The timing probably couldn’t be worse for the surging Seattle Seahawks to be without two defensive backs with the NFC’s most prolific passer coming to town.
The numbers say that Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have plenty of incentive to end Seattle’s franchise-record 13-game home win streak.
The conference’s top teams are separated by one game as they meet in a Monday night showdown with major postseason implications.
Seattle (10-1) has won six straight and had last weekend off before returning to the news that cornerback Walter Thurmond was officially suspended Tuesday by the NFL for the next four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The suspension was first reported over the weekend.
The Seahawks’ secondary is already missing starting cornerback Brandon Browner because of a groin injury.
”We’re still trying to work through it. I’ll say it again, I’ve always found myself looking for guys that maybe other people don’t see something special in and we take a chance on a guy here or there that needs some extra consideration and care,” coach Pete Carroll said. ”And sometimes guys they have issues and things pop up but I’ve always been kind of hopeful and make guys find the best in them and bring it out. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It’s a major blow for Seattle, tied with Buffalo with a league-best 16 interceptions - four apiece by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have forced an NFL-high 26 turnovers entering Week 13.
Brees is second in the NFL in passing yards (3,647) and touchdowns (28) to Peyton Manning. Nineteen of his touchdowns have come in six home games compared to nine in five on the road, and the star quarterback’s three lowest games in terms of yardage have been away from home.
New Orleans (9-2) is in a tight race with Carolina to win the NFC South. A victory Monday would give the Saints the tiebreaker over Seattle and the inside track for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage indoors as opposed to the possibility of having to return to the hostile surroundings of CenturyLink Field in the postseason.
The Saints have never won a road playoff game in five tries and are 0-3 in such contests under coach Sean Payton, with Brees posting the three lowest passer ratings of his postseason career in those games.
Payton insists his team isn’t fazed by the road.
“I think it’s a typical stereotype with a dome team,” Payton said. “I don’t know what else to tell someone than to do some research and bring back some numbers and I’ll answer a question.”
One of those road playoff defeats came the last time these teams met, a 41-36 loss to a 7-9 Seattle team in the 2010 season when the Saints went 11-5.
That one is best remembered for Marshawn Lynch’s 131 yards on the ground, including a 67-yard score dubbed “The Beast Quake” that is considered one of the best runs in postseason history. The play has been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube.
Lynch is fourth in the NFL with 84.1 yards per game and 75 yards shy of his fifth 1,000-yard season. He should be a concern for a Saints defense that is allowing opponents 4.8 yards per carry for the league’s fourth-worst mark.
New Orleans has showed improvement in its last two games, limiting San Francisco’s Frank Gore and Atlanta’s Steven Jackson to a combined 111 rushing yards. The Saints won 23-20 over the 49ers on Nov. 17 and 17-13 four nights later against the Falcons.
This is New Orleans’ first look at Russell Wilson, who is sixth in the league in passer rating at 105.1 - not far behind fourth-place Brees’ 107.3 mark.
Wilson said he used to root for Brees and New Orleans before he entered the NFL and has studied the Saints’ signal-caller extensively.
“I know everyone compares our heights and everything, but the thing that I admire about him is his leadership, attention to detail, his competitive nature,” Wilson said. “He is very clutch. He is very poised in big situations.”
Wilson will have to be wary of a Saints pass rush that is one of the NFL’s best with 37 sacks, 9 1/2 by defensive end Cameron Jordan.
The Seahawks have won both of Wilson’s appearances on Monday nights, while Brees has won nine straight starts on Mondays with a 123.6 passer rating.
Carroll unsurprisingly wouldn’t reveal how he plans to defend against tight end Jimmy Graham, tied for the NFL lead with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson with 11 TD receptions entering Week 13.
The Seahawks will be in position to clinch a playoff spot with a victory if Arizona or San Francisco lose Sunday.
“Every game that we play is a championship game,” Carroll said. “You never know which one is going to be the one that you look back on and say, ‘Boy, if we’d have got that one, we would’ve had this or that.’ So we play every one of them like it’s the biggest game in the world.”