Just a game out of first place in the NFC South coming out of their bye week, the New Orleans Saints are hopeful that the return of Reggie Bush will further help an offense that has turned things around after a slow start.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn't have to be reminded of how valuable Bush is.
Bush is hoping to play after missing the previous seven games with a broken fibula when the Saints host his former college coach and the Seahawks on Sunday.
New Orleans (6-3) won its last two games before its bye, including 34-3 at Carolina on Nov. 7, and is tied with Tampa Bay in the division behind Atlanta.
The Saints' offense, which amassed 408 yards - 165 rushing - against the Panthers, is expected to become even more dangerous with the return of Bush, who was injured in Week 2.
"We'll see what happens. I feel like this is a good weekend to get out there," he said. "... It's me. It's the coaches. It's the trainers and the doctors. If we feel like collectively I can get back out there and play this weekend, I'll get back out there. If it were up to me, I would have been playing."
Bush, who had a 6-yard touchdown catch and 43-yard punt return in his last game, hadn't done much on the ground with seven carries for 18 yards. The Saints, though, have missed his versatility and he could boost an offense that has improved the last few weeks.
New Orleans already has one of the league's top defenses, holding opponents to 16.8 points and 277.0 yards per game - third-best in the NFL. Now they hope to have the offense to go with it.
The Saints are averaging 369.9 yards of offense but rank 25th in rushing with 93.7 yards per game.
After some earlier struggles, Drew Brees seems to be back on track. He's thrown four touchdowns and two interceptions in the last two games after recording eight picks and seven TDs in the previous three.
The week off may not be enough time to get Pierre Thomas back from a sprained left ankle that has kept him out six games. Thomas led New Orleans in rushing last season and had 147 yards and one touchdown before getting injured.
New Orleans is looking to take advantage of a very favorable schedule. After Seattle (5-4), it visits 2-7 Dallas on Thanksgiving and then 2-7 Cincinnati.
"We're in position to fulfill our goals," fullback Heath Evans said. "We've got to get hot at the right time. We've got to continue to build on what we've done the last couple weeks. ... Championship teams step up in November and December and we'll find out if we're one."
Ironically, Bush's return will come against his former coach at Southern California. Bush and Carroll won two national championships with the Trojans and Bush was the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner.
However, Bush returned the trophy and USC vacated its 2005 national championship as part of NCAA sanctions for Bush receiving improper benefits. A few months before the NCAA gave its ruling, Carroll left for the NFL.
Carroll is looking to get Seattle back to the playoffs after a 9-23 record over the last two years kept the Seahawks out of the postseason. They had made the playoffs five straight times from 2003-07.
Seattle leads the NFC West by one game over St. Louis. It defeated Arizona 36-18 last Sunday to avoid a third straight loss.
Matt Hasselbeck suffered two small cracks in his left wrist after being hurt on a quarterback sneak but is expected to play this week. Hasselbeck went 22 of 34 for 333 yards and one touchdown, leaving in the first half but returning later.
"We took a really serious, good look to figure it all out and feel very comfortable with it," Carroll said. "He's going to be uncomfortable, you know, for a while here."
Hasselbeck, who missed the previous game with a concussion, won't be the only Seahawk playing through an injury. Mike Williams had a career-best 145 yards receiving on a career high-tying 11 catches against the Cardinals despite a broken pinky finger.
Seattle had been held to 10 points in the previous two losses but finished with 490 yards - its most since amassing 501 at Atlanta on Dec. 30, 2007 - against one of the NFL's worst defenses. It figures to have a much bigger challenge creating opportunities against New Orleans, which ranks first in the NFL against the pass, giving up 166.3 yards per game.
That's why Carroll is hoping rookie left tackle Russell Okung will return this week from a high-ankle sprain. He's played in just three games but could help open holes for an offense that has rushed for over 100 yards in three of the last five games.
Seattle and New Orleans have split 10 all-time meetings. The Saints won 28-17 at Seattle in 2007 to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.