Some of these long-odds games you look at and you just shake your head and go, "OK, no way the underdog can pull this off."
Like when Washington went against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. No way in the world the Huskies could win that one.
Except they did.
They did it because Nebraska had pummeled them once already this season and likely was convinced it could do it again by virtue of its mere attendance. It left the heavily favored Cornhuskers coming into the game at an insurmountable emotional and motivational deficit.
That’s not only an example of the effects of human nature that are at play today, when New Orleans visits Seattle in a first-round playoff game, it’s also step one on the blueprint of how the Seahawks shock the NFL with a stunning upset.
Why shouldn’t the Saints be complacent? They defeated Seattle, 34-19, in November. They’re ranked No. 6 and No. 4 in the league in offense and defense, whereas the Hawks are 28th and 27th.
And most convincing of all, the Saints are the defending world champions (11-5) and the Seahawks have the worst record (7-9) of any team to make it to the NFL playoffs.
That’s what makes the Saints 10-point favorites ... and so ripe to be knocked off. The entire league has been laughing at the Seahawks. And it’s a fact that it’s hard to make tackles when you’re chuckling.
The Saturday-afternoon kickoff means this was a short preparation week ending with a long flight for the Saints.
The predicted weather for kickoff (low 40s and rain) is Mother Nature’s antidote for a dome team from the South that throws the ball 63 percent of the time.
When the Saints won in November, the rushing of Chris Ivory (99 yards) was key to breaking down the Seahawks’ defense. Not only is Ivory out with an injury, but Pierre Thomas also is.
Gifted quarterback Drew Brees once again earned his Pro Bowl berth, but he’s also been intercepted 22 times this season, twice by the Hawks in the first game. And with Ivory and Thomas out, expect the Saints to be even more one-dimensional.
So, Seahawks ... don’t bother defending the run. Line up in the nickel and dime pass packages the entire game, and rely on ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock to generate enough pressure. Sure, occasionally blitz with Lawyer Milloy, leaving the deep coverage to Earl Thomas, who picked off Brees in the end zone once in the first meeting.
Yes, Matt Hasselbeck is starting at quarterback. He’s got nine games of playoff experience and he tends to come back strong after he’s missed some time (out with a hip injury last week). And ride him as long as he goes well. But if he starts getting sacked or turning the ball over, have a short leash, because his turnovers come in bunches, and Charlie Whitehurst’s mobility would then become a valuable asset.
No matter who is at quarterback, be content to take the short, safe passes that will enhance ball control. Get the ball to Brandon Stokley and Mike Williams, even on the dink routes to keep the chains moving.
Just as a single turnover could be lethal against a team that can score the way New Orleans can. A big play by the special teams also can be decisive. A day of breakaway kick returns by Leon Washington could be the ticket to the second round.
Of critical importance is getting off to a good start. Sure, easy to say. But in the last two games, the Hawks have started strong on offense by sticking to the early script and stretching the defense. That is mandatory against the Saints, a team that has outscored opponents 112-33 in the first quarters of games this season. After that, opponents have held the edge, 272-271.
Most important of all is that the Seahawks remember to play exactly like what they are, a team burdened by no expectations. They’re playing with house money. Playing loose and starting quickly will only enhance the psychological and emotional advantages they have.
After all, sometimes when you’ve got the least to lose is when you end up with the greatest wins.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org