Seattle Seahawks (4-1-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)
SERIES HISTORY: Seventh meeting. Series tied 6-6. The Seahawks have won the past three games, including two playoff contests. They won 34-7 on a Monday night in Seattle in 2013. They then also beat the Saints in a divisional playoff game that season. The last time these teams played in New Orleans, in 2010, the Saints won 34-19. The Seahawks then pulled off a major upset in that season's playoffs in what quickly became known as the "Beast Quake" game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Because they rank 28th in rushing and the Seahawks are fifth against the run in allowing just 84.2 yards per game, the Saints will probably do better to get their top-ranked passing game going early. But even that might be dicey for the Saints, who average 339.3 yards per game, because the Seahawks are ninth against the pass, allowing 226 yards per outing. That means the Saints are going to have to take their shots and hope they can make enough happen with Drew Brees and his receivers to force the Seahawks to honor the running game, which is coming off its most productive game of the season in last week's loss to the Chiefs.
Seattle must find a way to pressure Brees without leaving itself vulnerable to the Saints' prolific passing attack. Getting pressure with their front four alone could be critically important.
The Saints must stop the run against the struggling Seahawks. While Seattle has had a tough time running and throwing the ball, especially in Sunday's 6-6 tie with the Arizona Cardinals, the Saints know that can change in a heartbeat considering Russell Wilson is more than capable as a passer and runner. But his role has changed this season and he has only 33 rushing yards and a 1.5-yard average, which means the Saints hope he doesn't break loose this Sunday against their 23rd-ranked run defense that is allowing 116.8 yards per game. On the other hand, the Saints rank 30th against the pass, allowing 287 yards per game -- so that's a concern regardless of the Seahawks' woes on that side of the ball.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints DE Cameron Jordan vs. Seahawks LT George Fant. Fant will likely be making his first career start at left tackle on Sunday in place of an injured Bradley Sowell. While Jordan isn't a premier defensive end in the NFL, he's a solid starter who will provide a stiff test for Fant's first game.
--Seahawks FS Earl Thomas vs. Saints WR Brandin Cooks. Thomas has been stellar over the last two weeks and will play an important role against the Saints' most dynamic receiver. He'll be tasked with keeping Cooks from getting behind Seattle's defense for explosive pass plays.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks DE Cliff Avril. While Michael Bennett has been the more heralded pass rusher on Seattle's roster, Avril has been the most productive in recent weeks. Avril has 5.5 sacks over the last three games against the Jets, Falcons and Cardinals. Additionally, Avril has pledged to build a house in his parents' home country of Haiti for every sack he records this season.
INJURY REPORT: Seattle -- Out: DE Michael Bennett (knee), S Kam Chancellor (groin), CB DeAndre Elliott (hamstring), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (ankle), RB Thomas Rawls (fibula), T Bradley Sowell (knee), TE Luke Wilson (knee). Questionable: WR Tyler Lockett (thigh). New Orleans -- Out: LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring), CB Delvin Breaux (fibula), WR Jake Lampman (knee), CB Sterling Moore (abdomen). Questionable: T Terron Armstead (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (quadricep), C Senio Kelemete (neck), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring), T Andrus Peat (groin).
FAST FACTS: This game features the return of TE Jimmy Graham, who was traded from the Saints to the Seahawks in March 2015. Graham is playing a lot like he did in New Orleans, where he caught 386 passes for 4,752 yards and 51 TDs in five years. In the past four games, he has 23 catches for 355 yards and a TD. ... Saints QB Drew Brees hit another milestone in his 16-year NFL career on Sunday when he threw for 367 yards against the Chiefs. It was the 100th career game with at least 300 passing yards, which extended his NFL record. ... Five players have started at cornerback for the Saints in just six games. B.W. Webb added his name to the list last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, joining Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams and Sterling Moore -- who are all injured -- and Ken Crawley.
PREDICTION: This game features the NFL's best scoring defense (Seattle) vs. the worst, and even Drew Brees probably can't overcome that.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 20-17.