The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the best regular season teams in the NFL since drafting Matt Ryan third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
He has compiled a 55-23 record during his first five seasons and has thrown for at least 3,000 yards in four of those five seasons. The only time he didn't reach the 3,000 yard milestone, he missed two games with a foot injury. No quarterback has more regular season wins than Matt Ryan does over the last five seasons.
The problem with Matt Ryan is his playoff record: 0-3.
It shouldn't all be on the quarterback, but this is the National Football League and the QB always gets the praise or flack no matter what. In Ryan's defense, the three teams he lost to all made the Super Bowl, and two of them took home the Lombardi Trophy.
Unfortunately for Ryan, he has fallen flat on his face during the postseason. He has never thrown for more than 200 yards in any of his three previous playoff appearances and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Things won't get any easier for Ryan and company this Sunday because the hottest team in the NFC is on their way to the Georgia Dome.
The Seattle Seahawks haven't lost since November 25th and their average margin of victory is 23.8 points/game during their six-game winning streak. Seattle has been one of the best teams in the NFL over the second half of the season because of the maturation of rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson.
During Seattle's six-game winning streak, Wilson has thrown for 1,254 yards and has a 10/2 TD/interception ratio. He has another 329 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns. He has not had a passer rating below 88 and is completing 64% of his passes during this stretch. He's averaging 7.3 yards/carry and 54.8 yards/game and his ability to scramble and extend plays is something very few quarterbacks can do.
Wilson led Seattle to their first road playoff victory in 29 years last week at Fed Ex Field against the Washington Redskins. A lot of people, including myself, think it would have been a different game if Robert Griffin III didn't re-injure his knee in the first quarter, but that is irrelevant because injuries are part of the game. Pete Carroll outcoached Mike Shanahan by a landslide. It is truly remarkable when you think about it, Carroll had two career playoff wins before last Sunday, Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings. The Seahawks defense held the Redskins to 74 total yards during the final three quarters.
There will be three crucial factors that will determine the outcome on Sunday afternoon. One bird will get their wings clipped, while the other will fly out needing one more win to reach Super Bowl XLVII in "The Big Easy."
1.) FALCONS WIDE RECEIVERS vs. SEAHAWKS DEFENSIVE BACKS
This will be the best matchup of the weekend. Arguably the best duo of receivers lining up against the "Legion of Boom." Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are two of the biggest and most physical corners in the NFL. They are going to have their hands full against Roddy White and Julio Jones, who are two of the most talented wide receivers in the game.
Roddy White was ninth in the NFL with 1,351 receiving yards and had seven touchdowns on the season. Julio Jones was 11th in the NFL with 1,198 receiving yards and his 10 touchdowns were tied for seventh best in the league.
White, 6', 211 lbs., and Jones, 6'3", 220 lbs., are two of the bigger wide receivers in the NFL and have extremely good speed for big guys. It will be important for White and Jones to be elusive at the line of scrimmage because they will see non-stop press coverage all afternoon against the Seahawks.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they haven't faced a secondary like the Seattle Seahawks all season. Only five wide receivers have had 100 yards receiving against Seattle this year. The Seahawks only allowed 10 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers this year, fifth best in the NFL.
They finished sixth in the NFL in pass defense allowing 203.1 yards/game. Their secondary is the main reason why they had the top scoring defense in the NFL, allowing 15.1 points/game.
Richard Sherman, 6'3", 200 lbs., and Brandon Browner, 6'4", 220 lbs., form one of the biggest defensive back combos we have ever seen. They are two of the best corners at press coverage and make it extremely difficult to beat bump and run coverage.
Richard Sherman joined Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and Walt Harris as the only players to have eight interceptions and three forced fumbles in a season over the last decade. Sherman is the most underrated corner in the NFL and was the biggest Pro Bowl snub this year.
Furthermore, if they do get beat, then you have to deal with two of the best safeties in the NFL, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Earl Thomas has flourished since being taken 14th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. There is not a better safety in the NFL. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and is one of the best cover safeties in the NFL.
He is the next Ed Reed in the making.
During his first three seasons in the NFL he has 10 interceptions, 23 pass deflections, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and averaging 80 tackles a season.
Chancellor was taken in the same draft, except he was selected 119 picks after Thomas, 133rd overall in the fifth round. Chancellor is one of the best safeties in the NFL at stuffing the run and he is better than average in coverage. Chancellor and Thomas form the best safety duo in the NFL.
It will be crucial for Tony Gonzalez to have a big game on Sunday. Roddy White and Julio Jones are going to have a tough day on Sunday. Gonzalez is still playing at a high-level in his 16th season in the NFL. He finished ninth in the NFL with 93 receptions and had 930 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
Tony Gonzalez has had the same diagnosis as Matt Ryan over the years: playoffitus.
He is 0-5 in his postseason career. He wants this win more than anyone, even Arthur Blank, the man who writes the checks for the Atlanta Falcons.
This will be the most important matchup on Sunday. It will be crucial for Atlanta to have success through the air because they finished the regular season fourth worst in rushing. If the Falcons struggle passing on Sunday the Seahawks will win by double-digits.
Seattle has the best secondary in the NFL, and don't expect it to stop on Sunday. Matt Ryan will have another tough day through the air and expect Earl Thomas to make a few big plays on Sunday. Sherman and Browner are two of the best corners at bump and run coverage and Jones and White will be frustrated all day long.
It seems like playoff games always come down to one thing: who wins the turnover battle. During Wild Card weekend, two of the games had the same margin of turnovers, and take a guess who lost in the other two game?
Yeah, you guessed right, the teams that lost the turnover battle are watching the playoffs at home now.
