The Saints are coming off a 23-13 loss to the Buccaneers last Sunday at the Superdome. With the No. 1 seed out of reach, the Saints pulled a number of their starters in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay.
Reggie Bush rushed for 70 yards on nine carries and caught 5 passes for 55 yards. He'll handle most of the running load this Saturday with running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on injured reserve.
The weather forecast calls for rain and snow flurries with the temperature in the 30s. "You manage that depending on how bad it is and how hard its coming down," said Drew Brees. "Does it change our game plan a whole lot? No. You definitely put a big priority on handling the snaps, the exchanges and throwing the ball."
Bush will be featured on Saturday. "Look at the first playoff game last year against Arizona. He came out and had a big day running the football and on special teams," said Brees. "Whenever the lights come on in a big situation, he tries to kick it up a notch. For him, it's important to play within himself and not try to do too much. Coming off that injury, I am starting to see him at full go."
The crowd in Qwest Field will be extremely loud. "We've practiced against noise," said Brees. "Communication in the huddle and again at the line of scrimmage. You really have to know the plays and the looks just so you all are seeing the same thing. Not everyone can be communicated through word of mouth. It's just identifying those fronts and those looks and being on the same page."
Brees has thrown for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns, but his 22 interceptions rank second worst only to Eli Manning. He threw four touchdowns and two interceptions against the 'Hawks earlier this year in a 15-point win. Still, Brees is a maestro when it matters. This game matters.
Immobile Matt Hasselbeck (hip) appears to be the likely starter for Seattle, but Charlie Whitehurst didn't look bad in the season finale. Hasselbeck put up big numbers against the Saints in their first meeting. Hasselbeck has thrown 12 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions this season for a 72.3 passer rating. Whitehurst has thrown two touchdown passes with three interceptions for a 65.5 passer rating.
Seattle averages 297.9 yards per game; that's 28th in the NFL. Their defense gives up 398.6 yards per game. That's 27th in the league. By contrast, the Saints are ranked in the Top 10 in both offensive yards per game and yards allowed per game. The Saints average 372.5 yards and a very good 24 points per game. On defense, the Saints give up only 306.2 yards per game. That's fourth in the NFL, including allowing an exceptional 103.9 yards per game through the air.
The 'Hawks have the second-worst running game in the NFL at 89 yards per game, but the Saints are vulnerable against the run, though and Marshsawn Lynch and Justin Forsett could break off some chunks. Leon Washington could be a matchup advantage.
One of the most overlooked players in the NFL is Saints wide receiver Lance Moore. He has eight touchdown receptions and seems to shine when least expected. Leading receiver Marques Colston is back from minor knee surgery, There are plenty of receiving weapons.
Seattle is definitely happy to be in this game. There are some proud veterans on the 'Hawks team and you can't discount the element of the 12th Man.
This game looks like a major mismatch. The Saints are injured at key spots, though the Saints' defense could cause huge problems for the 'Hawks. The Saints want to defend their title and should be focused.
Prediction: Despite the weather, I like the Saints to cover.
Wild Card Playoff Predictions: Colts -2 1/2 over Jets; Ravens -3 over Chiefs; and Eagles -2 1/2 over Packers.