By John Boyle
Since the Seahawks beat Washington to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs, there has been a growing sentiment around the country that Atlanta, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, is the home team most likely to lose this weekend. Some have taken it further, saying it would be a surprise if the Falcons beat the Seahawks.
And while I agree that Seattle probably is the road team with the best chance to win, that has more to do with how well the Seahawks have played in the second half of the season, and less to do with the idea so many people seem to have that Atlanta isn’t a very good team. Do the Falcons have flaws? Sure, every team does, but you just don’t go 13-3 in the NFL without being a darn good football team. Throw in the fact that they’re playing at home and have had an extra week to rest and plan for the Seahawks, and it’d be foolish to assume that the Seahawks have an easy path to the NFC Championship game.
The Falcons ranked 7th in the NFL in scoring at 26.2, 5th in points allowed (18.7), and they were tied for 5th (with Seattle, as it turns out) in turnover differential at plus-13. That’s a pretty balanced team, no?
And yes, the Falcons are vulnerable in areas, most notably on the ground where they ranked 29th in rushing yards per game, but when a team has options in the passing game like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, that can go a long way to compensate for a lack of a ground attack.
“Wow, they’ve got great receivers,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Roddy and Julio, those guys are fantastic players. You’re going to see the biggest, longest looking guys going one-on-one out there. It’s going to be really a great matchup to watch, and our guys are going to try and play really good football—just like we always do—and not change anything. They’re so good, so it’s going to be an interesting aspect of this game.”
On Gonzalez, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history, Carroll said, “Nobody can cover him. He’s just killed everybody for a whole career. He’s a fantastic football player.”
So no, even if the Seahawks are suddenly the “it” team in the NFL, they aren’t buying the talk that the Falcons are vulnerable. Yes, the pressure is on Atlanta, which is 0-3 in the postseason in the last four years, and yes, the Seahawks are playing incredibly well (warnings aside, I’m leaning towards picking Seattle), but this game no doubt represents a big challenge for the Seahawks.
“We have tremendous respect for the Atlanta team,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Mike Smith has done a great job with this club for a number of years. They have been on their game and on the top of the league for some time now with really good efficient play, good defense, good running game, good throwing game, highlighted players all over the place, and a real good discipline about their style of play. So it’s going to be a fantastic challenge for us.”