During the regular season both teams finished tied for fourth in the NFC with 18 turnovers.
Wait, we aren't done there.
Both teams finished tied for fourth in the NFC forcing 31 turnovers apiece.
Turnovers are going to be a deciding factor on Sunday. Both teams have done an outstanding job over the last five weeks taking care of the football.
The Falcons only turned the football over two times during the last five weeks of the regular season and forced 12 turnovers.
During Seattle's last five game, including the playoffs, Seattle turned the football over three times and forced 16 turnovers.
Russell "Magic" Wilson has done an outstanding job taking care of the football, especially as of late. Wilson has turned the rock over 16 times this season, 10 interceptions and six fumbles lost, but has only turned the football over three times since Week 9. The Seahawks are 8-1 during this stretch.
One of Atlanta's biggest strength is their corners. Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson form a very dangerous duo at corner.
Samuel has always been one of the best corners at picking off quarterbacks. He has 50 career interceptions, one of only 39 players in NFL history to have at least 50. He had five interceptions this season, his first year in Atlanta and the Falcons will need him to get his hands on the ball against Wilson.
Over Matt Ryan's last nine games he has turned the football over nine times, eight interceptions and one fumble. Atlanta was 6-3 during that stretch. He will be going up against the top scoring defense on Sunday and it will be the best defense he has faced this year.
Whoever wins the turnover battle on Sunday will put themselves in a good position to move onto the NFC Championship. Seattle's defense has been down right nasty during their six-game winning streak and I don't think it's going to stop now. Matt Ryan will be extremely frustrated with Seattle's bump and run pass coverage all afternoon.
3.) BEASTMODE vs. ATLANTA RUN DEFENSE
Marshawn Lynch has been the second best running back in the NFL this season and #BeastMode has taken twitter by storm this year.
The Seattle Seahawks might not be playing this Sunday if it wasn't for Marshawn Lynch. He made the biggest play of the game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon. Washington had a 14-3 lead with 7:59 left in the second quarter when Russell Wilson fumbled the ball on their own 43-yard line, Lynch scooped the ball up with one hand and ran for 20-yards. If Washington picks up the fumble who knows what happens in that game. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on this drive and cut the Washington lead to 14-10.
The rest was history.
During the regular season, Lynch ran for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns averaging five yards/carry. He was third in the NFL in rushing, T-5th in rushing touchdowns and fourth among running backs in yards/carry. Lynch also finished fifth in the NFL with 639 yards rushing after contact. Also, the best attribute for Lynch is he gets better as the game goes. His 354 yards rushing in the fourth quarter was third best in the NFL.
Keep in mind, he didn't play in the fourth quarter against Arizona and Buffalo because the game was well over by then.
The big ugly's for Seattle have been phenomenal this season. Left tackle, Russell Okung, is one of the best offensive tackles in the game. Max Unger, the four-year pro out of Oregon, is one of the best centers in the NFL. Okung and Unger both were named starters for the NFC Pro Bowl team, but they are both hoping they aren't playing in that one because they want to be getting ready for SB XLVII. Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson would not be having great season's if it was not for the five big ugly's this season.
Atlanta will have their hands full trying to stop Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle ground attack. The Seahawks were third in the NFL averaging 161.2 yards/game rushing. The Falcons finished 21st in the NFL allowing 123.2 yards/game on the ground.
Lynch was fifth in the NFL in rushing yards after contact and only the Kansas City Cheifs defense allowed more yards after contact than the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons defense has struggled all season against physical running backs.
Marshawn Lynch had 20 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown against Washington last week and 79 of those yards came in the second half. Seattle rushed for 224 yards against the Redskins, who entered the Wild Card weekend as the fifth best rush defense in the NFL. Russell Wilson scampered for 67 yards on eight carries and caused problem all afternoon against the Redskins.
Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas are going to have to step up on Sunday if they want to stop Lynch and the Seahawks rushing attack. The Falcons linebacker's have not been good at stopping the run all season but they will get their opportunity to prove all the doubters wrong this Sunday.
I am one of those doubters, and I expect Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson to have a field day running the rock. Lynch has eclipsed the century mark in nine of his last 11 games and has rushed for 10 touchdowns. Wilson has rushed for 329 yards over his last six games and four touchdowns.
The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the best teams at home this season, posting a 7-1 record. The one-loss doesn't mean much because it came in Week 17 when they already clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Seattle Seahawks struggled on the road early on in the season, but have been a very good road team down the stretch. They started the season 1-5 on the road this year, but have won their last three road games.
Matt Ryan needs to have a great game if he wants to beat the hottest team in the NFC. He is 0-3 in his playoff career and a win against Seattle would get the monkey off his back. The Falcons rushing attack was a no show this season, finishing 29th in the NFL.
Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will be too much for Atlanta to handle. Wilson has taken the league by storm during the second half of the season and his calm demeanor makes him the perfect quarterback to win back-to-back road games in the playoffs. Most rookie quarterbacks would panic being down 14-0 on the road, but not Wilson. He was calm the entire game against Washington and he never thought for one second the Seahawks were going to lose that game.
Matt Ryan's postseason career will fall to 0-4 on Sunday. Tony Gonzalez will have to come back next year if he wants a chance to win his first playoff game. The Seattle Seahawks are the hottest team in the NFC and they will be one win away from playing in Super Bowl XLVII.
Russell Wilson will make enough plays when it matters to lead Seattle to an easy victory in the Georgia Dome. Marshawn Lynch will have no problem eclipsing the century mark, even with his banged up foot. The Seahawks secondary will give White, Jones and Gonzalez problems all day long and will come up with a couple of big turnovers that will prove to be the difference.
SEATTLE 27 ATLANTA 17
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