Seahawks vs. Falcons: Who Has the Edge in Divisional Round Matchup?
After Sunday afternoon's 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins, the Seattle Seahawks will travel to the Georgia Dome next weekend to take on the NFC's top-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the NFL Divisional Round.
At first glance, this is a game of contrasting styles: The Seahawks like to play a tough brand of defense, while the Falcons are equipped with a throng of offensive weapons.
What the NFL has taught us, however, is that, come playoff time, how each team matches up against its potential opponents will determine who advances to the next round.
Let's take a look at the key areas of this game.
Russell Wilson vs. Matt Ryan
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Russell Wilson was able to do for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday what quarterback Matt Ryan has failed to do in three attempts for the Atlanta Falcons: win a playoff game.
However, experience usually prevails in the postseason.
The battle between opposing quarterbacks oftentimes comes down to the supporting cast, and, in this matchup, Ryan has more weapons to lean on.
Though Wilson and Co. enter this game as comfortable in their own skin as any team in the NFL, one win against a hobbled Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins isn't quite enough to vault him ahead of Ryan here.
While a win here would obviously give Wilson the edge—certainly over fellow rookies Griffin and Andrew Luck at this point—Ryan gets the nod right now.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Michael Turner
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Though the Seattle Seahawks leaned on their running game much more than the Atlanta Falcons have this year, the extra work isn't all that Marshawn Lynch and Co. have over the Falcons' rushing attack.
Russell Wilson's ability to escape trouble in the pocket helped the Seahawks to a top-three ranking in terms of rushing offense. But Lynch proved to be one of the more reliable running backs in the league, finishing in the top six in yards, touchdowns and yards per carry.
Robert Turbin and Leon Washington provide Seattle with solid insurance for Lynch as well.
Michael Turner, on the other hand—though he was able to score 10 touchdowns this season—failed to provide the Falcons with a viable rushing attack to balance out their potent aerial assault. His 800 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry are, by far, his worst totals since coming to Atlanta in 2008.
Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have also come up short with their chances in 2012. Neither back is averaging more than 3.9 yards per carry and they have combined to only score one touchdown this season.
The Seahawks' recipe for success includes a strong rushing attack, and they have a huge advantage in this department.
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A team that features receiving targets Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez will have the advantage over most teams in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan do a great job of spreading the ball around to their trusty trio.
The Seattle Seahawks are at a huge disadvantage here.
While the Seahawks are built to mitigate the usage of their receivers, this group, led by Sidney Rice, has done a great job of ushering quarterback rookie Russell Wilson in to the league.
When needing a key grab late or in another critical point in the game, however, Atlanta's group gets the nod in this matchup. Experience will also play a factor here.
Battle in the Trenches
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This matchup has two facets that are highlighted by what each team does best.
When running the ball, the Seattle Seahawks should be able to control the point of attack on their way to a fairly successful day on the ground. The Atlanta Falcons ranked 21st in the NFL against the run, allowing 123.2 yards per game.
When passing the ball and protecting quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons did a fantastic job, only allowing 28 sacks on the season—especially considering Ryan threw the ball 615 times.
The difference in the trenches will be how each team handles the area that they tend to shy away from.
For Seattle, it is how they protect Russell Wilson in passing situations. For Atlanta, it will all come down to how they run the football.
The Seahawks run defense allowed the No. 1 rushing team in the league, the Washington Redskins, to run for only 104 yards on Sunday, and they should be able to completely shut down Michael Turner and Co.
While Wilson was sacked a surprisingly high 33 times on 393 passing attempts, the rookie was very efficient with his chances this season.
Considering how proficient Wilson was in comparison to the Falcons' lack of a rushing attack, the Seahawks get the nod here.
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It is very difficult to argue against a team that finished tops in the league in points allowed and fourth in yardage. The Seattle Seahawks did just that.
While the Atlanta Falcons enter this matchup as one of the more efficient and potent offenses in the league, Seattle should be able to completely shut down their rushing attack—forcing the Falcons to be one-dimensional.
The same can't be said about how Atlanta will approach Seattle's offense, however.
While the Seahawks will focus their offense on running the football, the Falcons are vulnerable in defending the pass—finishing 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed.
Though that total can be somewhat attributed to Atlanta playing ahead on the scoreboard for most of the season, this defensive unit hasn't been consistent enough to stop even the most average of passing attacks.
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Special teams are broken up into three categories: kicking, punting and the return game. Breaking down these areas is pretty self-explanatory.
The advantage in the kicking game (punting included) comes with the experience at the position. That edge definitely goes to the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher.
However, the return game has the ability to change a game in many ways. A touchdown or a big play provides the type of momentum that could propel an entire team.
The Seattle Seahawks have one of the best return men in the game in Leon Washington, while the Falcons utilize a group of players to handle this area.
While games often come down to field position or a game-winning field goal, Washington's ability to focus on his special teams duties gives Seattle the overall advantage in this matchup.
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Atlanta's staff is filled with former head coaches or guys that have made many stops in their careers before landing with the Falcons. Though he is 0-3 in his playoff career, head coach Mike Smith has plenty of colleagues to lean on in this matchup.
The Seattle Seahawks have a coaching staff primarily filled with guys that are short on experience, yet this team has done a fantastic job of putting itself in position to succeed this season.
Still, the coaching advantage is all about experience in this matchup, and the Atlanta Falcons have the edge here.
Overall Advantage: Seahawks 4-3
Though the areas highlighted aren't the only factors for the outcome of this game, it will be interested to see how the Falcons use the home-field and week off to their advantage.
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