Saints crush Seahawks, advance to next round…wait, what?

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck throws a second quarter touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Stokley as New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (R) pursues him during their NFC Wildcard playoff NFL football game in Seattle, January 8, 2011. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

On any given Saturday right? Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Seahawks’ shocking 41-36 win over the Saints on Saturday.

1. That’s why they play the game.
Gregg Williams said it perfectly this week when he told the media that if the playoffs were about predictions, the Saints would have advanced to the second round already. Everyone was so sure that the Saints would beat the Seahawks that this upset was almost set up perfectly. I don’t buy that New Orleans took Seattle for granted because there’s too much veteran know-how on that Saints’ sidelines for them to look past any opponent. But a game like this is proof that we as fans get caught up too much in records. The Seahawks only won seven of their 16 games this year but they were the ones that created momentum last week with their win over the Rams, they were the ones that had home field advantage and they were the ones that played with an emotional edge. In the end, those three factors play a bigger role in the outcome of a football game than records do (especially in the playoffs).

2. Matt Hasselbeck can still be a difference maker.
Hasselbeck had some rough games this year but when his team needed him the most, he completed 22-of-35 pass attempts for 272 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once but that came off a deflection and had his receivers not dropped a few passes, his numbers would have been even better than they were. This was by far his best game in years and without his performance, Seattle doesn’t pull off this shocking upset.

3. Roman Harper, Darren Shaper, Gregg Williams, Julius Jones and Devery Henderson.
Fail, fail, fail, fail and fail. That was one of the worst performances I have ever seen out of a safety tandem in any game, not to mention in the postseason. Safeties are supposed to act as a team’s last line of defense, yet Sharper and Harper routinely allowed Seattle receivers to get past them deep coverage. I know the Saints were hurt by Malcolm Jenkins’ injury but Sharper has to play better than that. He looked like he had never played a professional game before and retirement is calling his name. And how about Williams? This was the best he could come up with after a week of preparation? The Seahawks’ offense is the epitome of mediocre and yet they hung 41 points on a unit that was supposed to be one of the best in the NFC. Holy terrible, Batman. Offensively for the Saints, Jones cost his team three points by fumbling the ball deep in his own territory in the first quarter and Henderson couldn’t catch a cold. He dropped at least two potential first downs, including an alligator-armed attempt late in the game when the Saints only needed a touchdown to re-claim the lead.

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NFL Wildcard Weekend Preview: How the Seahawks can beat the Saints

A New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is seen in the slide line as the Saints play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Banks Stadium in Baltimore on December 19, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

I hate standard game previews. Do we really need to know that Team A needs to run the ball to beat Team B? Thanks for the thrilling commentary, captain obvious.

That said, I do love me a good X’s and O’s piece, so below I’ve broken down how the Seahawks can beat the Saints (and vice versa) in the teams’ Wildcard matchup this weekend. Feel free to let me have it in the comments section if I write something along the lines of, “If they run the ball effectively.” There’s no need for me to repeat something Mark Schlereth is going to tell us on “NFL Countdown” leading up the game.

SAINTS WIN IF: They show up? Seriously though…Pete Carroll announced on Thursday that Matt Hasselbeck will start for the Seahawks this weekend. If that’s the case, New Orleans’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may actually want to dial down his pressure. Charlie Whitehurst has been a career backup and has zero playoff experience, so it makes sense to force him to make snap decisions by sending pressure. But although he’s struggled mightily over the past couple of weeks, Hasselbeck is a playoff veteran who knows he has to get the ball out of his hands quickly when faced with a heavy rush and he usually can find his hot routes. When the Hawks played the Saints in Week 11, Hasselbeck went 6 for 6 for 128 yards with a touchdown and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when New Orleans sent six or more pass rushers. Williams has always been known for being an aggressive playcaller and there’s no reason to change that approach now. But there’s obviously a difference between being aggressive and being overly aggressive. The Seahawks’ running game has been inconsistent so if the Saints can get them in obvious passing downs, they may have more success sitting back in coverage and making Hasselbeck throw into tight windows. We know the Saints’ offense can score but that doesn’t mean they need to get into a shootout. If Seattle strikes for a couple of big plays early in the game because Williams is too aggressive, the Seahawks may start believing they can win.

SEAHAWKS WIN IF: There’s no doubt the Hawks are up against it. They’re outmatched in almost all phases of the game and nobody would be surprised if Drew Brees marched the Saints up and down the field on them. That said, the Seahawks still need to be aggressive. I don’t want to say they don’t have anything to lose because that’s garbage; they have a playoff game to lose, which is pretty significant. But at 7-9 they are playing with house money so there’s no reason to be conservative. Hasselbeck (366 yards, 1 TD, 104.9 QB Rating) will have to play just as well as he did in the first meeting between these two teams for the Seahawks to have a shot. The defense also needs to be aggressive, especially if, as expected, the Saints can’t run the ball. If Brees is going to beat you, make him beat you while throwing under duress. He may throw for 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but he also threw 22 interceptions this year so obviously he’s prone to turning the ball over. One or two turnovers can make all the difference in the final score. (Just look at the Bucs’ win over the Saints in Week 17.)

