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January 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Matchup breakdown — and a prediction

In case you missed it in our special section, here’s our Matchup Breakdown of the game, followed by a prediction:

Quarterback

A matchup of two of the best — Drew Brees was sixth in the NFL in passing rating this year at 104.7 and Russell Wilson seventh at 101.2 Brees and the passing game has to shoulder a heavier load of the passing game, though, and as a past Super Bowl winner gets a slight edge. Edge: Saints.

Running backs

Does Marshawn Lynch have another Beast Quake run saved up for another playoff game against the Saints? He’s certainly capable after another solid year with 1,257 yards. Saints do it by-committee, with former Heisman winner Mark Ingram having a big game against the Eagles. Edge: Seahawks.

Offensive line

Both lines have been inconsistent this season, and the Saints recently made a change at left tackle with rookie Terron Armstead replacing Charles Brown. New Orleans, though, protected Brees pretty well this year, allowing 37 sacks, fourth best in terms of sacks per pass play. Seattle needs LT Russell Okung back to full health. Edge:  Saints.

Receivers

The return of Percy Harvin could greatly change the dynamic here for the Seahawks, whose passing game was erratic down the stretch (and already without Sidney Rice). Jimmy Graham is a tight end in name but a receiver in production with 1,215 yards this season. Marques Colston added 943. Edge: Saints

Defensive line

The Saints have a solid defensive front led by end Cameron Jordan, who had 12.5 sacks this season. And the group was a key reason NO was fourth in the NFL in yards allowed at 305.7 per game. But hard to go against a deep Seahawks’ front that seemed to be playing its best the last month of the season. Edge: Seahawks.

Linebackers

One big change here since the last meeting for Seattle is the absence of WLB K.J. Wright, out with a broken foot. Malcolm Smith, though, has been a solid replacement and will again get the call there. Curtis Lofton and former Seahawk David Hawthorne have solidified New Orleans’ linebacking corps this season. Edge: Seahawks.

Defensive backs

While New Orleans enters with some injury questions (specifically, safety Kenny Vaccaro, who had 79 tackles, was lost for the season after week 16) Seattle will counter with the Legion of Boom, fortified by the return last week of Walter Thurmond. Seattle had 28 interceptions this  season to lead the NFL, Saints had 12. Edge: Seahawks.

Special teams

Former Shayne Graham has stabilized New Orleans’ kicking after Garrett Hartley was cut in December, and had the winning field goal with no time left last week. Seattle had a few uncommon mistakes the last few weeks, but for most of the season was solid everywhere on special teams. Edge: Seahawks.

Coaching

In four years, Pete Carroll has Seattle back on the brink of only its second Super Bowl. Sean Payton, meanwhile, is hoping to take the Saints back to only their second Super Bowl, as well, after winning one in 2010. Simply put, two of the best in the game right now. Edge: Push.

Intangibles

New Orleans has the momentum of a win last week at Philadelphia that ended the team’s road playoff woes. Seattle, though, is coming off a week of rest and has the backing of the home crowd at CenruyLink Field, where it is 15-1 the last two years. Edge: Seahawks.

Final pick

Hard to imagine this will be a rout similar to Seattle’s 34-7 win over the Saints on Dec. 2. But Seattle has the best defense in the NFL and the home field, and if it can again find a way to make some big plays on offense (a healthy Harvin would help) should advance to the NFC Title game. Seahawks 20, Saints 13.

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