The Sequel: Saints and Seahawks meet in playoffs
After nearly two weeks of waiting, the Seattle Seahawks finally get a chance to prove they were worthy of the No. 1 seed they earned in the NFC.
After winning on the road in the postseason last week, the New Orleans Saints no longer have that stigma clouding their franchise history.
Less than six weeks after Seattle made a resounding claim to NFC supremacy with a rout of New Orleans, the Seahawks and Saints collide again on Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff. Since that Dec. 2 matchup where the Seahawks all but wrapped up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a 34-7 win, both teams have seen some of their definitions changed.
Seattle has lost some of its home invincibility after losing to Arizona in Week 16 to snap a 14-game home win streak. And the Saints are no longer seeking a validating victory away from New Orleans after knocking off Philadelphia 26-24 last Saturday in the NFC wild-card game, the first road playoff win in franchise history.
''They're going to know what to expect from our crowd, they're going to know what to expect from us, and we're going to know what to expect from them,'' Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. ''It's almost like a division game in that sense because we've just seen each other and you understand what the game is going to be and what it's going to come down to.''
There's also a bit of history on the side of the Saints. Since 2005, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round of the postseason.
Here are five other things to watch as Seattle tries to advance to its second NFC championship game while the Saints.
MORE THAN BREES: Drew Brees is not accustomed to being stifled, but that is what Seattle did in the first meeting. His 147 yards passing were a season-low by nearly 100 yards. His 3.87 yards per pass attempt was the third-lowest of his entire career.
But New Orleans has evolved over the past month. They're attempting to become more run dependent and less pass reliant. The Saints had 30 rushing attempts in their final two regular-season games, then ran the ball 36 times for 185 yards last week vs. Philadelphia. Mark Ingram rushed for 97 yards against Philadelphia, the second highest total in Saints postseason history.
''I was just hoping we have another opportunity,'' Brees said, ''and here we are with that opportunity.''
REDISCOVER RUSSELL: Russell Wilson had arguably the best regular-season game of his career when New Orleans visited in December. He threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, ran for another 47 yards and completed 73.3 percent of his pass attempts. For Wilson, it capped a four-week stretch where his name was thrown into the MVP conversation.
The subsequent four games led to concern the Seahawks have slumped. Wilson's numbers dipped significantly. He topped 200 yards passing only once during the stretch, had only four touchdown passes versus three interceptions and his completion rate was below 58 percent. He was also sacked 14 times.
WHERE'S JIMMY?: Jimmy Graham has been such a vital part of the Saints offense that his disappearance in the first matchup against Seattle was stunning. Seattle used a combination of linebacker K.J. Wright and strong safety Kam Chancellor to shadow Graham. He finished with just three receptions for 42 yards on nine targets.
The Saints should be better able to counter Seattle's defense against Graham this time. Wright is out with a foot injury, taking away Seattle's biggest - and one of its most athletic - linebackers. That will put more pressure on Chancellor and backup linebacker Malcolm Smith.
''For us, it's not just going not be one player that will take that job on, it'll be a variety of guys in the way that we play our coverage and our style,'' Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.
HELLO, HARVIN: Percy Harvin might own the award for player most written about with least number of snaps this season. He's been a constant question from the start of training camp until now, first about his ailing hip, then about his recovery, his Seattle debut in Week 11 and then about the complications that surfaced after. But the problems with his surgically repaired hip have subsided to the point that Harvin will play Saturday with no limitations.
''Everything worked out for the best,'' Harvin said, ''and I'm looking forward to being out there and helping this team win.''
INJURY WOES: The Saints were already without safety Kenny Vaccaro, cornerback Jabari Greer and linebacker Jonathan Vilma to injuries in the second-half of the regular season. Then linebacker Parys Haralson went down with the torn pectoral against Philadelphia and cornerback Keenan Lewis suffered a concussion. Lewis was adamant this week he intends to play against Seattle.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks might get more than Harvin back. Tight end Luke Willson could play two weeks after getting carted off the field with an ankle injury. And if the Seahawks advance, Wright could be ready next week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org