Dave Cariello: Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner are both suspended for violating the NFL's drug policy. What affect do you think missing these players will have on the game Monday night?
Danny Kelly: The biggest concern for me is Seattle's depth at the nickelback spot. The Hawks have some solid depth on the outside with Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane both able to provide solid depth there, but the ‘3rd' CB spot, the nickel corner, has very little depth now with Thurmond's suspension. The Hawks brought practice squad corner DeShawn Shead up this week for depth, but he's not likely to fill in immediately on the inside. Instead, we'll probably see a combination of Richard Sherman, Maxwell and Lane in there, and Drew Brees will undoubtedly target the two depth guys both deep and underneath. I would, anyway.
Kelly: It's related to the recent losses at the cornerback position, but I'll be interested in seeing how the Seahawks try to match up with Jimmy Graham, who as Saints' fans well know, is a bit of a matchup nightmare. Will Richard Sherman mirror the big pass-catching tight end? Will they put backup CB Byron Maxwell on him? A linebacker? Right now, I'd say that this is the biggest concern for me at this point. Other than that, the one area that the Seahawks have been a little susceptible to is the intermediate passing zones, which Drew Brees can certainly exploit. Seattle does a great job of protecting deep for the most part, and in general, do a good job defending screens and swing passes because of their team speed, but the intermediate areas - spots where linebackers and defensive ends are making zone drops - those can be trouble spots.
Cariello: You guys over at FieldGulls are really big on stats and really great at breaking things down by the numbers. So what stat do you think is most telling or will prove to be most crucial in this Saints-Seahawks matchup?
Kelly: There are few teams that want to run it more than the Seahawks, so I'll be first looking at the Seattle run game to gauge how things are going. If the Hawks can run the football and remain balanced on offense, that will bode well for their game plan in general. If the Saints manage to make Seattle one-dimensional, well, those are the types of games Seattle tends to lose. As far picking a stat that will prove to be crucial in this game? I would definitely point to the Seahawks' home-field advantage as a big player in this Monday Night Game. In Seattle's last 18 home games, they've gone 16-2 and haven't given up more than 24 points in that span. They've won 13 in a row at home. In fact, the Hawks have yet to lose at home when Russell Wilson is at quarterback. Obviously, prior record at home means nothing in this particular game, but you can see that Seattle plays very well at home and the crowd noise and potential for bad/cold weather makes it a very hostile place to play.
Cariello: Can you tell us about a Seahawks player that Saints fans probably haven't heard of but will likely have a significant impact on the game?
Kelly: Obviously, as I've mentioned, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane figure to see a good amount of action with the losses of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. Past that though, I'd focus on the interior defensive line, because Seattle will likely look to shut down New Orleans' run game early and force the Saints to be one-dimensional (that's what they try to do to every team) - DT Clinton McDonald has been playing very well over the past few weeks and DT Tony McDaniel has been a force against the run. Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant are names to keep an eye on along the defensive line as well, and on the edges, look for DEs Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril to rush the passer and force all runs back inside.
Cariello: This is the biggest game of the season for both of these teams, with huge NFC playoff implications. How do you see the season playing out and the what does your playoff picture in the NFC look like?
Kelly: Naturally, Seattle would love to secure home-field advantage in the Playoffs because of what I mentioned above, but will have to get past some really hot teams to do so. New Orleans this week, then down the road, tough games at the Giants and Niners, and home games against the red-hot Cardinals and Rams. Getting a win against one of the best teams in the NFL right now in the Saints would be a huge boost for the Hawks as they head down the stretch with some very tough divisional games.
In terms of simply clinching a Playoffs spot, Seattle has a few ways of doing that this week; they can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Cardinals or Niners loss or tie.