While the Patriots and Broncos are nearly double-digit favorites this weekend, the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons opened as just a 3-point favorite against the No. 5 seed Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons are well rested and playing at home, but Seattle is no pushover.
Let's take a closer look at some of the matchups between the Falcons and Seahawks.
Atlanta's offense vs. Seattle's defense
|Points per game||26.2||15.3|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.7||6.2|
|Rushing yards per attempt||3.7||4.5|
This should be a great matchup of two units which are very good at what they do. With Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones, the Falcons developed into one of the top passing attacks in the NFL. However, if there was a team built to stop a passing offense like Atlanta's, it may be the Seahawks.
Seattle's defense was third in the NFL, allowing only 6.2 yards per pass attempt. Utilizing mostly a short passing game, the Falcons finished the season tied for seventh in the NFL, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt. Of Atlanta's 615 pass attempts during the regular season, 514 were short passes. The Falcons averaged 6.8 yards per attempt on short passes, ranking them near the top of the league. Seattle's defense, however, is among the best at defending the short pass. The Seahawks allowed 5.3 yards per attempt on short passes.
While Seattle's defense doesn't allow a lot of deep completions, they can be susceptible to big plays. The Seahawks allowed 12.4 yards per attempt on deep passes to the right side of the field, the 25th worst in the NFL. Atlanta only threw deep right 36 times this season, but gained an average of 14.4 yards per attempt, good for fifth in the NFL.
If Atlanta is forced to run the ball, the game would appear to shift in the Seahawks' favor. Seattle's run defense didn't play as well at the end of the season as they did at the start, but the Seahawks defense still has an advantage over Atlanta. The Falcons ranked 29th in the NFL, averaging 3.7 yards per attempt. Atlanta was also 29th in rush DVOA. The Seahawks finished 12th in the NFL in rush DVOA.
Seattle's offense vs. Atlanta's defense
|Points per game||25.8||18.7|
|Passing yards per attempt||8.0||7.4|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.8||4.8|
While Atlanta will likely rely on their passing attack, the Seahawks will try to run the ball, then run it some more. With Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson leading the way, the Seahawks ranked first in the NFL in rush DVOA. The Falcons struggled to stop the run early in the season, and despite improving, they still ranked 20th in rush DVOA.
Stopping Lynch is a big enough challenge in itself, but the Falcons will also have to deal with Wilson and Seattle's read-option rushing attack. After rarely utilizing the read option through the first 12 weeks of the season, Seattle had a lot of success late in the season. Seattle averaged 6.9 yards per attempt on read-option runs during the final five games of the regular season.
The Seahawks had a lot of their success running outside this season, an area in which the Falcons defense really struggled. Seattle averaged 5.6 yards on runs on the outside to the right and 5.5 yards per attempt on outside runs to the left. Atlanta, meanwhile, ranked near the bottom of the NFL in runs off the end. The Falcons allowed 6.8 yards per carry off the right end and 6.4 yards per carry off the left end.
Seattle didn't finish the season with a lot of passing yards, but tied for third in the league with 8.0 yards per attempt. The Seahawks were second in the league on deep passes to the left, averaging 16.4 yards per attempt. Atlanta allowed 12.3 yards per attempt on deep passes to the right, 23rd in the NFL.
So, how do they match up?
Despite being the No. 1 seed, Atlanta would be the underdog going only by statistical rankings. The Seahawks have an advantage on defense and, despite being known as the less prolific offense, Seattle may also be better on that side of the ball.
This game could very well come down to which unit wins the heavyweight battle between the Falcons' pass offense and the Seahawks' pass defense. If Seattle is able to shut down the Falcons through the air and force them to run, Atlanta could be in for a very long day.
However, if the Falcons are able to move the ball through the air and hit on a big play or two, they could force Seattle out of its strength as a running team. The Seahawks were able to play catch-up last week, but may have a harder time against the Falcons.