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Brian Billick hesitated before answering the question, which was the first surprise.
After all, you would think the man who coached the 2000 wild card Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title, using one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and a solid running game to hide a poor passing attack, would have a ready answer for: "Is it true wild cards must have a great defense and powerful running games to reach the Super Bowl?"
But the second surprise was his answer.
"That's certainly how we did it, but, I'll tell you, things have really changed since then," said Billick, who has been equally successful in the TV booth at NFL Network and Fox. "I think today it has been proven you pretty much need dynamic play at quarterback to win, particularly on the road. So while the ability to play defense and run is still important, it's somewhat diminished, and it's not quite the same priority if you have a Drew Brees or a Peyton Manning.
"In fact, I don't think the whole wild card on-the-road thing is as big an obstacle as it once might have been."
The New Orleans Saints will be hit with a double whammy inside Seattle's Qwest Field this afternoon.
Not only will they be exposed to the weather elements at the outdoor stadium -- a 60 percent chance of rain as of Friday evening -- but they also will be bombarded by one of the NFL's loudest crowds.
Thanks to a unique architectural design, with cantilever roofs hanging over the stands to keep fans dry, Qwest Field produces a noise level that has been measured at around 110-115 decibels, even when it's not a playoff atmosphere.
Many players and coaches around the league rank it as the toughest atmosphere to play in. And at least one statistic backs that up.
Since 2005, opponents have been flagged for more false-start penalties (104) than at any other stadium. Minnesota's Metrodome ranks second at 91.
During the '05 season, the New York Giants infamously committed 11 false starts during a 24-21 overtime loss at Seattle, including five in one drive.
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– The Saints averaged just 20.8 points per game over the season’s first half, then reeled off five straight games over 30 (averaging 32.8 during that stretch), only to cool off over their last three, averaging just 18.
– New Orleans led the NFL in third down conversion percentage (48.8 percent) and their 37.7 percent conversion rate on third-and-10+ also led the league. Compare that to Seattle’s 35.5 percent overall conversions (22nd) and 14.3 percent on third-and-10+ (30th).
– The Saints’ 55 points scored on their first possession of games led the NFL, while they allowed just nine on their opponents’ opening drives, also the best mark in the league. Seattle allowed 45 points on opponents’ opening drives, third worst in the league.
– Seattle allowed 30 drives of 10 or more plays this season (fifth most) and allowed an average of 4.63 points on those drives (third highest). This bodes quite well for New Orleans, who’s offense put up 39 such drives this season, second most in the league.
– Seattle’s punter, Jon Ryan, put 27 balls inside the 20-yard-line this season versus only one touchback, a success rate of 96 percent, the highest in the league.
– When pinned inside their 20-yard-line in 2010, Drew Brees and the Saints have had a tough time, throwing a league high seven interceptions from back there (10.6% of such attempts… also league high)