
Back New Orleans Saints (+4.5) to beat Seattle Seahawks on First Half Handicap @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Over 19.5 New Orleans Total Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back D Sproles to be First Touchdown Scorer @ 12.011/1 or better