The Atlanta Falcons will host the Seattle Seahawks in the "chip on your shoulder" bowl on Sunday. The Falcons come into the game looking to prove they deserved their 13-3 regular season record. The Seahawks will be looking to prove they can win anywhere. That is where the similarities for these two teams end...Almost.
And that one other similarity might make things get ugly.
Very Different Teams
The Seahawks and Falcons are not built from the same DNA. In most respects, the two teams took very different roads to arrive at Sunday's playoff game.
The Atlanta Falcons found themselves walking away with a normally ultra-competitive NFC South. How competitive? Since the NFC South was formed, no team has won back-to-back NFC South titles.
The Seahawks had to fight their way into the playoffs despite having an 11-5 record. If the Falcons and Seahawks swapped divisions, their record would have easily landed them in the top spot of the NFC South. It is hard to believe the Seahawks won their division just two seasons ago with a losing record (7-9).
There are glaring differences everywhere you look on these two teams. The celebrated college coach versus the unknown assistant. The mobile rookie phenom versus the pure pocket passer. "Beast Mode" versus "Who knows?"
There might be a lot of questions, but there are two secondaries that plan on having the answers.
Play Hard, Hit Harder
The Seahawks and Falcons do share a similarity in the secondary.
It has little to do with skill. The Falcons will not be sending a single defender to Hawaii, but the Seahawks will be sending two safeties and a cornerback to the Pro Bowl.
It has little to do with scheme. The Seahawks get more pressure, while the Falcons are as likely to drop a defensive end into coverage and send a safety to rush the passer.
It is all about mindset.
Both teams feature players in the secondary who know how to hit—and hit hard.
The Seahawks took advantage of the national spotlight last Sunday to show the NFL how physical they can be. The Seahawks manhandled the Washington Redskins receivers. They continued to deliver bone-jarring hits even when the game was well in hand.
The Falcons secondary receives far less fanfare, but the proof is easily found in the game film. Dunta Robinson has repeatedly put himself at risk to make the big hit. Most recently, Robinson knocked himself out, literally, making a tackle during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. The Falcons will most likely also see the return of thumper William Moore to the starting lineup.
Both secondaries deliver the kind of hits that shrink a receiver's arms and cause phantom footsteps to be heard—the kind of hit that makes a receiver question if he really wants to catch the next one.
Of Swagger And Chatter
A dividing line between the two secondaries is where they draw the line in taunting.
The Falcons defense seemed devoid of personality until the arrival of Asante Samuel (I covered this more in depth here). In 2012, "swagger" has become a buzzword for the Falcons defense. They play with more confidence, and they are not afraid to tell opponents on the field what they think.
Seahawks defenders, especially cornerback Richard Sherman, might take it to another level.
As reported by Jim Corbett of USA Today, Sherman taunted Mike Shanahan and the Redskins mercilessly, to the point that a Redskins player had a physical altercation with Sherman after the game.
Harsh words and hard hits can lead to scuffles during a preseason game, much less a playoff game. But this is not just a playoff game.
This game could be a make-or-break game for both teams. In the eyes of the fans and media, the loser will wear the crown of "I told you so" long into the 2013 season. More importantly, there is an immeasurable amount of self-respect on the line.
This game has become a powder keg for two teams fighting for respect.
And these two secondaries might just douse the place with gasoline before they light the fuse.