I've developed an obsession with the New Orleans Saints. I suspect I'm not alone either. At least I hope I'm not.
San Francisco has been the most immediate worry ever since we started to realise that Seattle was really beginning to get things together last season with a rookie quarterback and by that I mean after the Week 6 comeback win against New England. Some of you may disagree with my choice and see the early proof in back to back wins over the Cowboys and Packers. Dallas was dismantled, Green Bay grumbled at Golden injustices, but Russell Wilson getting one over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? Come on, this was Luke defeating Darth Vader and the Emperor in one fell swoop and wouldn't you know it...life imitating art and not for the first time since the universe first took shape a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
I'm going to leave it to somebody far better than me to provide us with the actual statistic, but Belichick's record against rookie QBs before attempting to plot Wilson's demise last year was frightening. Russ, dear, dear, Russ, you superstar before you even knew it...more on him in a while.
The Seahawks (OK, Sherm) went from daring to suggest that Tom Brady may have been slightly irked one week, to hanging tough on a Thursday night the following week, on the road against the ever endearing 49ers. The 13-6 reversal stuck in the craw and but for a handful of dropped passes...hang on, I'm meant to be obsessed by the Saints. I am, but San Fran are never far from my thoughts.
As a sports fan, I seriously rate fear. It quickens the pulse, heightens the anticipation and without it, well, victory always seems somewhat less satisfying. I craved a comfortable win in Atlanta last Sunday after the torment endured watching games against the Rams and Buccaneers. I got it, we got it and this team of ours made us the proudest we'd felt all season. Hadn't they...? The fear I'd cradled beforehand, coupled with how Seattle played in all three phases of the game, meant that even playoff revenge ended up a nonentity.
More significant than that is that what we saw last week, having been given the briefest of airings in Arizona, proved to us something we'd suspected all along: the Seahawks can play. Boy, can they play. Better than that is that the Seahawks can draft. On the perfect Sunday, the Falcons boast blue chip, bona fide NFL superstars. On the perfect Sunday, Seattle boasts depth. Lots and lots of depth. Step forward Alvin Bailey. Exactly.
I promised a bit of Russ in a while. Let's start here, but this will come around to San Francisco again, just to forewarn you. I'm also acutely aware that the Saints still have a part to play in this piece, as per my opening confession. Blimey, anybody would think those two are actually playing each other any time soon.
Less is nearly always more and growing to love this sport in the UK during the 80s meant getting your TV coverage from just one source. If it wasn't for Channel 4 over here, I wouldn't now be contributing to Field Gulls. I know, feel free to bombard them. What this meant was clinging to every memory I could and, like all memories, some never leave you. One that kinda had left me came crashing back into view when watching Russ speak to the media after last week's win and I'll take you on the scenic route, if I may.
The fourth Super Bowl I ever watched was Super Bowl XXIII, when the 49ers broke Bengal hearts in the final minute in Miami. Thanks to the beauty of videotape, I watched the highlights of what turned out to be an epic Super Bowl too many times to mention, but one of the abiding memories was of Joe Montana speaking to Bob Costas in the locker room after the game.
Montana was asked to explain his thought process during the game winning 92 yard touchdown drive and he did so with a self assuredness I always found a little captivating. To a then just-turned-17 year old me who chased confidence on an hourly basis, here spoke a man at the peak of his powers with the whole world in his hands. If ever you should watch this, even Costas looks on in wide-eyed awe. It's hardly surprising.
Watching Wilson speak last Sunday (but last Sunday more than any other, for a reason I can't explain) evoked memories of Montana in that locker room, the Lombardi trophy lurking close by. Now, let's be honest, the two quarterbacks aren't even close to being mentioned in the same breath, but it's the way Wilson carries himself. He speaks at pace, but it's never clumsy. His eyes dart around, but never show fear. This is a quarterback who cares and cares deeply. Not just about the game, but the team, the city, its people. It's abundantly clear, but never done trying to prove anything.
We shouldn't kid ourselves here. These are special, special times right now, but Wilson may end up never winning a Super Bowl for the Seahawks. Simply winning on the road in the NFL is difficult enough. However, this team is being led by the only man I want leading this team and it's an athlete I believe possesses the attributes of the greatest quarterback I've ever seen.
Don't meet your heroes. No? Don't tell me Montana would let you down. Russ is cut from the same cloth.
This past week, I revisited a game I've already seen on many occasions, but continue to do so because I missed it the first time round.
I was deprived from witnessing one of the greatest occasions in Seahawks history, the 2010 (season) NFC Wild Card Playoff against New Orleans. I had to attend (HAD to) my step sister's 40th birthday on Saturday, January 8. She wasn't even forty until January 13, same birthday as me, bizarrely, but decided to celebrate it early. Never mind that Seattle had practically limped past the Rams the previous week, I wasn't going to miss this, not against the world champions at home. Yes, I was.
I had to rely upon updates from a mate of mine, a Raider following mate of mine no less, to provide the updates. 10-0 down, 17-7 down...by the way, he wasn't sending these to me gift wrapped in gloat coloured paper. Yes, odd for a Raider, but we support each other's team during playoff runs, despite the AFC West roots still running oh, so beautifully deep; I still miss her.
With the matchup against the Rams still fresh in the banks and Seattle staring at a ten point deficit, I began to take solace in the fact that perhaps I wasn't missing much. So much so that I had to question my mate's integrity when he tells me that the Seahawks lead 24-17. I went hot (24-17!), I went cold (what am I doing here?). I was missing this and just knew it was going to be something pretty special.
