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Monday Night Football brings us a showdown between the cream of the crop in the NFC.
The battle for the NFC is on as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints travel to Seattle to face Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in front of the 12th Man on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" at 8:30 p.m. ET. Both teams have had plenty of time to rest and study up for this game. Sean Peyton's Saints (9-2) haven't played since their 17-13 win two Thursdays ago against Atlanta. The win moved New Orleans to a perfect 3-0 in NFC South play.
Meanwhile, Pete Carroll's Seahawks (10-1) enjoyed a week off, as they had won six straight games heading into their bye. The Seahawks and Saints are the clear frontrunners in the NFC and it is highly likely that this game could go a long way in deciding who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Saints and Seahawks have evenly split their 12 all-time contests. The last game between these two franchises was a 2011 NFC Wild Card game in which the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints on the back of a miraculous 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch.
3 Things to Watch
The 6-foot-and-under club
Drew Brees and Russell Wilson belong to an elite group of signal-callers that have succeeded in the NFL despite their stature. Brees, standing right a six feet tall, has swayed many minds about what a prototypical NFL quarterback should look like. Wilson, at 5-11, has followed in his footsteps by supplanting himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. Each has had to overcome significant challenges in their careers. Brees was given up for by nearly the entire league after a shoulder injury in San Diego, while Wilson was a third-round afterthought set to be a backup for Matt Flynn. This season, both quarterbacks rank among the most efficient in the NFL, as both are among the six possessing a quarterback rating of 100 or better. Wilson has completed 64 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Wilson already has the highest quarterback rating, highest completion percentage and best touchdown-to-interception ratio among all quarterbacks shorter than six feet in NFL history. With the return of head coach Sean Payton, Brees has been even more impressive as he is third in the NFL with 3,647 passing yards and second with 28 touchdown passes. Brees currently ranks fifth on the all-time list for career passing yardage with 49,556 yards and fourth all-time in touchdown passes with 352. The NFL's two smallest quarterbacks will be on display tonight and fans will get a look at how these two passers have bucked the trend in professional football.
Saints' Pass-Catchers vs. Seahawks' Secondary
The Seahawks rank second in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game at 180.4. A big part of the reason for their success are their big corners. Starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-3) and Brandon Browner (6-4) have routinely shut down opposing receivers, while safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas clean things up on the back end with six combined interceptions and 138 tackles. Over Seattle's six-game winning streak, the Seahawks have held five of six quarterbacks under 200 yards passing. The most they allowed was Carson Palmer's 258 yards; however, Seattle intercepted him twice. Additionally, during this streak only two receivers (John Carlson and Jairus Wright) have over 59 yards receiving. The Saints will look to tight end Jimmy Graham early and often. Expect Seattle to be prepared as they have only allowed one touchdown reception to a tight end this season. They have been successful in shutting down Tony Gonzalez, Jared Cook, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen and Vernon Davis. None in this list had more than five catches for 56 yards. Together the Seahawks have held these five tight ends to an average of three catches for 30 yards. It will be especially interesting to see how and who the Seahawks choose to match up against Graham. While Graham is in for a challenge, Brees is not afraid to spread the ball around the field. Ten different Saints have receiving touchdowns this year, with five different receivers posting over 400 yards receiving this year. If his primary options are covered Brees will look to Kenny Stills, as well as, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas out of the backfield. The Saints may catch a slight break with Browner sidelined because of a groin injury, but the Seahawks secondary will still be a tough test, even for New Orleans' prolific passing attack.
Beast Mode vs. Saints' Defensive Line
New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has invigorated a unit that was statistically the worst in NFL history just a season ago. Ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan, along with linebacker Junior Gallette are all playing at an extremely high level. Jordan leads the team with eight sacks, while Gallette's six sacks provide a book-end threat from the opposite side. In their last three games, New Orleans hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher among the likes of Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and DeMarco Murray. The Saints will face their biggest test of the season with Marshawn Lynch waiting in the wings. Lynch, aka Beast Mode, is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 925. He also ranks second in the league with nine rushing touchdowns and third with six rushes of more than 20 yards. Tonight Lynch looks to clinch his third straight and fifth overall 1,000-yard season.
Key Player for New Orleans: Jimmy Graham, TE
Short of Calvin Johnson, Graham is the toughest cover in the NFL. Currently, he is second only to Johnson (12) in the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 11. In addition, he leads all tight ends in receptions, yardage and catches of more than 20 yards.
Key Player for Seattle: The 12th Man
CenturyLink Stadium could be the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL. The last time New Orleans played here, the fans registered a reading on the Richter Scale. If the Seahawks get an early lead, there could be another reading as Seahawk fans could be responsible for a few false start penalties.
Seattle has the home-field advantage and is the hotter team, but you can't argue with what quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints have done this year. For the first time in his career, it appears that Brees and Sean Payton have a legitimate defense. Rex Ryan will dial up some vicious blitzes for quarterback Russell Wilson and stack the box against running back Marshawn Lynch. Make no mistake, this game will live up to its billing and remain close throughout. How the Seahawks choose to guard tight end Jimmy Graham could factor big during red zone situations.
New Orleans 24, Seattle 23