The Seattle Seahawks are still looking to find their footing after losing quarterback Russell Wilson to a finger injury, and they'll have a chance to bounce back on "Monday Night Football" against a well-rested New Orleans Saints team.
The Saints resume their season after their bye week. They enter with a 3-2 record due to a stunning upset to open the season and a fourth-quarter collapse in their first home game. Despite not playing last weekend, they moved into sole possession of second place in the NFC South thanks to a Panthers loss.
In contrast, the Seahawks have a slightly shorter week than normal after losing an overtime thriller at Pittsburgh last Sunday evening. They trailed 14-0 at halftime but briefly pulled ahead after scoring on their first three possessions of the second half. However, they could not hold onto the lead and lost in regulation.
The series between these teams is tied, 8-8. The Seahawks hold an advantage of 6-4 for games played in Seattle. The Saints have won the two previous meetings.
Monday Night Football: New Orleans (3-2) at Seattle (2-4)
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 25 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Seahawks' offensive line protect Geno Smith?
Two weeks ago, Smith took over for Russell Wilson due to his injured finger. Smith finished the game by completing 10 of 17 passing attempts for 131 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. That served as only his second appearance in a regulation game in his third season in Seattle.
Smith's first start with the Seahawks provided some promise of his ability to fill in for Wilson. The nine-year veteran completed 23 of his 32 passing attempts for one touchdown and no interceptions.
However, Smith faced tremendous pressure from Pittsburgh. The Steelers hit him eight times. They sacked Smith five times, resulting in a loss of 44 yards. The last sack caused a fumble, which Devin Bush recovered to set the Steelers up for the game-winning field goal.
With Wilson sidelined for this game, the Seahawks must protect Smith. Behind him are two inexperienced quarterbacks. Jake Luton is in his second NFL season, having completed 60 of 110 passing attempts for two touchdowns and six interceptions during three games, all starts, as a rookie for the Jaguars. The other option is Danny Etling who last played a regular-season game in 2017 at LSU. As an insurance policy, the Seahawks signed Jacob Eason, who had seen action in one game with the Colts this season, completing two of five passes for 25 yards and an interception.
2. Which team can limit their mistakes more?
The Seahawks are missing some key components to their offense. Wilson and leading rusher Chris Carson are on injured reserve. One significant contributor to the offense, Alex Collins (48 rushing attempts for 225 yards and two touchdowns plus five receptions for 56 yards), has missed practice due to a hip/glute issue. Dee Eskridge, their top draft pick, has not played since the season-opener when he ran the ball twice for 22 yards and caught a pass for six yards.
Several of the Saints' important contributors seem unlikely to play too. Taysom Hill suffered a concussion against the Giants three weeks ago, and he has not been practicing since. The Saints' pass defense has suffered as defensive end Marcus Davenport cornerback Ken Crawley, along with linebackers Kwon Alexander and Chase Hansen, have been on injured reserve, all designated to return this week.
With so many important members gone or limited, both teams need to avoid helping the opponent by committing costly penalties. The Saints' defense has committed the fewest penalties per game (4.4) in the NFL for the second fewest yards (36.4). The Seahawks' offense has averaged 5.8 penalties per game, 10th best in the league, for 46.7 yards, tied for eighth fewest.
3. Can Seattle limit the Saints to field goals in the red zone?
The Saints have ventured inside opponents' 20-yard line 14 times during this season. Thirteen of those drives ended with a touchdown. Alvin Kamara and Juwan Johnson each accounted for three of those touchdowns, all receptions. Hill scored the same number as those two, although Hill did so on the ground.
The Saints have needed such a high rate of reaching pay dirt when they have entered the red zone. Their placekicking has given stress-induced headaches to Sean Payton and his staff. Aldrick Rosas only connected on one of his four field-goal attempts before being released after four games. His replacement, Cody Parkey, did not attempt a field in the Saints' most recent game, but he did miss two of his five extra-point attempts. During the bye week, the Saints signed rookie Brian Johnson in hopes of finding a temporary substitute. Wil Lutz cannot return from his abdominal injury fast enough for the Saints' liking.
The Saints enjoyed an extra-long respite, not having played since Columbus Day weekend. That break has allowed Payton more time to rest his numerous injured starters. That could serve as the difference.
The Seahawks nearly escaped Pittsburgh with a victory or at least a tie. The fans might blame Smith for fumbling away the game. However, he faced far too much pressure all night. His remaining health teammates must bolster their efforts.
Prediction: Saints 28, Seahawks 27
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.