"Barman, another beer...make it two. I'll just sit here, if that's OK, staring at my phone. Of course I know what I'm doing. It's the Seahawks doing what they do best. They torment and tease, the consummate love affair. The playoffs start today and it's really kicking off in Seattle...huh, who are the Seahawks? Just get the beers."
My obsession with the Saints began when I first mentioned the possibility, during my Rams preview, of Seattle being 10-1 when New Orleans hits town on Monday night in Week 13. They've since lost to the Jets, but I wasn't buying into any idea that they're somehow weaker than I'd projected. I realise that Dallas are ridiculously erratic and the Saints were able to rely upon one of the more luxurious home comforts in the NFL last week, but they took care of business against the Cowboys and took care of it good.
A Monday night in Seattle, at a raucous CenturyLink Field, is as far removed from home comforts as New Orleans can expect themselves to be, bar them actually reaching Super Bowl XLVIII and arriving in a frigid New Jersey in late January. Let's hope they don't get that far.
Yes, as much as I fear the Saints, I do realise they won't be relishing Week 13 one bit and we can also sit content in the knowledge that they have the small hurdle of facing a resurgent Carolina twice over the final four weeks of the regular season. In addition, a road trip to St. Louis represents a Panthers sandwich on their schedule and that's another team not to be underestimated.
Overall, when looking at the bigger picture, the Seahawks are favourites to secure home field advantage and they also look to match up extremely well against the Saints. It's just this maddeningly annoying trained mind I have from following Seattle since 1984. I expect the annual disappointment to be crushing and if New Orleans continues winning, which I think they will do against the Niners and Falcons, walking out of Seattle with the W gives them the tiebreaker, albeit temporarily.
When looking back at the wild card matchup almost three years ago, one of the most glaring aspects of proceedings is that the Seahawks' starting receivers that day were Ben Obomanu and Mike Williams. Brandon Stokley finished the day with the most yards (73), but Obomanu and Williams each caught five balls; a rookie named Golden Tate caught one pass for five yards. Tate held a multitude of hopes and dreams for both himself and us in 2010 and the odious early touchdown celebration aside in St. Louis, Tate's actual football maturity hit new heights in Atlanta last Sunday.
With no intention of denigrating the skill set of, or contributions made by Obomanu, Williams and Stokley, the evolution at wide receiver in Seattle is stark.
Am I ever going to start writing about events relevant to this week? To the Minnesota Vikings, I've neglected my proper duties and now I'm all yours.
Zac Stacy and Mike James are no Adrian Peterson and that's concerning. Even if Christian Ponder is able to start on Sunday, which looks likely, it's difficult to escape the notion that Peterson will represent the fulcrum of the offense. Then again, doesn't he always?
Seattle's run defense resumed normal service last week, but it serves to be mindful of the fact that it was against a pedestrian Steven Jackson. Stacy and James positively gashed the Seahawks, and very recently too, so, game heads at the ready you corporeal front seven. Time for serious business against the best the NFL has to offer on the ground.
Even minus Brandon Browner, Seattle's secondary shouldn't miss much of a beat (this week at least) and I guess I speak for the majority of Seahawks fans when I say that if the defense were to lose one quarter of their starting secondary for any serious length of time, Browner is the 25% I'd feel the most comfortable at having to replace.
I doubted last week whether we'd see Percy Harvin before Week 13, a game I may have touched upon above, but I was wrong. He'll definitely play some part this week and all that remains to be seen is just how much. Even thinking about it, I feel a surge of excitement coursing through my veins, a rush that needs no encouragement from last night's Shiraz that still resides. Unashamedly, I'm also teeming with envy towards each and every one of you who'll be there to witness it live. You lucky little bleeders.
The CLink should be on a high anyway after the travails of much of the last home game and following the demolition of the Falcons last Sunday; Harvin's first appearance on the field threatens to shatter ear drums.
The line for this opened at 13.5, but Seattle's available, as of Saturday morning, -11.5. You can nibble on a 13 point start for Minnesota, should that be your fancy...nope, hang on a second. I thought that was the case with our partners at oddsshark.com, but they're offering the Vikings +12.5.
Along with Harvin, the Seahawks should also have Russell Okung back at left tackle, although he'll probably be part of the rotation as Pete Carroll looks to ease him back in with bigger fish to fry in the upcoming weeks. I really hate writing that, but Seattle is an elite team and it's not being unfair to a visiting team with a 2-7 record (0-4 on the road).
Seattle's 2-3 ATS as a double digit favourite at home in the Russell Wilson era, including failing to cover against the Titans and Buccaneers when favoured by 12.5 and 14.5 respectively in their last two home games. That's poor form with which to recommend lumping on the Seahawks this week and those still wishing to back Minnesota will fear that Seattle found a groove last Sunday, one that will see them hit a purple patch akin to last season's when they tore to shreds the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers in consecutive weeks.
It's no coincidence that the shellacking dished out to Arizona at home last year came just seven days after the two long touchdown drives in Chicago, when this team truly came of age. Last week's win somehow feels the same. A hitherto unseen chemistry this season was unleashed and what was uncorked was the most beautifully complete team performance since December 23, 2012.
Seattle should cover this week. I didn't have the same confidence against Tampa Bay and wrote so. Take the Seahawks to win by at least twelve and look forward to the 9-2 Saints heading up country in two Mondays time.
Percy, welcome to the Pleasuredome, welcome to the House of Fun. That's it, I'm done with 80's pop references. I have a Saturday afternoon to live.
Please gamble responsibly.