Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times
#3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at #2 Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia Dome)
January 14th, 1:35 PM (PST)
This game is the toughest Divisional Round game to pick. We have the Seahawks, who are coming off a 26-6 win at home against the Lions, and the Falcons, who are coming off a red-hot season led by Matt Ryan and their explosive offense. This game is tough for a few reasons. The Falcons and Matt Ryan are known to falter in big playoff games while the Seahawks have a storied playoff history led by Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are coming off a blowout win, but lost 3 of their last 6 games to finish the regular season and are without their star safety, Earl Thomas. The Falcons have been great this whole season, but have major question marks on defense; however, they should benefit from being at home and coming off a bye.
Atlanta’s Playoff Struggles
Matt Ryan hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. The Falcons haven’t made it since 2012 when Matt Ryan took the team to the playoffs for the 4th time in just his 5th season in the NFL. However, Matt Ryan’s NFL playoff career has been subpar, as you can see below:
2008 Wild Card Round: 30-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals
2010 Divisional Round: 48-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers (had home field and bye)
2011 Wild Card Round: 24-2 loss to the New York Giants
2012 Divisional Round: 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks
2012 NFC Championship: 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers
Adding to the fact that he hasn’t been great in the playoffs, Matt Ryan hasn’t had any recent playoff experience. Ryan has to hope that his playoff failure is in the past and that it will act as experience for this year’s playoff run. All those games were a younger Matt Ryan that we probably won’t see this weekend. However, history can not be discounted. I’m hopeful that his struggles won’t continue, but will not pick him until he proves me wrong.
Seattle’s Playoff Success
The Seahawks, since drafting Russell Wilson, have been a perennial Super Bowl contender and have made the playoff in each of his first 5 seasons. They have made it to the playoffs six out of the last seven seasons and have won a playoff game in each of those six seasons. They have also won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl.
They are the opposite of the Falcons in terms of playoff history. Russell Wilson is 8-3 in the playoffs versus Matt Ryan’s 1-4.
Atlanta’s Offense vs. Seattle’s Defense
No offense has been better this season than the Atlanta Falcon’s led by MVP candidate Matt Ryan. He’s had an amazing year throwing for just under 5,000 yards (4,944) with 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, leading his team to the second most yards per game (415.8) and the most points (33.8) per game. To put that in perspective, no other team averages over 30 points per game. The 2nd closest team in the league is New Orleans, who averaged 29.3 points per game.
Atlanta’s offense is putting up a historic season. They’re tough to stop with all-pro receiver Julio Jones on the outside along with two great running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Not to mention, their offense has been on a tear entering the playoffs. They have scored over 30 points in five out of their last six games (the one game they didn’t, they scored 28 points) and averaged 36.7 points per game in that stretch. Stopping their offenses is a tough task.
Seattle’s defense is great, ranking 3rd in the NFL in points against (18.3), but hasn’t played up to that level since their star safety, Earl Thomas, went down with a broken leg. As I mentioned in my preview of the Lions-Seahawks wild card game, the Seahawks gave up 24.5 points per game in the last 6 games of the regular season, the majority of which was without Earl Thomas. However, the Seahawks seemed to have turned their defense around by holding Matthew Stafford and his Lions to just 6 points last weekend in their wild card win.
Seattle’s Offense vs. Atlanta’s Defense
Atlanta has proven that they are going to score at least 30 points per game. Therefore, Seattle’s offense is going to have to step up if they want a chance at winning. Luckily for Seattle, they get to face the 27th ranked defense in points against (25.4) and the 25th ranked defense in yards allowed (371.2). Atlanta’s pass defense is especially weak, so Seattle’s 10th ranked pass offense will have to take advantage if they want to win. Seattle had a good week last week scoring 26 points but will have to improve on that if they want to win against Atlanta.
Atlanta’s offense is explosive and gets the advantage of playing at home, so Seattle will need at least 30 points to win; I think they’ll be able to reach that threshold. This Atlanta team will be tougher to beat than the Atlanta teams that collapsed in the past. However, those past collapses are still going to be in the mind of Matt Ryan and his teammates; until Ryan proves me wrong, he is not a very good playoff QB. Therefore, I think Seattle could get the help of some early turnovers from Atlanta that will help the Seahawks hit the 30 point mark. Without turnovers there is no chance that Seattle can get to the 30 point mark and win this game, even if it is against a terrible Atlanta defense.
Never underestimate experience. On paper, Seattle looks like the underdog, but a team that has had success like they have will always find a way to keep games close.
A few Atlanta turnovers and a solid offensive game from Seattle will result in another NFC championship appearance for the Seahawks.
Seattle 31 Atlanta 28
Here are highlights from Week 6 when Seattle beat Atlanta (26-24) in a close and controversial game: