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Can Matt Ryan win a playoff game?
The first game on Sunday will feature the hot Seattle Seahawks, who travel to face the Atlanta Falcons, who have the best record in the NFC. As a sign of respect for what Seattle has done lately. they are only a one-point underdog in this game. That is an indication that this game should be competitive and could go either way.
These teams met back in Week 4 in the 2011 regular season in Seattle. Atlanta won that game, 30-28, but this Seattle team is much different from the team it faced last year.
Russell Wilson and a solid 2012 draft class has helped to transform this team into one of the hottest NFL teams in the league. The seahawks got the road playoff monkey off of their backs by defeating the Washington Redskins last weekend. As a result, Seattle is loose and confident, while Atlanta is dealing with the pressure of trying to come up with a win in the postseason.
Atlanta is, however, playing at home, and as Seattle fans can attest, playing at home can be a major advantage.
Look for the Atlanta defense to try to control Marshawn Lynch on the ground and force Russell Wilson to beat them in the air against the talented Falcons secondary. Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been using the bye week to prepare for the likes of Wilson or Griffin, so he should have a solid game plan ready.
Getting DE John Abraham back to help out the pass rush is a big plus for the Falcons. The Falcons will have to figure out how to contain Wilson in the pocket, which is no easy task. They have had some practice trying to contain Cam Newton in the NFC South, but Wilson is a different breed of quarterback than Newton.
The Seahawks lost their best pass-rusher when Chris Clemons went down with an injury last weekend. That places more pressure on rookie Bruce Irvin to make up for the loss of Clemons, so we will see if he is up to the task.
While Atlanta is motivated to stop the embarrassing losses in the playoffs, it is also trying to step up as an organization to win a playoff game for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Speaking of Gonzalez, he should be a major factor in this game, as the Seattle secondary will have its hands full trying to figure out which targets to try to take away from Matt Ryan.
I see this as a relatively low-scoring game, in the mid-20's with the possibility of an overtime finish.
Final Score Prediction: Atlanta 24 - Seattle 21 (in overtime)