Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
Saints-Seahawks parlay leg
Saints at Seahawks – first half under 24
The Saints may have found something in their wild-card triumph over the Eagles. Although the first road playoff win in the history of the franchise didn’t come easy, the final score was deceiving. The Saints dominated the game, outgaining Philadelphia 434-256, averaging 6.4 yards per play to the Eagles’ 4.5 and winning the the time-of-possession battle 34:53-25:07. That was all made possible by an experimental wrinkle that paid major dividends: taking the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands.
In order to slow down the up-tempo Eagles offense, Sean Payton opted to fashion a run-heavy game plan that ultimately included 36 rushes against 30 pass plays, a bold move that became downright audacious when leading rusher Pierre Thomas was deactivated for the game with a back injury. The gamble paid off, as the Saints churned out 185 yards on the ground while keeping Nick Foles and the Eagles offense on the sidelines for extended periods of time. Brees may be the Saints’ most valuable asset, but he’s also prone to making some poor decisions on the road (a trend he continued in the first half vs. Philly in the form of two interceptions). Given the success of the unorthodox game plan coupled with the problems the Saints had from the outset of a 34-7 loss to Seattle in Week 13, it’s safe to assume their goal will be to establish the run in the divisional rematch.
In the first game, the Saints came out trying to throw, with Brees dropping back to pass on six of the offense’s first nine plays. The results were a pair of three-and-outs sandwiched around a strip-sack returned for a touchdown. Shortly thereafter, it was 17-0 and the game was effectively over. The Saints were simply overwhelmed from the word go – the Monday night stage, the delirious crowd, the hyped and swarming Seattle defenders – and weren’t able to come anywhere close to matching the intensity and focus of the Seahawks. It might sound crazy, but the way that game started should benefit the Saints in Round II.
By this point in the playoffs, all teams are dialed in. The Saints won’t be caught napping again. And as opposed to the first matchup when they were forced to simulate the effect of “the 12th man” in their preparation, this time around they will know what to expect. The combination of those factors should go a long way toward a completely different New Orleans team coming out of the tunnel. Since it’s pretty clear the Saints know they must play a ball-control kind of game to have a chance to win, two questions emerge: How effective can they be at playing keep-away? And when the Seahawks do have the ball, can the New Orleans defense hold Russell Wilson in check?
To the first point, while the strength of the Seattle defense rests in its unmatched secondary, the run defense is pretty good in its own right. However, teams committed to the ground game have been able to have success vs. the Seahawks. In fact, in the two December games they lost, the Seahawks gave up a combined 302 yards and 4.0 yards per carry to the 49ers and Cardinals. The latter game is more applicable because it took place at CenturyLink Field, with Arizona establishing a possible blueprint the Saints might want to follow. The Cardinals averaged only 3.2 yards per carry, but they ran, ran and ran some more for a 43/25 pass/run split and 37:24-22:36 time-of-possession advantage. That they were able to overcome four Carson Palmer interceptions is a testament to their plan of attack. They were determined to grind down the Seattle defense, and they stayed true to the plan. Obviously, the Saints can’t repeat the Cardinals’ errors, so let’s call it a partial blueprint.
As for the second question, the Seahawks offense has shown signs of peaking too soon. Over a four-game stretch culminating with the blowout of the Saints, Seattle averaged 414 yards, 6.6 yards per play and 33.8 points per game. Wilson threw nine touchdowns against two interceptions while completing 73 percent of his passes as the Seahawks extended their win streak from three to seven games. Since then, they’ve managed just 263 yards, 4.6 yards per play and 19.2 points per game, with Wilson’s completion percentage dropping to 57.8 to go along with a 4/3 touchdown/interception ratio. While part of the drop-off can be attributed to the fact that three of those games came against division foes who were getting a second crack at Seattle, that’s actually working in the favor of the Saints, who essentially fall into that category as well.
So why the first-half under and not the entire under? Playoff matchups often include games within the games. When elite quarterbacks like Brees and Wilson are involved, halftime/in-game adjustments can play a big role and shift the tempo; seemingly sure unders can turn on a dime if just one offense finds its rhythm late. Furthermore, the Seahawks, rested as they may be, will likely be dealing with a bit of rust after the week off. The Saints, on the other hand, will inevitably want to establish the run and sustain drives while leaning on their defense. It may not be their m.o., but that’s how they’ve stayed in games on the road, and it’s how they beat the Eagles. Similar to Saints-Eagles, this one has the potential to open up a bit late. It’s just hard to envision it starting with a bang.
Playoff picks: 4-1
Playoff parlays: 1-1
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