Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons’ 0-3 record in the playoffs since 2008 is well-known and brought up aplenty. The pressure is on for the Falcons to get that playoff win.
Atlanta was bounced out of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion the last two years, losing 48-21 to the Green Bay Packers in 2010, and 24-2 to the New York Giants in 2011.
The common denominator with those two teams is they were both hot heading into the playoffs and consequently won the Super Bowl.
The Seattle Seahawks present a similar issue: Counting last week’s wild card victory over the Washington Redskins, they’ve won six games in a row. In those six games, they’ve outscored their opponents 217-74, and that includes a 58-0 massacre of the Arizona Cardinals.
Following last season’s debacle, the Falcons hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to replace Mike Mularkey, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan succeeded Brian VanGorder.
Ryan has flourished in Koetter’s vertical offense. He completed 422 of 615 passes (68.9) for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns – all career and franchise highs.
On the defensive side of the ball, free safety Thomas DeCoud had a career year as well. He intercepted six balls; his previous season-high was four in 2011. He mysteriously wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl, but he indeed had a Pro Bowl year.
What the Falcons haven’t done well this year is stop the run, and the Seahawks present a huge problem in the form of Marshawn Lynch. The running back rushed for 1,590 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Last week against the Redskins, Lynch rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Atlanta was ranked 21st against the run and allowed 4.8 yards per carry during the regular season, so that’s a weakness Seattle will look to exploit.
Lynch’s running prowess allowed rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to be successful in his first year, who tied the record for touchdown passes by a rookie (26) set by Peyton Manning. Wilson also made few mistakes, throwing just 10 interceptions.
The game’s real battle will take place between Atlanta’s stud receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White going up against Seattle’s monster cornerbacks in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Both duos are physical, but the cornerbacks have a size advantage: Browner is listed as 6’4” and Sherman at 6’3”.
However, the Falcons have the X-factor in tight end Tony Gonzalez. If Seattle’s cornerbacks are able to shut down Atlanta’s receivers (and, bias aside, it shouldn’t happen), Gonzalez would be a challenge to contain.
Atlanta gained a bit of an advantage after Seattle’s top pass rusher in defensive end Chris Clemons tore his ACL. Also, the Falcons are getting healthy and will have defensive end John Abraham, strong safety William Moore, and cornerback Dunta Robinson available for Sunday.
Another advantage for Atlanta: They finished the season 7-1 at home, and Seattle went 3-5 on the road. Furthermore, it will be the second consecutive week the Seahawks have had to make a cross-country flight.
I think the Falcons finally get a win in the playoffs. The franchise understands how much they need to win this game, and I believe they will get it done.
Points Scored: 26.2 (7th)
Total Offense: 369.1 (8th)
Passing Offense: 281.8 (6th)
Rushing Offense: 87.3 (29th)
Points Allowed: 18.7 (5th)
Total Defense: 365.6 (24th)
Passing Defense: 242.4 (23rd)
Rushing Defense: 123.2 (21st)
Points Scored: 25.8 (9th)
Total Offense: 350.6 (17th)
Passing Offense: 189.4 (27th)
Rushing Offense: 161.2 (3rd)
Points Allowed: 15.3 (1st)
Total Defense: 306.2 (4th)
Passing Defense: 203.1 (6th)
Rushing Defense: 103.1 (10th)