Falcons-Seahawks Preview: Atlanta Again Faces Team on Hot Streak in Playoffs

After Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a playoff victory over the Washington Redskins last week in his first playoff game, he had more playoff wins (1) than Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (0), whose Falcons have been the second most successful regular season team in the NFL the last five seasons.

He also had more playoff wins than Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (0), who has the dubious distinction of having played in the most postseason games without a playoff win. 

When Seattle plays Atlanta on Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game, the feel-good stories about Wilson, the underdog quarterback who was told he was too short to play in the NFL before proving the doubters wrong en route to having one of the best rookie seasons in history, will be ready to be written.

The headlines about Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and his arch-nemesis Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers coach he has feuded with since Harbaugh coached at Stanford and Carroll at USC, whose paths always seem destined to clash, will be ready to be splashed -- and hyped, especially because Harbaugh’s 49ers await the Atlanta-Seattle winner in the NFC championship game. 

The ledes about how Seattle is this year's team of destiny will be ready to be printed.  

But Seattle enters the game shorthanded, as their defensive stalwart and pass-rusher, Chris Clemons, tore his ACL last week against Washington and is out for the season. Seattle will also be battling their circadian rhythms. Consider this: Seattle traveled cross country to Washington, D.C. last week, flew back to Seattle and then back east to Atlanta to play in a 1 p.m. EST game that has notoriously been a tough time slot for west coast teams because these games are like 10 a.m. games to their bodies. 

Though Seattle’s defense gave up the fewest points in the NFL this year, they looked vulnerable, particularly their secondary, against the Redskins last week before Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III re-injured his knee and was rendered ineffective. Washington jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead against the vaunted Seahawks defense in the first quarter of last week's game. 

Atlanta has better receivers than the Redskins. Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, the former Alabama standout who combines speed, size, and agility, will battle against Seattle’s secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman, who will have to focus and pay close attention to Atlanta’s wideouts, especially if Seattle’s Bruce Irvin, who will be replacing the injured Clemons at defensive end, is unable to pressure Ryan, the Falcons quarterback, as effectively as Clemons could have.

While the battle between Seattle's corners and Atlanta's wide receivers will be hyped, pay close attention to how Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch does against the Falcons weak rushing defense and how Atlanta running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, the jitterbug, do against a Seahawks front seven playing without Clemons.  

If the game remains close in the fourth quarter, the edge has to go to the Seahawks. Their signal caller Wilson has the intangibles and poise in the big moments that Ryan and the Falcons have lacked the last five years. And the Falcons may feel a sense of Déjà vu, as they have lost to the streaky wild card team (Packers, Cardinals, Giants) in previous playoffs. This is also an important game for Ryan -- he either turns the corner by being victorious or risks forever being tagged as the quarterback who struggles to lead his team in big moments. 

But the travel-weary and depleted Seahawks must be extra careful to avoid early knockout punches -- from a well-rested Falcons team -- from which they will not be able to recover. Like their cornerback Sherman, the Seahawks need to be alert -- and wide awake -- from the opening kickoff. 


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