SEATTLE at ATLANTA - OVERVIEW
These teams met in Seattle in Week 6, a 26-24 Seahawks win. Atlanta's offense struggled early, and Seattle took a 17-3 halftime lead. Atlanta bounced back with 3 TD passes from Matt Ryan in the third quarter, two from outside 35 yards, to take the lead before Seattle pulled it out with 10 points in the final five minutes. They faced each other in the playoffs after the 2012 season, also in Atlanta in the Divisional Round. The Falcons won 30-28, blowing a 20-0 second-half lead before winning on a last-second field goal. Ryan also threw 3 TDs in that one, while Russell Wilson threw 2 ...
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... and ran for another. They met again in 2013 (a 33-10 Seahawks win), but that was a lesser Falcons team that finished 4-12 (while Seattle eventually won the Super Bowl). This will probably be another shootout type of game, with both teams putting up plenty of yards and points. The Falcons are favored by 4.5; the over-under of 51.5 is only slightly behind Green Bay-Dallas (52) and nearly a touchdown more than either AFC game. The game will be played indoors (while weather could be a factor for both AFC games).
Seattle was a play away from winning two of the last three Super Bowls, so no one doubts their ability to come up big in the postseason. But they were shaky enough in a lot of road games this season -- just 4-4, which includes scoring 10 points or less against the Rams, Buccaneers and Packers -- that no one should be counting on another championship run, either. Win or lose, though, this is a favorable situation for their offense. Atlanta's defense has some playmakers, but most offenses did just fine against it. Only seven teams allowed more yards, only five allowed more points and only three allowed more touchdowns. Atlanta allowed its opponents to score 3-plus TDs 10 times in 16 games, and half of the exceptions (Broncos, Rams, 49ers, all 27th or worse in total offense) shouldn't really count. Seattle put up 3 TDs and 26 points in winning the earlier meeting, and should be up around those levels again. ... It's a favorable matchup for Russell Wilson. Atlanta ranked 28th against the pass, allowing 281 yards per game. Only four teams allowed more TD passes (31). But before getting too excited about Wilson, note that he had plenty of similar matchups this season, and he disappointed every time. He played five other games against defenses ranked 22nd or worse defending the pass (including Atlanta) and he didn't put up great numbers in any of them -- lousy numbers, in fact, in all three road games.
|Wilson versus lesser pass defenses|
The lesser numbers at home can be qualified; Seattle took big leads and rushed for 3 TDs in each of those games. In at least one of those contests Wilson was limited by injury. Regardless, in three road games against soft pass defenses, he threw a total of 1 TD (and Seattle lost all of them). On the season, Wilson was a pretty average passer (264 yards), and below-average in scoring (21 TDs). He threw for 224 yards and 2 TDs last week against a defense that allowed even more TD passes (33) than this one. We're thinking Wilson will finish a little higher than average on yards, and probably 2 TDs. Straight off the numbers (Wilson averaged with Atlanta's defense) 1.6, though we're going a little higher than that in a possible shootout. Wilson helps himself relative to most of the quarterbacks playing this week by running. He averaged 16 yards per game, but all three of highest totals (80, 29 and 36 yards) came the last six weeks of the season, when he was healthiest. But the biggest passing numbers this week seem likely to come from other NFC quarterbacks, and Tom Brady. ... Seattle had its run game and Thomas Rawls humming against Detroit. The offense finished with 177 yards and 1 TD in that one. But while it may be tempting to view that as the start of a trend, note that Rawls had a huge game against Carolina in Week 13 (106 yards and 2 TDs, part of Seattle rushing for 240), only to carry 49 times for just 123 yards (2.5) over the next four games. Atlanta (like Detroit) has an average type of run defense, but this one's on the road, where Seattle was held under 100 yards six times in eight games, and under 75 in four of those. The Seahawks also fared poorly in the home matchup against this defense. Christine Michael carried 18 times for just 64 yards (3.6); the team rushed for 72. Michael and Alex Collins combined for 3 TDs, but were a little fortunate, with a turnover, pass play and pass interference call setting the offense up near the goal line on each of them. The numbers suggest about 105 rushing yards out of Seattle, with Wilson and perhaps Collins accounting for a portion of that. The wild card is C.J. Prosise, the team's most effective back (albeit on limited touches) during the season. