For the Saints, going on the road for a playoff game against a team that manhandled them a little more than a month ago is obviously a daunting task.
But in the NFL, past performance is not always indicative of future results.
Fourteen times since the league went to the current playoff format in 1990, a team has rebounded from a regular-season loss of at least 20 points to defeat the same opponent in the playoffs.
The latest — and largest — such recovery was in 2010 when the New York Jets beat New England 28-21 in the divisional round after absorbing a 48-3 pounding at the hands of the Patriots in a road game in Week 13.
That’s exactly the same setup for the Saints on Saturday at Seattle.
To sports psychologist Jim Afremow, the Saints will be doing their best to treat their 34-7 loss to the Seahawks as if it happened 100 years ago and not just last month.
“They need to learn the lessons that needed to be learned from the first meetings,” said Afremow, author of The Champion’s Mind. “But dump out all the rest.
“Make sure to minimize the magnitude of the rematch itself. The key for the Saints is to focus on their strengths and the Seahawks weaknesses rather than the other way around.”
Fox Sports 1 analyst Peter Schrager sees it the same way.
“There are certain guys when it comes to the playoffs (who) can elevate their games by blocking out all distractions, and they play at a different level,” he said. “They know it’s not what you do in September, but what you do in January with all eyes on you.
“Certain players, certain team and certainly certain coaches can get the job done when it matters most, and the Saints have proven they’re capable of doing that. But if you ever let doubt start creeping in, you’ve already lost the battle.”
Of course, Afremow added, the Seahawks likely will be viewing the rematch as a new match as well.
Things are different in the playoffs, right down to the supposed value of the home field. Last weekend, three of the four road teams won. And without an epic meltdown by the Chiefs at Indianapolis, it would have been four-for-four.
For the Saints, putting the stigma of never having won on the road in the playoffs behind them was obviously a big hurdle, although even Sean Payton found a way to keep the discussion on the light side.
But now they’ve got to go on the road again, making another cross-country trip to face a team that lost only one at home in the past two seasons.
Still, teams have won playoff games facing similar challenges as the Saints.
The masters of circling the wagons were the Buffalo Bills.
In 1990, the Bills lost to Miami 30-7 in the regular season but beat the Dolphins 44-34 in the divisional round.
In 1991, the Bills lost to Kansas City 33-6 but then beat the Chiefs 37-14 when it really matters. \
In 1992, the Bills lost to the Houston 27-3 in the season’s final game. Just a week later, they made the greatest comeback in playoff history, rallying from a 35-3 deficit to win in overtime 41-38. The Bills went on to beat Miami, a team they lost to 37-10 in the regular season, 29-10 in the AFC Championship Game.
In 1993, the Bills lost to both the Raiders and Chiefs in the regular season but came back to beat both in the playoffs.
Of course, it should be remembered that the Bills also lost in the Super Bowl all four of those seasons, twice to teams they’d beaten earlier: the New York Giants in 1990 and Dallas in ’93. In fact, of the seven rematches in the Super Bowl since 1990, five have gone to the first-game loser.
The greatest comeback kids were the 1998 Arizona Cardinals.
Not only did they lose to Dallas 38-10 in the old Cowboys Stadium, they also at home to the Cowboys 35-28. But in the wild-card round of the playoffs, back in Dallas, the Cardiac Cardinals prevailed 20-7 for the franchise’s first playoff victory since 1947.
The Cardinals have had a pair of similar performances since then, suffering big regular-season losses to Philadelphia (48-20 in 2008) and Green Bay (33-7 in 2009) to beat those teams in the playoffs.
Arizona went on to its only Super Bowl appearance the first year. The Cardinals lost to the Saints 45-14 in the divisional round in ’09.
This is the Saints fifth regular-season/playoff rematch. They split with the Falcons in 1991 but lost the rubber game 27-20. New Orleans lost to the Eagles 15-13 in the 1992 regular season but lost to them in the playoffs 36-20. The Saints split with St. Louis in 2000 only to gain their first-ever playoff victory 31-28 after losing to the Rams only a week before. The Saints beat the Eagles both times in 2006, both times by 27-24. And New Orleans swept Detroit 31-17 and 45-28 in 2011.
But, as Afremow points out, they have to put history, both recent and from two decades ago aside.
“The advantage always goes to the team that can stay squarely in the here-and-now, from one play to the next, and not worrying about losing or anticipating victory,” he said. “Decide in advance to under-react to anything negative or unexpected that happens on game day — including noise from the Seattle fans.
“Trust the process to deliver the desired result, and it will likely happen.”
And to Schrager, while the Saints are underdogs Saturday, there’s no way they’re getting embarrassed again.
“I think you’re going to see a much improved team from the one that lost 34-7 up there,” he said. “I was at the last Carolina game, and when the Saints lost, they hated it.
“They took it out on the Tampa Bay, and they took it against the Eagles. That’s any angry team, and it’s fun to see angry teams in January.”
Especially one with a little payback due.