Kevin C. Cox
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons play host to Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round, as Ryan aims to notch the first playoff win of his career.
Seattle is coming off of a come-from-behind, 24-14 win over the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round. After starting the game down 14-0, the Seahawks roared back, scoring 24 unanswered points, and earning a date with the Falcons in the Divisional round.
The Falcons are coming off a bye week, and haven't played a meaningful game since Week 16, when the Falcons defeated the Detroit Lions, 31-18, and clinched the NFC's top seed.
Meet the Falcons
Mike Smith's Falcons started the season a perfect 8-0, before losing to the New Orleans Saints in Week 10. That loss did little to slow the Falcons down, however, as Atlanta finished 13-3, and clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC prior to Week 17.
Atlanta's passing offense, led by Ryan, is one of the best in the NFL. Ryan and the Falcons boasted the sixth-best passing attack in the NFL (281.8 yards per game) this season, as Ryan finished the year with a 99.1 quarterback rating, with 4,719 yards and 32 touchdown passes.
For as good as Ryan is, he has yet to win a playoff game. Since Ryan took over as Atlanta's quarterback in 2008, the Falcons are 0-3 in playoff games, losing to Arizona, Green Bay and New York.
The Falcons' ground game, however, has not been up to par with the passing game. Atlanta averaged just 87.3 yards per game rushing this season, and Michael Turner averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry on 222 carries this year.
Atlanta ranked in the bottom half of the league in opponents' passing yards per game (242.4) and opponents' rushing yards per game (123.2), and will certainly need a strong effort to stop Seattle's duo of Wilson and Lynch.
Meet the Seahawks
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson kept his dream season alive last week, when the Seahawks went on the road and defeated the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card round, 24-14, earning a trip to Atlanta.
Seattle's offense is rooted in its rushing attack, as the Seahawks averaged 161.2 yards per game on the ground this year -- 3rd best in the NFL. Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, averaging five yards per carry. Wilson added 489 yards on the ground this season as well, with four touchdown runs.
Pete Carroll's defense has been excellent this season. Seattle's cornerback duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner helped the Seahawks limit opposing offenses to just 203.1 yards per game passing.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Seattle's defensive unit suffered a major loss during the Wild Card round, as pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus, and will miss the rest of the season.
Local Takes: Falcons
The DW from The Falcoholic doesn't think Seattle's secondary is unbeatable, and concludes that Atlanta will have an easier time running the passing game through Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas.
If the Falcons are going to succeed against the Seahawks, the easier road will likely be through guys like Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas. As well, the screen game could be a huge factor. So, while Seattle's secondary definitely deserves respect, they are NOT unbeatable. Atlanta will need to protect Ryan and give him time, but if they do, the Falcons will be able to move the ball and score.
Local Takes: Seahawks
Kenneth Arthur from Field Gulls believed the Seahawks would beat the Redskins last week -- and believes the Seahawks will defeat the Falcons this week.
I also expect, just like I expected this week, that the Seahawks will beat Atlanta. It's much closer for me than the Redskins matchup, but there is still a clearly better all-around football team. The Falcons played the 27th hardest schedule per DVOA. That's not very hard. Atlanta was 5-3 in the second half of the season. They lost to the Panthers by 10, the Saints by 4, and the Bucs in Week 17 but that wasn't much of a real game, I admit, with Atlanta having already clinched the top seed.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
13-3 regular season, home playoff game against a great team, chance to shake off a lot of bad memories? What a year this has been, no?— Dave Choate (@TheFalcoholic) January 9, 2013
Seattle seemed to bide their time with the read-option, & 'saved' it for much later in the game. Carroll likes to keep cards close to chest— Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) January 9, 2013
@AJCFalcons -- Atlanta beat writer
#Falcons RB Michael Turner said, "We are not uptight. We know what we are capable of doing."— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) January 9, 2013
@dannyoneil -- Seattle beat writer
My favorite quote from #Seahawks locker room, FB Michael Robinson: "One thing about 24, you don’t ever have to worry about his mind set. "— Danny O'Neil (@dannyoneil) January 7, 2013
The Seahawks are a team that can get down 14-0 on the road in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and rattle off 24 straight to pick up the road win. They're the type of team whose quarterback fumbles only to see Marshawn Lynch pick it up and run for 18 yards. That's the type of season the Seahawks are having.
All that said, you can guess who I'm taking in this game.
The pick: 24-20, Seahawks
According to OddsShark, Atlanta enters the game favored between one and three points -- depending on the book. The over/under for the game is set at 46.
If the Falcons win, they'll play host to either the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game. If the Seahawks pull off the upset, they'll head either to Green Bay or San Francisco, with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line.