Can Matt Ryan finally win a playoff game? Have the Seattle Seahawks suddenly become road warriors? Let's dig into this compelling match-up and see where the value lies.
Here's an interesting point spread to talk about. Last week in the Vegas look-ahead lines, the Falcons were listed as -3 point favorites vs the Seahawks, but after Seattle handled the Redskins they re-opened it at -2.5.
So what's changed during the week? Well, not much. Perhaps reluctantly, most books have moved the line to -3 with a bit extra juice if you like the underdog (odds from SBRforum). Essentially this line sits at -2.75 so if you like the Falcons you can grab -2.5 at an affordable price too.
The Dark Cloud of Failure
The Falcons coaches and players can talk all they want about how they aren't thinking about their lack of playoff success, but that's the most obvious lie of the century.
The big playoff "but" for the Falcons is likely going to come down to whether or not the changes at the coordinator position will make a difference this weekend. They've had excellent teams before, as well as home field advantage.
Mike Smith runs a well-oiled machine and Atlanta have thrived over the last few seasons in areas often overlooked. When a team consistently does the little things right, you have to wonder why the playoff success hasn't followed.
The name of the game for the offseason was "aggressiveness". That was the driving force behind the hiring of both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan. So far this season the moves have paid off in a big way and it's a primary reason why I believed in this Atlanta team when many others didn't.
They are also a main reason why the Falcons are above average in 12 of the 17 advanced stat categories I follow, and near the top five of them (QB, 3rd down offense, red zone defense, net avg field position, and fewest offensive penalties).
In a nutshell, these aren't your same Atlanta Falcons. Last season they lost almost every big game they were in, but this season they are 7-2 in games decided by eight points or less.
Match-Ups, Match-Ups, Match-Ups
The problem for Atlanta is who they drew as an opponent this week. The Falcons are built to win in today's pass-happy NFL, but the Seahawks are built to exploit Atlanta's approach. Seattle is not only great at rushing the ball, but they are also great at defending the pass. That's not a good combination if you're the Falcons.
The Seahawks haven't been as stout vs the run in the 2nd half of the season as they were in the first half, but it's not an area that the Falcons are very efficient at anyways.
Of course, it doesn't help Seattle that they lost a key defensive player in Chris Clemons. This guy was a vital piece of their line who could play both the run and rush the passer. This kept him on the field more than any other lineman on the team.
Thankfully they have an up-and-coming threat in Bruce Irvin. He's not an all-around player yet, but since the Falcons are a pass-first team, his presence could create havoc in the backfield.
That said, the Falcons have done a good job protecting Ryan this year and the Seahawks pass rush hasn't been as good as it was earlier in the year. Yet, even if Ryan does get time he'll have his work cut out for him facing the likes of Browner, Sherman, and Chancellor in coverage.
And speaking of Ryan, how will he respond in his big moment? Well we've asked this question three times before and for much of his playoff career he's been seen with a bewildered look on his face. I'm a fan of Ryan, but he should call Romo and ask him how heavy the monkey can get. Will he get it off his back this year? If not, he won't have any excuses this time around. All the pieces are in place for him to get it done.
Offensively, the Seahawks have their own questions with Lynch's foot, but Turbin should get more attention here. He's not going to get the extra yards that Lynch gets, but he's been a solid contributer all year.
They'll line up against a rested Falcons defense, but how healthy are Robinson, Samuel, and Abraham? If any of them can't play near 100%, there is a big dropoff with their replacements.
It should also be noted that the Falcons have gotten torched twice this season by another read-option offense in the Panthers. Carolina rushed for 199 and 195 yards in those games.
Another key for Seattle will be converting red zone chances into touchdowns instead of field goals. Both teams are identical in their red zone rankings on both sides of the ball this year, but Seattle has been rising fast up the charts with their red zone offense during their win streak.
Seattle also boasts a key advantage with their offensive 3rd down efficiency vs Atlanta's 3rd down defense. It might be a draw inside the 20, but the Seahawks might be able to stay on the field longer and create more red zone chances if they continue the play they've shown over the last couple months. The threat that Wilson presents in the backfield is something the Falcons defense is going to have to figure out, especially in the "make-or-break-moments". The kid has already shown he's ready for prime time, so I like his odds at coming through in the clutch.
Of all the teams in the league, Atlanta must be banging their heads on the wall with this match-up. Seattle matches up brilliantly with them on both sides of the ball. If Atlanta hope to win this game they'll need some special moments and/or fortunate luck.
And if they fall behind? I think Falcon-Nation will be holding their collective breath in nervous dread. There is absolutely no pressure on Seattle, and the weight of the world on Atlanta. The Seahawks will win this game unless the Falcons rise up and have one of their best games of the season.
NFL Pick: SEA +3.