NFC Divisional Playoffs
(3) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Atlanta Falcons
Seahawks: There’s just something that’s different about them this year. When I look at their offense, their passing attack is lethal and Russell Wilson is more than capable of throwing the football from the pocket but has no problem running it and scrambling when possible. They’ve shifted their offense to a pass first scheme compared to other years where they had such a solid running game. This year, it was a challenge for the Seahawks to run the football and we’ve seen just how vital of a piece Marshawn Lynch was to their offense. After he decided to retire, nobody knew who the replacement would be. Thomas Rawls hasn’t been as strong as expected but last week, he got it going against the Lions in the Wild Card round. Their defense is still amongst one of the best in the league today and they’ve still handled business without Earl Thomas who broke his leg during a game in December. Michael Bennett is by far their best defensive player and I say that because when he missed time with a knee injury, they weren’t as feared. He comes back and wrecks havoc and always puts a consistent pass rush on the quarterback. With a win on Saturday, they will be in their third NFC title game in four seasons. They kick off the second round of the playoffs with a showdown in the ATL.
Falcons: This NFC South division was the Carolina Panthers once again, right? Especially with the reigning MVP having his top receiver back on the field, right? It didn’t quite work out that way. The Atlanta Falcons finally looked like the team we’ve expected them to be all these years and here they are as division champions for the first time in four seasons and the two seed in the NFC playoffs. What’s been the turnaround for them this year? I look at their four-headed monster on offensive. They have two solid running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Julio Jones of course and the glue that holds this all together in Matt Ryan who’s put together the best year of his career and could win his first career MVP award. He’s taken care of the ball and that’s been an issue with him over the years. He’s a veteran guy that’s made some careless throws and it’s made me question his decision making. Let’s also give Kyle Shanahan some credit too for orchestrating this offense and he’s allowed others to get the ball as well, it’s just not Julio but it also helps when you play with a guy like Julio because he demands so much attention. Another reason why the Falcons were so successful was because of their improvement on defense. Keanu Neal has given them a big time spark all around and Vic Beasley is who we all thought he would be. In four of their last six games, they’ve allowed 19 points or less. They get Seattle again and let’s see what they can do in this meeting.
Seahawks Player To Watch: Paul Richardson– We were all introduced to him after he made a spectacular catch on Saturday against Detroit. With Tyler Lockett gone, he’ll need to bring that versatility to the field that Tyler would bring. He’s a six-foot-tall receiver that can line up outside but does the most damage in the slot.
Falcons Player To Watch: Ryan Schraeder– We all know the Seahawks have a great defensive line. They get to the quarterback effortlessly. When they met in week six, they got to Matt Ryan a total of four times. Ryan will be lined up on Cliff Avril and must hold his own or it can be a long day.
Seahawks Keys To The Game– I’d be attacking the offensive line and not allow Ryan to buy anytime from the pocket. The Falcons offensive line can be very vulnerable at times in their pass protection. Making sure Freeman is brought down is also another major priority. He does most of his damage by land so holding him down with containment will be a major point of emphasis.
Falcons Keys To The Game– The first key is to limit Jimmy Graham over the middle. The Falcons as most teams do have really struggled to stop the tight ends and Jimmy is no stranger to the Falcons. He’s always had big games against them. Getting Russell to the opposite side of the pocket is another big thing. With mobile quarterbacks, you want to flush them to their weak side. Lastly, use Taylor Gabriel as the Seahawks have always had some trouble with slot receivers.
Prediction: They had quite the battle in week six. The Falcons could’ve easily won that game. I’m expecting more of a shootout in this one than the first meeting. I like the Falcons to get to the NFC title game. Falcons 31 Seahawks 24