The Atlanta Falcons will put their shaky playoff record on the line against the surging Seattle Seahawks, and there will be a few key matchups that will swing this game one way or the other.
Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons offense has led the team to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and he will be looking to silence doubters who believe his team is not a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Russell Wilson’s surprising success has spurred the Seahawks through to the divisional round, and the team’s formidable defense will ensure that the Falcons will not have an easy contest this weekend.
Here are the matchups that will decide this showdown.
Falcons’ Postseason Struggles vs. Seahawks’ Road Woes
Both teams have disturbing trends they will look to break on Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers blew out the Falcons in the 2010 playoffs, and the New York Giants handed Atlanta a second consecutive embarrassing defeat last season. This has earned the team a reputation for underachieving in the postseason, and it will look to forge a new identity in this contest.
The Seahawks will want to make the Falcons relive all the unpleasant memories from the last two years, but it will not have the 12th man to help in this game. All five of Seattle’s losses this season have come away from home.
But Wilson has matured as the season has gone on, and this has helped him perform better on the road, while the Falcons are also a much more seasoned team than they were in the past two playoff trips. Each team will have to show that it truly has grown over time, and the one that proves this will move on to the NFC Championship Game.
Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner
This game will feature two big, physical wide receivers against two cornerbacks who can match their size and strength. This matchup will be extremely interesting to watch, and it will have a major impact on the game.
Atlanta’s passing attack is its best weapon, and if it cannot have success through the air, a victory will be extremely difficult. But White and Jones each recorded well over 1,000 receiving yards this season, and the team will have no reservations about airing it out early and often.
Browner and Sherman will face one of their toughest tests of the season. Browner is 6’4” and 221 pounds, while Sherman stands 6’3” and weighs 195 pounds. Neither will be backing down, and the Atlanta wideouts will have to battle for every ball.
These teams will pit strength against strength in this matchup, and whichever one comes out on top will have a significant advantage.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Falcons’ Run Defense
While both teams will feel confident about their chances in the previous matchup, only one will feel confident about this one. Lynch has firmly established himself as one of the NFL’s elite rushers, and the Falcons have not excelled in run defense this year.
The Falcons have allowed an average of 4.8 yards per carry to opposing running backs this season, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
With Lynch coming off of a 132-yard performance, Atlanta will need to find a way to slow down the Seattle running game. If it fails to do so, the Seahawks will control the clock and keep Matt Ryan on the sidelines for far too long.
For Atlanta to avoid an upset, its front seven will need to step up in this game and contain Lynch.