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry, compared to 3.2 for Rawls, and was on his way to his second straight big game when he fractured his scapula in Week 11. He's practicing this week and probably will return; Pete Carroll says he wants to see Prosise practice at 100 percent. "If he's holding back, he won't play," Carroll says. If he plays, he'll probably handle passing situations and get some change-of-pace snaps, maybe a little more if he's more effective. Prosise is a much better pass catcher than Rawls. If Prosise is out, then they'll use Collins on some of those third-down plays. Atlanta allowed 15 rushing TDs during the season, an average to slightly below-average figure, while Seattle scored 13, so strong likelihood of a rushing touchdown, with Rawls the favorite. But our overall sense is of a below-average ground game on the road in an average type of matchup, and against a defense softest against the pass. Rawls will probably be a middle-of-the-pack option among the eight starting running backs this week. ... Doug Baldwin blew up for 11 catches and a touchdown (never mind that it was intended for a different receiver) last week, and he looks fine in this matchup. The Falcons allowed 17 TDs to wide receivers, and only eight teams allowed more. But Baldwin was held in check in Week 6 (4 for 31), while Jimmy Graham caught 6 balls for 89 yards. Relative to the rest of the league, Atlanta was worse defending tight ends, allowing 8 TDs (only five allowed more). Not that anyone should shy away from Seattle's No. 1 wideout, who has double-digit catches in two of his last three games, but we're assigning a little more of the production to Graham this time around. He disappointed with 3 grabs for 37 yards against Detroit, but is more likely to be up over 60-70 yards (as he was in three of his previous six) and a decent chance of scoring. Collectively, 30 TDs by wide receivers and 15 TDs by tight ends between Seattle's offense and Atlanta's defense. Slight drag on Graham is that second tight end Luke Willson scored in two of the team's final three regular season contests, though he's not a big part of the offense (just 11 yards per game). Seattle's other main receivers will be Paul Richardson and Jermaine Kearse, and we're thinking in that order. Kearse started the Detroit game, but was outsnapped and outproduced by Richardson, who turned 4 targets into 3 really impressive catches, including a one-handed touchdown with a defender all over him. The former second-round pick started to come on late in the year, and now has gone over 40 yards in three straight and scored in two of those. The separation with Kearse would be greater had Kearse not tended to come up big in the playoffs in the past, plus he was unlucky not to finish with just as many targets, catches and touchdowns last week. Kearse was the intended target on Baldwin's score, which would have given him touchdowns in six of nine career postseason games. Including Graham, very possible that a couple of these receivers get in the end zone. Graham was the only pass catcher to reach 40 yards in the previous meeting, however. ... Steven Hauschka made 89 percent of his field goals during the season, and converted both chances against Detroit last week. But something is definitely off with him, since he's now missed 7 extra points -- 1 in each of his last three contests -- and even some of the successful kicks have looked shaky. Erratic or not, he averaged a respectable 8 kicking points during the season, and also had 8 in the Week 6 encounter. But the matchup isn't great, with the Falcons allowing just 6.5 kicking points. Their offense scores enough (and their defense is soft enough) that they tend to see a lot more extra points (35, slightly more than average) than field goals (23, a bottom-10 number). ... The Seahawks Defense sacked Matt Ryan 4 times in the initial encounter, collecting a fumble and intercepting him once on a pass off Julio Jones' hands. But Ryan was well below those kind of numbers during the season, turning it over just 9 times (7 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles) and taking 37 sacks, so a little more than 2 per game. Seattle has a top-5 pass rush (42 sacks) so looks good in that regard, but a below-average 11 interceptions (and lost Earl Thomas a month ago). Just 8 fumble recoveries, as well. The Seahawks signed Devin Hester to replace Tyler Lockett on returns, but he doesn't seem to offer much at this point. He favored fair catches against Detroit and didn't make it back to the 20 on his lone kickoff return. Just 1 defensive touchdown for Seattle this season, and 2 allowed by Atlanta.