New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1) on Monday Night Football

The last time the Saints played at Seattle it was in the 2010 playoffs, as 7-9 Seattle – a club many felt did not deserve to be in the playoffs – shocked the defending Super Bowl champions. New Orleans was a 10-point favorite for that game but Marshawn Lynch ran over the Saints’ defense and Matt Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes, giving first-year head coach Pete Carroll his first post-season victory since the Patriots defeated Miami in 1997.

Seattle tends to leave their corners in a right/left scheme, so with Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond suspended it will be up to Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane to step up at CB versus WR Marques Colston, WR Lance Moore, TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles. TE Jimmy Graham will likely be covered by safety Kam Chancellor, but as good as Chancellor is, he’ll need help covering Graham; Graham already has six 100-yard games this year. Seattle may stray from their usual script and put CB Richard Sherman on Graham – they had him cover TE Vernon Davis earlier this year – but then that leaves Maxwell and Lane on Colston and Moore. Oh yeah, New Orleans also has RB Darren Sproles back this week; he has 48 receptions this season.

When Seattle offense is getting healthier and more productive. LT Russell Okung and RT are back on the field, solifying both pass protection and the running game. Percy Harvin gets to play in his second game of the season, and his presence along with Golden Tate will open the running game. Marshawn Lynch is third in the NFL with 925 yards rushing and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry; that in turn will set up play action passes for Russell Wilson downfield. Wilson has been outstanding despite the injuries on offense; he has a 105.1 passer rating (6th), has completed 64% of his passes (9th), and has thrown 19 touchdown passes with just six interceptions.

A victory all but clinches the number one seed in the NFC for Seattle. A loss on the other hand not only creates a tie for the number one seed in the conference, it also lowers the lead in the division to two games. That would set up a huge game next week when the Seahawks go on the road to play the 49ers. If Seattle were to lose both games the Niners, given up for dead in the division just a couple weeks ago are right back in it; the combined record of their opponents for their final three games is 13-23.

The Saints would take over the number one seed in the NFC with a victory, ahead of the Seahawks based on winning head to head. In addition New Orleans would remain ahead of Carolina in the NFC South by a game with a victory. A loss not only makes the number one seed unrealistic, but it also threatens their hold on the division, which seemed insurmountable just a few weeks ago. The Saints would be tied with the Panthers, with two games against carolina coming up in the next three weeks. Even more so than Seattle, New Orleans needs a win to stave off the Panthers and the possibility of dropping all the way to the number five seed.

This should be a great game that could easily go either way, but Seattle’s stellar defense and their home crowd perhaps tilting the table for a couple of favorable calls should be the difference.

Pick • Seahawks 24, Saints 21
Saints +5½
Under 47½

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