BY Steve Rudman 07:30AM 01/08/2014

Further Review: Why Saints Can Win Saturday

The Seahawks have all the edges heading into Saturday’s rematch with the Saints, but 12 similar teams since 2002 had those same advantages and came up short.

Michael Bennett (72) and the Seahawks are eight-point favorites over the Saints, out to avenge a 34-7 beating administered by Seattle Dec. 2. /Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

As columnist Art Thiel pointed out Monday in “The Seahawks Fear: Win Came Too Easily,” we know two things now that we didn’t know Dec. 2, when the Seahawks made life miserable for QB Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a 34-7 romp at CenturyLink Field.

Having defeated Philadelphia 26-24 last week in the wild card round, we know that New Orleans can win a playoff game on the road (first in Saints history) in an exceedingly tough venue. We also know that Seattle can lose at home, beaten two weeks ago by the Arizona Cardinals in a downer that ended the locals’ 14-game winning streak at the Clink.

The Seahawks spent four years wrangling to get into the prime position in which they find themselves: Division champion, No. 1 seed, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Two home wins and it’s off to New York.

Oddsmakers are sufficiently agog that they have installed the Seahawks as an eight-point favorite in the rematch and advance to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco-Carolina survivor.

Based on the runaway Dec. 2 and the Saints’ previous reputation as a soft dome team, a Seattle victory Saturday is virtually a given in the minds of some, notably the point-spread gurus. But history shows us that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed save for a constant catalog of surprises.

Since 1978, when the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule, the league has crowned 234 division champions, including 138 (not counting the 1982 strike year) between 1978 and 2001 when the NFL had six divisions, and 96 more since 2002, when the current, eight-division alignment went into effect.

The first caution: Eighty-one (34.6 percent) of the 234 division champions went one-and-done in the postseason, including five of eight in 2008, when Miami (11-5), Tennessee (13-3), New York Giants (12-4), Minnesota (10-6) and Carolina (12-4) all were bounced. Cincinnati (AFC North), Philadelphia (NFC East)  and Green Bay (NFC North) fell in wild card action the past weekend.

A more appropriate comparison to the current Seahawks: Since 2002, 35 of 96 division champions — 36.4 percent — lost in either the wild card or divisional round. In addition, 27 teams, including the 15-1 2011 Green Bay Packers, finished 13-3 or better, but 12 — 44.4 percent — failed to win a playoff game despite first-round byes and home-field advantage in the divisional round.

The most recent of the elite divisional-round losers, the 2012 Denver Broncos, entered the postseason with a 13-3 mark, same as the 2013 Seahawks, and riding an 11-game winning streak. Also like the Seahawks, last year’s Broncos had stomped their playoff opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, 34-17, three weeks prior to the divisional-round rematch.

But the seven-point underdog Ravens picked off Peyton Manning twice, tied the game on the “Flacco Fling,” QB Joe Flacco’s 70-yard TD to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation, and scored a 38-35 upset at Mile High on Justin Tucker’s 47-yard field goal in the second overtime.

The 2011 Packers registered the biggest botch job by an elite regular-season team. With a 15-1 record and the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Packers entered the postseason with the confidence that they had defeated their divisional-round foe, the New York Giants, 38-25, in the regular season.

But the 9-7 Giants won 37-20 at Lambeau Field as the Packers failed to protect Aaron Rodgers (four sacks), fumbled three times and dropped six passes, two in the red zone.

The following teams since 2002 all finished with a record of 13-3 or better. All were favored, by at least four points, to win their divisional playoff game, and all lost on their home fields, abruptly ending their Super Bowl aspirations:

Year Team Division Record Divisional Playoff Stumble
2011 Green Bay NFC North 15-1 Eli Manning (3 TDs) led Giants, 37-20
2005 Indianapolis AFC South 14-2 Lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18
2006 San Diego AFC West 14-2 Fell to New England 24-21 on late FG
2010 N. England AFC East 14-2 N.Y. Jets shocked Tom Brady, Pats 28-21
2003 Kansas City AFC West 13-3 Peyton Manning 3 TDs in 38-31 Indy win
2006 Baltimore AFC North 13-3 Colts won 15-6 on 5 Adam Vinatieri FGs
2007 Indianapolis AFC South 13-3 P. Rivers 3 TDs in 28-24 San Diego win
2007 Dallas NFC East 13-3 Brandon Jacobs TD gave NYG 21-17 win
2008 Tennessee AFC South 13-3 M. Stover FG lifted Ravens, 13-10
2009 San Diego AFC West 13-3 Jets won 17-14 with 2 4th-quarter TDs
2010 Atlanta NFC South 13-3 A.Rodgers (3 TDs) led Packers, 48-21
2012 Denver AFC West 13-3 Baltimore upended P. Manning 38-35

Much has been made about how the Saints will respond to their rematch with Seattle after getting doors blown and, in fact, how the Seahawks will respond. Their usual swagger? A letdown? Certainly the customary din at CenturyLink isn’t likely to be as intimidating to the Saints a second time around, and there are numerous examples of successful postseason paybacks following regular-season humiliations.

