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Importance of Seahawks game for Saints cannot be overstated

Sean Payton would like to have a wide smile come January by capturing home field advantage in the NFC (Photo: Parker Waters).Sean Payton would like to have a wide smile come January by capturing home field advantage in the NFC (Photo: Parker Waters).

Sean Payton knows it, but he would never say it. The biggest win for the New Orleans Saints since beating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLVI is there for the taking.

Winning at Seattle is a formidable task. The Seahawks are unbeaten at home, own the best record in the NFL (10-1), play in one of the loudest home venues in pro football, and ... the early forecast for Seattle Monday night is rain with temperatures in the 30's.

In their 47 year history, the New Orleans Saints have never won a road playoff game. They hope they don't have to win one this year.

A victory Monday at Seattle gives the Saints the number one seed in the NFC with four games to play. That seed will be tough to keep, considering that New Orleans must still play a home and away with 8-3 Carolina. The Panthers have won seven games in a row.

Sean Payton is the highest paid coach in the National Football League to win games like this one. He has some decisions to make.

Does he give Drew Brees the green light to gamble and attack a Seattle defense that has lost key players to injuries and suspensions?

Or does he employ a game plan the Saints executed to perfection in an October win at Chicago? On a bad grass field, against a defense that thrived on turnovers, Payton asked his offense to protect the football and play conservatively. Brees completed 29 of 35 throws as the Saints beat the Bears, 26-18.

Does Payton stick with the run a little longer than usual? Or does he trust his offensive line to give Brees time to look downfield for big plays?

Payton abhors the references to the Saints as "a dome team" despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. On the road, the most points the Saints have scored all season is 27 in a loss at New England. The Saints have scored at least 31 points in four of six home games.

New Orleans needs their best game from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his krewe. In 10 of 11 games, Ryan's defense has allowed 20 points or less. 

His group must slow a balanced Seattle attack. Running back Marshawn Lynch has scored 9 rushing touchdowns, and has 6 runs of 20 yards or more. Quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 11 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions in his last 5 games.

The Seahawks are much like the Saints. Good on the road, superb at home. That's why the stakes are so high Monday night. The Saints have no interest in making a January return trip to Seattle.

On the flip side, no team in the NFL wants to face the Saints indoors at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in January.

This isn't just one of 16 games. For the winner and loser, the ramifications are tremor-like.

 

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