The Atlanta Falcons will make a bid to return to the NFC Championship game for the first time in four years when they host the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs.
It will be an emotional night for the franchise as the contest could be the last game they play at the Georgia Dome, which has been their home since 1992, pending the Dallas Cowboys’ result against the Green Bay Packers in their matchup on Sunday night.
The game will be a rematch of the 2012 divisional round where the Falcons edged past the Seahawks, despite a heroic comeback attempt from Russell Wilson in his rookie year.
Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn will be desperate to emulate the club’s victory over Pete Carroll’s men and take them within one game of the Super Bowl.
The Falcons will be well rested ahead of the game, having had the bye week to recuperate from the rigours of the regular season. However, Seattle barely had to get out of first gear to overcome the Detroit Lions in the wildcard round, progressing with relative ease into the last four in the NFC.
The clash between the two sides in the regular season was a thriller, with Matt Ryan orchestrating a second-half comeback after Carroll’s men dominated the opening two quarters. Wilson rallied his side to put enough points on the board as an Earl Thomas interception iced the contest.
Two of the last three matches between the sides have been extremely close, and if the form guide is anything to go by, this contest should be just as thrilling. It’s a case of strength against strength as the Falcons boast one of most potent offenses in the league, while the Seahawks have a formidable defense, although the loss of Thomas could loom large in this game.
Ryan picked up apart the vaunted Denver Broncos’ defense earlier in the campaign a week before Atlanta’s narrow defeat at CenturyLink Field, and without the presence of the All-Pro in Seattle’s secondary, he may be able to guide his side to victory.
Therefore backing Quinn’s men at -220 with BetOnline sportsbook would be the punt to take for this match. However, the +4.5 spread should be covered by the Seahawks as this match will likely be decided by a field goal or less points.
Ryan has been outstanding this term for the Falcons, bouncing back from his underwhelming 2015 season. He rightly is the favourite to win the MVP award even ahead of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as his form has not dipped throughout the campaign, along with the fact that he has played stout defenses, including the Seahawks and Broncos, and still been productive.
His performances are considered more impressive considering that Julio Jones struggled with an injury for the second half of the season, limiting his impact in the offense. As a result, Ryan spread the ball out effectively among Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Only Drew Brees threw for more yards and Ryan’s 38 touchdowns were second in the league behind Rodgers, which gave the Falcons the second-best offense in the NFL. This will be the foundation on which they build their run to the Super Bowl. If the 31-year-old can continue to excel even against the quality Seattle have at their disposal then Atlanta can beat anyone in the NFC.
The running ability of Freeman will also be crucial in easing the pressure on his quarterback. Although Ryan has been terrific, becoming too one-dimensional at this stage of the season can be costly given the ability of the opposing defenses. He racked up his second 1,000 yard campaign and has a propensity to produce big plays at crucial moments, with 13 scores under his belt this term.
Quinn’s knowledge of the Seahawks, having served as their defensive coordinator for two seasons will also be vital. Should the Falcons execute on offense and capitalise on Thomas’ absence they could well reach the NFC title game for the first time in four years.
The Lions proved they were not ready for the bright lights of the playoffs as the Seahawks crushed their hopes of a post-season run. Carroll’s men were far from their best, but made enough plays on both sides of the ball to secure a 26-6 victory. They were opportunistic to capitalise on their opponents’ mistakes to book their place in the division round for the fifth season on the bounce.
Wilson has been inconsistent over the course of the season, but for all of his struggles he always seems to rise to the occasion come playoff time. He missed just seven throws in his side’s wildcard win, aided by a couple of outstanding catches from Paul Richardson.
The 28-year-old’s ability to make quality passes and decisions in crucial moments makes him an extremely dangerous foe for the Falcons, and beyond should the Seahawks progress. Thomas Rawls’ impressive display against the Lions allowed him to thrive with a 161-yard performance, and should the back maintain his form then Seattle will prove to be a tough obstacle for Quinn’s men.
Defense has been the strength of the Seahawks since Carroll’s arrival in 2010, but this year they face their biggest test due to the absence of Thomas. Since the All-Pro sustained a broken leg against the Carolina Panthers, they have been exposed to the deep ball as well as passes over the middle.
Matt Stafford failed to take advantage of his absence, but Ryan will not make the same mistake. There is enough talent with Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor to keep Ryan and his offense at bay, but they will have to be flawless in the Georgia Dome.
This will be a titanic battle between two of the best teams in the NFL, with the finesse of the Falcons’ offense meeting the brute force of the Seahawks’ defense. Atlanta are on home soil and given the fact that this could be the final match in the Georgia Dome, Quinn’s men will be fired up to send the stadium off in style.
Thomas’ injury is huge given that he made the play that secured Seattle’s win over the NFC South outfit earlier in the campaign. Ryan and Jones will be aiming to capitalise on his absence and due to the number of other weapons the 31-year-old has at his disposal he should be able to drive the Falcons to the NFC Championship game.
Atlanta Falcons to beat Seattle Seahawks
Saturday 14th January 16:25 ET (21:25 GMT)
Seattle Seahawks to cover 4.5 spread
Saturday 14th January 16:25 ET (21:25 GMT)