Saints on offense: All right, so Drew Brees doesn’t have prototypical size for an NFL quarterback. Who cares? The guy has superior intelligence, decent mobility, and one of the most accurate arms in the league. Brees (6 feet, 209 pounds) sets up quickly, goes through his reads quickly, and fires quick lasers. He has a bevy of talented receivers, too. Marques Colston is the best of the bunch. Blessed with a tight end’s size and receiver’s speed, the 6-4, 225-pound Colston has sure hands and will fight for every ball. Lance Moore (solid slot man), Robert Meachem (quick and agile), and Devery Henderson (speedy and powerful) round out this group. Reggie Bush and Julius Jones have to pick up a New Orleans running game that has been devastated by recent season-ending injuries to leading rusher Chris Ivory (foot) and Pierre Thomas (ankle). Bush has plenty of jukes and jives but is a tentative runner and tends to run upright, leaving him vulnerable to big crunches. Jones is a shell of himself but may be motivated by a return to the Emerald City.
Seahawks on defense: Undersized linebacker David Hawthorne is the leader of this group. The 6-foot, 246-pounder has excellent instincts and toughness. Safety Lawyer Milloy (he’s still around) had 88 tackles, including four sacks for minus-27 yards.
Seahawks on offense: Matt Hasselbeck is back in the saddle after missing last week’s NFC West clincher with a balky hip. Hasselbeck is a smart and well-prepared quarterback. He knows where his receivers will be and he will exploit mismatches. Hasselbeck excels in the short-to-intermediate game but lacks the arm strength to be a consistent downfield threat. (Why Deion Branch did not excel in this offense is still mystifying.) If Hasselbeck gets dinged, Charlie Whitehurst (stiff, robotic) will get the call. Seattle’s top receiver is Mike Williams, the former first-round pick who ate and drank his way out of the league for two seasons before coming back with a vengeance this season. He’s physical and has reliable mitts. Rookie Golden Tate has speed and toughness but has battled inconsistency. Marshawn Lynch (thick and powerful) and Justin Forsett (excellent first step) each rushed for more than 500 yards.
Saints on defense: Jonathan Vilma is a destructive force. He’s not the biggest (6-1, 230) or fastest linebacker, but he is always in the right spot at the right time. Oh, and he delivers hellacious hits. Defensive end Will Smith will make Hasselbeck uncomfortable, and defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer are ball hawks.
Special teams: Seattle’s Olindo Mare (wasn’t he a Dolphin, like, 15 seasons ago?) is a consistent performer who has nailed 25 of 30 field goal attempts, with a long of 51 . . . John Ryan averaged 41.7 yards per punt and landed 27 inside the 20-yard line, including 9 inside the 10 . . . Kick/punt returner Leon Washington (superior vision and quickness) is among the league’s best. He averages 25.6 yards per kick return and has taken three the distance. He also averages 11.3 yards per punt return . . . New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley (he’s no John Carney) has had bouts of inconsistency but has come on strong lately. He’s 20 of 25 on FGs . . . Punter Thomas Morstead is averaging a most impressive 45.9 yards per attempt, with 21 inside the 20 . . . Henderson and Bush will handle kick-return duties with Courtney Roby (23.8) on IR . . . Bush (6.6-yard average) handles the punt-return chores.
Miscellany: These two have never met in postseason . . . Seahawks have won five straight home playoff games . . . Saints begin their quest to be first back-to-back Super Bowl champs since the Patriots (XXXVIII and XXXIX) . . . Seattle coach Pete Carroll returns to postseason for first time since 1998 with Patriots.