If there’s one game that looks like a dog this weekend – that’s dog as in a canine with fleas not underdog, although I guess the latter is also true – it’s Saturday afternoon’s New Orleans at Seattle matchup. After all, the Seahawks are probably the worst playoff team in NFL history and just became the first division champion ever with a losing record and first below-.500 playoff team in a non-strike season. New Orleans won four more games than Seattle and already punked the Seahawks once this year, yet has to play in the Pacific Northwest. Look for the NFL to change its seeding rule for next year.
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Of course, the Saints are a dome team, so weather could be a factor on Sunday. The forecast is for temperatures in the high-30s/low-40s with snow showers likely. I guarantee you that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is hoping for the worst weather possible to slow Drew Brees down.
Anyways, there was probably more news surrounding this game during the week than any of the four being played on Wild Card Weekend.
Seattle waited until Thursday to name its starting quarterback, although pretty much everyone expected it to be Matt Hasselbeck (the Saints did), and it will be. Hasselbeck had been the starter all year but strained a quad in Week 16 and sat out the NFC West winner-take-all matchup against the Rams last week even though he probably could have played. Charlie Whitehurst played well in that one and perhaps gave Carroll reason to deliberate, or he just wanted the Saints to game plan for both QBs. Hasselbeck has completed 59.9 percent of his passes this season for 3,001 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. He had been a turnover machine in his past few games. But he has the playoff experience and he also had his best game of the season against New Orleans in Week 11. In that 34-19 Seattle loss (Seahawks were +11) in New Orleans, Hasselbeck threw for a season-high 366 yards and didn’t have a pick. Oh, and that 15-point loss was Seattle’s closest loss of the year.
Speaking of that Week 11 matchup, the Saints’ Brees also had arguably his best game of the year, throwing for a season-high 382 yards and four touchdowns. Brees had 300 yards by the third quarter and New Orleans was 11 of 15 on third downs. He did throw two picks and that was a problem this year as Brees threw 22 of them.
New Orleans played that game without running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and playing shorthanded in the backfield is something the Saints will have to get used to. That’s because Thomas and leading rusher Chris Ivory were both put on season-ending injured reserve this week. Ivory emerged when Thomas and Bush were hurt to be one of the NFL’s surprises this year. He had 23 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown in the Week 11 game. Now the load falls on Bush, who is too small to be a featured back and is himself just getting back to 100 percent healthy from his broken leg, and Julius Jones, who had double-digit carries once this year and barely played in most games. On the bright side, top WR Marques Colston is expected to play after missing last week and having minor knee surgery.
If there’s good news for Seattle backers it’s that Hasselbeck is 4-1 at home in his playoff career and Seattle has won five straight home playoff games, while the Saints are 0-3 all-time in road playoff games.
NFL Odds: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans is by far the biggest favorite of the weekend at -11 (although you can find it at -10 at some books). The total is 44.5, according to NFL odds. The Saints are getting about 60 percent of the lean on the side. The line really hasn’t moved despite the Seahawks’ uncertain QB situation – pretty much everyone expected Hasselbeck to start. The total has dropped a point. Seattle was 7-9 ATS this year and 5-3 at home. New Orleans was 7-9 ATS this year and 3-5 on the road.
NFL Wild Card Playoff Betting Trends: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
The Saints are 1-8 ATS vs. a team with a losing record.
The Seahawks are 1-5 ATS in their past six as a dog.
The ‘over’ is 5-1-1 in the Saints’ past seven playoff games.
The ‘over’ is 8-1 in Seattle’s past nine games.
NFL Picks and Predictions: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Qwest Field is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, and that’s really all that is keeping Seattle from being a two-touchdown dog. I want to say Seattle is pretty good at home, but the Seahawks also didn’t beat a playoff team there. In fact, they lost three of their final four at home, beating only Carolina. And obviously when Seattle loses it loses big. Still, the Saints probably will have no running game and 11 points is an awful lot. So while New Orleans will certainly win, take the Seahawks and the points. And with a lot of passes likely to be thrown, also take the ‘over’.