Seahawks prove that there’s a need for the NFL to re-seed

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll looks up at the game clock in the fourth quarter of their game against the New York Giants on Sunday November 7, 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Giants beat the Seahawks 41-8. (UPI /Jim Bryant)

Throughout the NFL season, I’ve participated in the Washington Post’s NFL panel, “The League.” This week, I was asked for my take on the Seahawks and whether or not they’re the worst team in NFL history to make the playoffs.

Are the 2010-11 version of the Seattle Seahawks the worst playoff team in NFL history? Yes, considering they’re the only team to make the playoffs with a losing record. But that’s not the NFL’s biggest problem when it comes to its current playoff structure.

The Seahawks won’t be the only host team with a worse record than their opponent this weekend. Look at the schedule: The 10-6 Colts are hosting the 11-5 Jets, the 10-6 Chiefs are hosting the 12-4 Ravens and yes, the 7-9 Seahawks are hosting the 11-5 Saints.

I have no problem with the four division winners making the playoffs. “>Do I think it’s elephant dung that the 10-win Giants and Bucs didn’t make the playoffs and the 7-9 Seahawks did? Absolutely. This is the first time since 1991 that a pair of 10-6 teams will miss the playoffs, all while a 7-9 team gets in. That’s not fair but sorry, that’s just the luck of the draw.

But for the love of football man, can we get Roger Goodell to re-seed the playoffs after the regular season?

Seattle has proved that just because a team wins its lousy division doesn’t mean it earned the right to host a playoff game. The NFL wants to reward the four teams that win their division, which is fine – I’m on board with that. But it’s ridiculous that a team like the Ravens (a legit Super Bowl contender) will be on the road this weekend when the Seahawks play at home.

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Rams offense fails to execute, Seahawks first losing team to make playoffs

St. Louis Rams starting quarterback Sam Bradford (8) is pressured by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock during the second quarter of their NFL football game in Seattle, Washington, January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts on the Seahawks’ playoff-clinching 16-6 win over the Rams on Sunday night.

1. Did a losing team really just make the playoffs?
I know Seattle fans are excited that their team just made the playoffs. They should be. I would be excited too if the Seahawks were my team. But it’s disgusting that a 7-9 team just qualified for the postseason and will host a game next weekend. The Giants and Bucs each won 10 games this year and they’ll be watching the playoffs from their couches next week. The Seahawks finished with only one more win than the Lions, Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings and 49ers. Think about that for a second. Think about how bad the 49ers, Vikings and Redskins were at times this season and they finished with just one fewer win than Seattle. In terms of competitiveness, this can’t be what the NFL wants. Regardless, the Seahawks are in and that’s all that matters. When they play the Saints next weekend, the regular season records won’t matter.

2. One team played to win tonight and the other didn’t.
Criticize the Seahawks and their record all you want but at least Pete Carroll’s squad went for it on Sunday night. They started their backup quarterback but as Al Michaels and Cris Colinsworth said throughout the broadcast, Jeremy Bates removed the shackles from Charlie Whitehurst and let him play. Granted, Michaels and Colinsworth made him out to be Dan Marino but there’s no denying Whitehurst stepped up with the playoffs on the line. The Rams, on the other hand, played true to Steve Spagnuolo’s conservative nature and tried not to lose. I don’t know if it was him or it was by design, but Sam Bradford threw most of his passes under 10 yards and rarely tested Seattle’s shaky secondary. Not much separated these two teams at kickoff, yet one made plays when it had to and the other one didn’t. The Seahawks aren’t very good but they approached this game as if it was the last one they would play this season. As it turns out, it won’t be.

3. Rams’ offense fails to execute.
The Rams’ offense was putrid tonight. Bradford and Pat Shurmur played things way too conservatively and the results were disastrous. On a night when two touchdowns and a field goal would have won the game for St. Louis, the Rams produced seven three-and-outs and racked up just 184 yards of total offense. Michaels noted how Steven Jackson only had seven carries at halftime but the Rams only ran about eight plays in the first half. The Rams never got into a rhythm and therefore, could never get Jackson rolling. Bradford wasn’t very accurate and even when he delivered a catchable ball, his receivers would drop it. How many first downs did the Rams fail to pick up because their receivers couldn’t make a play? You could see the wideouts’ confidence shrink as the night wore on and after Bradford threw that horrible pick midway through the fourth quarter, the entire team shut down. Their defense played well enough to win, but the offense never gave them a chance. This team also settled for field goals when it got inside the red zone all season long and what happened against Seattle? They settled for field goals on their two trips inside the red zone. How frustrating.

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