On Nov. 21 the Seattle Seahawks played a Saints team in the Superdome and got, essentially, waxed, 34-19. On Saturday, New Orleans plays the Seahawks in Seattle and that previous game means, essentially, nothing, according to the players.
“We’ve been here before but we’ve got to know it’s a different season now,” Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem said Monday. “Everybody is 0-0, everybody’s record is clean. We’ve got to just go play.”
Meachem’s view is a traditional one voiced by competitors in the playoffs. But it is not shared by those outside the game who make fortunes setting the odds for football bettors. The Saints (11-5) have been installed as two-score favorites over Seattle (7-9), which beat St. Louis in 2010’s last regular-season game Sunday night and, in the process, became the first team with a losing record to win its division and host a playoff game in a non-strike season.
The oddsmakers dealt the Seahawks a double dose of disrespect Monday when they put Seattle as a 100-1 shot to win the Super Bowl, much worse odds than those given the next closest longshot, the Kansas City Chiefs, who were listed at 35-1. For the Saints, who lost to Tampa Bay 23-13 Sunday, the chances were fixed at 10-1.
The most important factor for Saturday from the Seahawks’ perspective is the health of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who passed for 366 yards and a score with no interceptions in the November meeting. Hasselbeck didn’t play against the Rams and may not play Saturday; Charlie Whitehurst is the backup and he led Seattle to its big win over St. Louis.
Some Saints defenders hinted the quarterbacks offer slightly different threats.
“Whitehurst can run,” defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson said admiringly. “I think you can’t underestimate this guy just because he hasn’t been the starter. This guy, he’s very smart and very talented, he knows if he tries to run he can get a couple of guys to bite on him and then throw the ball.”
For their part, the Saints seemed a banged-up team by the end of Sunday’s loss. Wide receiver Marques Colston, who killed Seattle in November by catching eight passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns, remains an unknown following arthroscopic right knee surgery last week. In the backfield, coach Sean Payton offered no information on Chris Ivory, the onetime Washington State Cougar who has missed time this season due to knee, shoulder, hamstring and now foot problems; or Pierre Thomas, who found himself back on the inactive list Sunday with an aggravated left ankle injury that already caused him to miss nine weeks.
In other words, it won’t be the same Saints or the same Seahawks who play Saturday. It didn’t even look like the same Seahawks on Sunday, according to the Saints.
“I was telling my wife, I think early in the third quarter, ‘Seattle’s going to win,’ ” center Jonathan Goodwin said. “They just looked last night like they were having a better game and they were playing better defense. They seemed almost like the more experienced team. They took advantage of the crowd noise and they really got after the Rams. Honestly, it looked like they were getting off the ball a lot faster at home than they did here.”