The sixth-seeded Saints braved the cold and won in Philadelphia last weekend to earn a trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks in the divisional round on Saturday afternoon.
With a record of 13-3, the Seahawks are tied with Denver for the NFL's best record. Their league-leading defense is a force and when you throw in their home-field advantage at Qwest Field, it's no surprise that they are eight-point favorites against New Orleans. But in their only other head-to-head playoff game, the Saints were the overwhelming favorites.
The 2010 Seahawks were the worst team to ever reach the NFL postseason. Their 7-9 record was good enough to win the wretched NFC West and they are one of three teams with a losing record to reach the playoffs.
2010 Seahawks 7-9
1982 Lions 4-5 *
1982 Browns 4-5 *
* 1982 was a weird season. The players went on strike and there was no football from September 20 to November 21. Washington kicker Mark Moseley won the MVP and the league expanded the playoffs that year to 16 teams. The bloated tournament meant the eight-seeds in each conference were sub-.500 clubs. In the first round top-seeded Washington wrecked the Lions 31-7 and the Browns lost to the Raiders 27-10.
The Seahawks allowed the eighth-most points in the league while scoring the tenth-fewest. They wheezed into the playoffs by beating the Rams at home 16-6 in the final game of the season. The defending champion Saints were four games better than them at 11-5, but because the stronger NFC South featured the 13-3 Falcons, they were a wild card team. Seattle was the fourth seed and fifth-seeded New Orleans had to play on the road.
New Orleans opened the game with a field goal drive and three plays later, Matt Hasselbeck was picked off by Jabari Greer. The Saints went up 10-0 on a 1-yard scoring pass from Drew Brees to Heath Evans and it looked like the rout was on.
But the Seahawks recovered and got on the scoreboard when Hasselbeck hit John Carlson with an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
The second quarter had five scoring drives, including one Seattle series that resulted in this 45-yard bomb from Hasselbeck to Brandon Stokley. The underdogs outscored the Saints 17-10 in the second quarter for a 24-20 halftime lead. It was a busy quarter. Of the 62 teams that scored 17 or more points in the second quarter of a playoff game, only five allowed double-digits themselves in the second period.
The third quarter belonged to Seattle. Hasselbeck's 38-yard strike to Mike Williams tacked on another score and Olindo Mare's field goal made it 34-20 with one quarter to play.
Julius Jones' second touchdown of the game brought the Saints back into it and after a quick three-and-out, New Orleans got the ball back and kicked a field goal to pull within four points. It was still 34-30 with 3:38 remaining and the Seahawks had the ball at their own 33. New Orleans needed a stop but they weren't going to get it.
Marshawn Lynch's "Beast Mode" run was one of the most spectacular in playoff history and it put the finishing touches on one of the league's most unexpected upsets. Brees threw a late touchdown pass but the Seahawks still won 41-36. Pete Carroll was excited after the game.
The Seahawks were blown out in the divisional round in Chicago. The Bears led 35-10 with about two minutes left, but two Seattle touchdowns made the final margin a bit more respectable, 35-24.
Three years later, the Saints look to turn the tables and exact some revenge with a surprise victory of their own.
As for the other NFC game, the 49ers get toasty after their win in frigid Green Bay and head to Charlotte to face the Panthers. The two teams have never played each other in the postseason and have only qualified in the same year just once. They were two of the final four teams in the NFC in 1996. In their second season as a franchise, the Panthers beat the Cowboys at home to advance to the NFC title game, but the Niners lost to Green Bay. Prior to the 2002 realignment, the Panthers were part of the old NFC "West."