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NFL Playoffs Preview: Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons

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I keep telling myself the Falcons are going to win a playoff game one of these years, and yet they keep getting these extremely unfavorable matchups. As if that wasn’t tough enough, this time around they also carry the burden of high expectations.

After finishing the season 13-3, many fans and commentators still aren’t convinced that this group is for real. They did what they did playing one of the easiest schedules in the league, and even then had some really ugly wins against teams they should have destroyed. That being said, they did do enough to earn home field advantage through the playoffs as the number one seed. They went 7-1 at home this season, and even if some of those wins were about as sketchy as it gets, they were still wins. They now host the league’s hottest team in the Seattle Seahawks.

All I keep hearing is how different this year’s Atlanta Falcons are; well, what better chance to prove it than against these Seahawks.

Following the Seahawks’ 24-12 drubbing of the Washington Redskins they went back to Seattle and left for Atlanta over the weekend. How much of an effect this will have no one knows. It’s also going to be a 10am start for the Seahawks based on the difference in time zone. Much is being made of the ridiculous amount of travel Pete Carroll has inflicted upon his team, but based on what we’ve all seen up to this point, I think it almost seems foolish to question anything Carroll does. His team will be ready.

All football games are a series of isolated battles between opposing positions, but never has that been so obviously the case as it will be on Sunday. You’ve got the league’s best secondary against (arguably) the league’s best group of receivers. The Legion of Boom features two all pro members in Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and one has to think they are up to the task. In all three of Matt Ryan’s playoff losses he didn’t reach the 200 yard mark, and if the Seattle secondary can keep him below 200 on Sunday, consider this game as good as lost for the Falcons.

Since just about everybody in the football world is anticipating Roddy White and Julio Jones to at the very least run into considerable difficulty with the Seahawks’ corners, there is a certain expectation for Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas having to pick up the slack. Count me among them. Harry Douglas’ stats don’t necessarily jump off the screen at you, but if you watch enough Falcons game tape you realize this guy ain’t no slouch either. He’s about as fast as they get, and runs a pretty good route. He might put up some half decent numbers if he didn’t have players like Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez to share the ball with but since he does he kind of flies under the radar. Speaking of Gonzalez, he had his best season as a Falcon this year and saying he’s all kinds of pumped to make one last run at the Super Bowl is one hell of an understatement. Expect him to have a future hall of famer type performance, as the Falcons have never needed it from him as much as they will Sunday.

Both teams are relatively injury free, save both clubs’ best pass rushers. Kind of funny how that worked out... Not the injury, but the whole both teams losing their best defensive ends part... John Abraham sprained his ankle in the last game of the season, when Mike Smith had all his starters out in the league’s most meaningless game all year. A decision that could come back to haunt him. Abraham is listed as questionable as of Friday, after being probable all week. Sounds to me like he’s not going to be in top form, assuming he plays. There is a lot less uncertainty surrounding the Seahawks injury report. Chris Clemons is out for the rest of the season, and probably a big chunk of the next one too. Fortunately for the Seahawks they have Bruce Irvin to step in for Clemons. If Abraham doesn’t suit up however, the talent drop off will be massive. It would be a huge loss for the Falcons to be sure.

The Falcons struggled mightily against the read option all season, and this will only improve Seattle’s already good chances of coming out of this one on top. The only two times the Falcons ever really faced a team committed to the read option, in a similar fashion to the Seahawks, was against the Carolina Panthers. They also faced Washington once but believe it or not they didn’t use the read option once against the Falcons. Back to the Falcons' difficulties with the Panthers' utilization of the read option though. They went 1-1 in the two games against them, and shouldn’t have even won the one game they did. They got ran all over, and even their linebacking corps which I consider to be one of the faster one’s in the league, looked all kinds of out of place and sluggish. They gave up 394 yards rushing in those two games. One can only hope the Seahawks can work the read option with as much success as the Panthers did.

This is about as even a matchup as I’ve seen in a long time. Two very different teams that play football two very different ways. It will be fun to watch, that much I can guarantee. Looking at the two teams on paper and their stats and the game tape I can’t help but consider the Seahawks the better team. They destroy teams they should beat, and beat teams they shouldn’t. The Falcons, not so much. Even taking all that into account though, something tells me Matty Ice and these Atlanta Falcons are ready to put their 0-3 playoff record behind them and move forward. If the team as a whole doesn’t, expect Mike Smith to be left behind.

You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOv

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