Home-field advantage is always a huge issue in the playoffs, and everybody seems to agree that the din put out by the Seattle fans is second to none in the NFL, making it hard on the visitors. Even so, the Saints are 10½-point favorites in this one, the largest point spread for a visiting team in an NFL playoff game in recent memory.
The Saints have never won a road playoff game. Last year, en route to the Super Bowl, New Orleans had a bye the first week of the playoffs, then two home games.
More than that, the Saints have had to put running backs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas on injured reserve. So in quest of its first-ever road playoff win, New Orleans has to go without Thomas, whose running and pass-catching was so vital a year ago, and Ivory, who had stepped up to stabilize the Saints' offense by averaging more than five yards per carry.
Five Things to Watch
1. Saints running backs Reggie Bush and Julius Jones against the Seahawks front seven. It's homecoming week in a way, Bush having been a star under Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC and Jones having played much of his career with the Seahawks. Neither has much recent history as a primary ball carrier, and the Seattle defense is coming off its best game of the season, shutting down Rams star Steven Jackson last week to get the Seahawks into the playoffs.
2. Saints quarterback Drew Brees against the Seattle defensive line. Brees has had trouble with interceptions this year, doubling his total from 11 in 2009 to 22 this season. Seattle had success last weekend against St. Louis' Sam Bradford by having the linemen and linebackers get their hands up in the air, altering the course of passes, including one that went to Will Herring for an interception that sealed the game. It will be interesting to see if the 6-foot Brees has that problem. Over the long term, however, Seattle is allowing more than 250 yards per game in the air.
3. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch against the Saints' defensive line. Let's face it, the Seahawks have the worst running attack around, thanks in part to the patchwork nature of their much-hobbled offensive line. But when Lynch, and to a lesser degree, Justin Forsett, managed to move the ball on the ground last week against St. Louis, it took the pressure off inexperienced quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
4. Seahawks return specialist Leon Washington against the Saints' kicking teams. Washington has been a playmaker as a kickoff returner, averaging 25.6 yards per return and -- for the second time in his career -- scoring three touchdowns. The Saints held him to a long of 28 yards on three returns when the two teams met on Nov. 21.
5. Saints coach Sean Payton vs. Seahawks coach Carroll. It was just a year ago that Payton took the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory. He's shown the ability to get his teams ready to play in big games -- he is 4-1 in playoff games. Carroll did the same, but in college, at USC. His team has been up and down in his first season in Seattle, and he's going to have to show that his philosophy translates to the NFL and, specifically, to the NFL postseason.
Prediction: Saints 23, Seahawks 16