In the case of the 12 teams cited in the chart, consider that the 2005 Colts sported a 14-2 record and pummeled the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-7 in the regular season. Sounds a lot like Seattle’s 34-7 domination of the Saints. But the Steelers retaliated with a 21-18 divisional playoff win.

The 2010 New England Patriots also went 14-2, one of the wins a 45-3 romp over the New York Jets during the regular season. But behind Mark Sanchez’s three TD passes, the Jets won the playoff rematch 28-21.

The 2007 Dallas Cowboys recorded two regular-season wins over the New York Giants by substantial margins, 45-35 and 31-20. But the Giants defeated the Cowboys in the postseason, 21-17.

With 12 teams sporting records of 13-3 or better having lost in the divisional round at home since 2002, the Seahawks do not have the luxury of buying into the confidence of oddsmakers. Too many previous teams with Seattle’s exact profile have seen their seasons end ingloriously, which is why a New Orleans victory would not come as a surprise.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    The Saints are only a year removed from finishing last in their divsion with a 7-9 record. Their schedule was dotted with teams like the Bucs, Rams, Jets, Bills, Falcons, Cowboys, Dolphins and Cardinals. I’m not sure if their record is indicative of their strength as a team. With Harvin and Willson returning the offense of the Hawks will have a look they can’t prepare for.

    • Light Buzzyear

      Dotted with teams like the Cardinals? Um, who whupped our butts at home rather recently?

      Let’s not forget why the Saints 2012 season was a scrub job. Your friend and mine, Roger “$50,000 Fine” Goodell, imposed sanctions on the Saints that no NFL team ever had to endure. Their coach couldn’t even attend a game or have contact with the team for a full year. The team was in precisely the kind of chaos Goodell fully expected would prevent them from potentially hosting a Super Bowl in their own stadium. This ain’t the same team.

      Yeah, they looked awful up here last month, but it would be both arrogant and foolish to think that’s going to happen again.

      • jafabian

        The first half of the seasons the Cardinals were the same ol’ Cards. The second half they discovered themselves. Granted, they aren’t the best example but I’m not convinced the Cardinals are going to the playoffs next season.

        I just don’t see the Saints being a Super Bowl contender. Could they beat the Seahawks? Sure. But they’re still an 8 point underdog and there’s reasons why. Defense comes to mind. And a pass happy offense plays into the Legion’s hands.

  • oldfan

    Bummer, man. Why couldn’t the Seahawks have lost two or three more games? Instead we’re cursed with a number one seed. If only we’d got shredded by NO on that Monday night – we could be 8 point underdogs, going across the country to face the Saints in their place where they play better and have a huge home field advantage. What were we thinking?

    A few facts you left out: The Saints barely beat a Philly team that is among the worst home teams over the last two years; the Eagles were champs of one of the worst division in the NFL; and the Eagle key players (and head coach) have almost no previous playoff experience.

    This not to say that NO is bad, were lucky to win, or that they have no chance, but the Seahawks are champs of a good (possibly best) division, are a terror at home, and are playoff veterans.

    Seriously, history is history only after the fact. Unless you can show me that all those teams lost BECAUSE they were home favorites I’ll continue to like our chances.

    • steverudman

      This is not a predictor of what WILL happen, only an illustration of what HAS happened. Thanks for your comments.

      • oldfan

        I appreciate that, Steve. It wasn’t meant as a slam at your piece specifically, but to all those fans and media I’ve been hearing since the Saints won: “The Hawks peaked too early.” “Top seeds lose all the time.” It’s near impossible to beat the same team twice.”
        I can’t fathom the logic that just the fact of someone else’s past failure impacts your chance of success.
        I suppose Battered Fans Syndrome is real and not just the psycho babble I took it to be.

  • seahwk8

    Trust me this team remembers losing a heartbreaker in Atlanta last year. The 1/0 mentality is alive and well and they will not overlook this saints team.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    This is almost as silly as listening to Buzz lightyear try to convince woody on toy story….
    I tell ya Woody! The Saints CAN WIN in Seattle …and I CAN Fly!
    Sure
    ya can Buzz and were listening to you ole homeboys from the Bayou
    too…Of course you can win. Your a play off caliber team fergawdsakes.
    But
    realistically? Seattle: top rated defense,best record in the NFL and oh
    yah? 15~1 at home in the last 2 years…with teams like the
    Saints,49ers beat like a bass drum here.

    If Im in Vegas?No way does that money leave the wallet for ANYONE facing the Hawks at home this year. I dont care if the squad plays their homes games on Krypton.
    The Saints theoretically CAN… but it would def involve a superman style effort. Our defense will never allow it.
    Go Hawks!

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Its show time baby…. Coach just let the media know they will use Percy without restriction saturday…..

    This could tip the offensive scales in the Seahawks favor. ( I’m using could in the context of something similar like it could rain in Seattle sometime this month.)

    I hope
    the chicken little “the sky is falling” folk can now breath a
    collective sigh of relief that secret weapon Harvin is now ready to be
    launched because as we know!! OOOOOh my god!The Worldly Saints are
    Marching in~To Seattle with ill intent on their brains.

    This ill
    intent thing will be on the minds of our defense ALSO…ready to beat
    the stuffing out of a certain team from the South. Go Hawks!