Depending on your criteria for superstition – or simply which side you choose to follow – Saturday’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons is either a slam-dunk victory for the Seahawks or a sure-fire loss.
The reason for optimism: The Seahawks have won 10 of their past 15 playoff games, including a 7-2 mark starting with their Super Bowl run in 2014.
The reason for panic: Seattle has lost their past eight matchups in the playoffs when they’ve entered as a road underdog.
On Saturday, the Falcons are favored by five.
On paper, however, there’s a lot to like if you’re a Seahawks fan. For starters – after his 161-yard performance in the Wild Card round against the Detroit Lions, it appears as if – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – Thomas Rawls and the running game may be clicking. Rawls’ running style (bone-crushing, relentless) is only effective if the offensive line is capable of opening up clear running lanes for him. He’s not going to out-shift anyone. Against the Lions, who put out a pretty good defensive line, they were able to do just that.
Because of that, the Falcons have an extra wrinkle to think about.
But perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the Falcons’ secondary, which surrendered 267 yards per game through the air, putting them 28th in the league. That bodes well for Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, and Co., who combined for 210 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Lions - not astronomical numbers, but efficient.
On the other side of the ball, NFL MVP-hopeful Matt Ryan goes up against a Seattle secondary that allowed just 226 yards per game, despite missing Earl Thomas the past few weeks. Ryan has been a revelation this season, shedding the somewhat overblown label he was beginning to accrue as a guy who couldn’t lead his team when it mattered. The Falcons – albeit while playing in a weak NFC South – snatched the #2-seed, earned their Bye Week, and could potentially not leave the state of Georgia until the Super Bowl if everything break right.
But in this Seahawks team, they’re facing an unknown sqyad, one that appears to be (potentially?) turning the corner.
It’s only been two games, and the opponents (San Francisco and Detroit) weren’t world-beaters, but Seattle has won two in a row, and already owns a victory over Atlanta this season, a 26-24 triumph back in October. The run game, maybe, is intact; Wilson is having a banner year; and they could welcome back rookie-sensation C.J. Prosise, who burst onto the scene earlier in the season before injuring his shoulder and missing the past seven games.
But despite the loss this season, perhaps the Falcons can take something away from their narrow defeat in October.
“To go into Seattle and not just run the Seahawks close, but actually require some controversial officiating late in the game to prevent them coming back to win the game, made the point that this Falcons offense is very much legit and a force to be reckoned with. They, of course, proved that to be true for the remainder of the season, scoring 540 points on the year, 99 more than any other team in the league and the seventh-best figure in NFL history.”
The big key for the Seahawks could be simply getting pressure on Matt Ryan. When teams have failed to do so, he’s been nearly un-human in his abilities.
This also from PFF:
“When Ryan has been kept clean this season he has been virtually unstoppable, with a passer rating of 128.9, 5.9 points better than any other QB. He has completed 77.3 percent of his passes (best in the NFL), been accurate on 82.2 percent adjusted for drops (best in the NFL), and has thrown a touchdown on 8.6 percent of his pass attempts (by far the best in the NFL). Putting him under pressure this season isn’t having the same effect it has typically had over the rest of his career, but it does at least make him human.”
In a matchup this close, one or two plays could make the difference. Experience, poise, and confidence will go a long way. With their two Super Bowl appearances in the past three years, a veteran roster, and a victory over the Falcons already, despite their underdog status, all signs point to a Seahawks win.
Seattle 24, Atlanta 23