NFL Divisional Playoffs: 6 Things Seahawks Fans Should Know About the Falcons
The stage has been set.
At 1 p.m. ET Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons (13-3) will host the Seattle Seahawks (12-5) in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. The winner will face either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Led by Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have been one of the many darlings of the league in 2012. They are also the hottest team in the NFL not quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, winning eight of the last nine games, including Sunday's NFC Wild Card Game on the road against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Seattle's victory and hot streak might make them a sexy pick against a Falcons team that flopped in its first three tries in the playoffs under head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
But, this year's flock of birds from the South aren't of the same breed.
While Atlanta's season has been seemingly ignored by the media because of its playoff failures in the past (because that makes sense), the Falcons have plenty of reason to be confident about this Sunday's marquee matchup under the big top.
Matt Ryan Had an All-Pro Year
Matt Ryan flirted with serious MVP discussion during the 2012 campaign, and while he's now on the outside looking in, he was still voted as the No. 2 quarterback for the NFC Pro Bowl squad and broke franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season (4,719 and 32, respectively).
Atlanta is now a throw-first team, and still teams have struggled to contain Matty Ice.
Ryan has also been helped out by an offensive line that has been refreshingly good at protecting the quarterback. The front five's 29 allowed sacks ranks seventh in the NFL.
Even if Seattle stops Atlanta's running game, which has not existed much of this season, it still will have its hands full with the smarts of Ryan.
Ryan not only functions very well in a hurry-up offense that he orchestrates, but the extra time off means Ryan will be very ready to play on Sunday.
He doesn't have that Aaron Rodgers-type of zip to his throws, but he might be the smartest starting quarterback in the NFL. Ryan can beat you with his play-calling and decision-making, especially in his own stadium.
The Only Teams to Beat Atlanta Were in the NFC South
Atlanta went just 3-3 against the NFC South this season and 10-0 against the rest of the NFL.
Tampa Bay and Carolina also nearly beat the Falcons in their first tries earlier in the year. If anything, it was pretty apparent that the division knew a lot more about how to deal with Atlanta than the rest of the league.
Seattle is not as familiar of a foe and might want to dig into Atlanta's divisional game tape to find the secrets to knocking out the NFC's No. 1 seed from its own building.
The End Zone Will Be Hard to Find
Atlanta's defensive numbers aren't flashy when you first look at them.
The Falcons rank 21st in the NFL against the run and 23rd against the pass. Seattle has better numbers in both categories by a landslide.
But, Atlanta's defense, led by the scheming and crafty Mike Nolan, is top five in the league in points allowed and turnovers forced.
This is a team that might let you do some things between the 30s, but don't expect any handouts once you get into the red zone.
It's called the red zone for a reason; the red jerseys dominate it.
Atlanta Beat 3 Super Bowl-Winning Quarterbacks in 2012
The Falcons have proven this season that they are ready for playoff-caliber opponents.
In fact, they even made life miserable for three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks who entered the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta intercepted Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter against Denver in Week 2 to secure a victory over arguably the best team in the NFL.
Drew Brees claimed he owned the division when he entered the Georgia Dome on Nov. 29, but didn't seem so confident in backing up his words after throwing five interceptions to the Atlanta defense.
And Eli Manning, who was apparently destined to make a statement to the nation when the Giants traveled to Atlanta for a big-time late-season game with playoff implications, threw two interceptions and finished with a 40.7 quarterback rating in a 34-0 loss to the Falcons.
Atlanta's Secondary Might Be Better Than Yours
Yes, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are some serious specimens in the defensive backfield for Seattle, but Atlanta's secondary has been terrific in 2012.
Thomas DeCoud led the team with six interceptions and somehow didn't make the Pro Bowl roster. The other safety, William Moore, was on pace for a Pro Bowl shoo-in with four interceptions until he suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the final four games of the year.
And Asante Samuel, who was brought in to maybe even play as a nickelback (before the injury to Brent Grimes that sidelined him for the year), is now one of the leaders of the team and has made his fair share of plays with five interceptions of his own.
Dunta Robinson's interception gives Atlanta's secondary 16 on the season. All of these guys have been coached very well by Nolan, and the defensive staff and aren't afraid to play man-to-man and make plays.
Even if Atlanta loads the box to stop Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson won't have an easy time throwing on these guys.
The Georgia Dome Is a Hostile Environment Too
Seattle is known for its home-field advantage. Its fans are simply known as the 12th Man in the NFL.
But, Atlanta has a perfect combination of an excited and committed fanbase and a dome stadium.
The Georgia Dome is a bowl with a roof, which means all noise made in that place bounces straight back to the field.
It's been considered one of the loudest venues in the league in the past four years when Atlanta has been good enough to warrant a rowdy fanbase.
With fans eager for a playoff victory on Sunday, they won't take their chance to help control the game for granted. Expect one of the loudest crowds in Georgia Dome history.
The Falcons are 33-7 in the Georgia Dome when Matt Ryan starts.