The NFC's hottest team takes on the conference's top seed on Sunday in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, when the Seattle Seahawks travel to face the Atlanta Falcons.
And boy oh boy, should this be a good game.
Seattle brings one of the league's top defenses, a bruising running game and standout rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and the explosive Atlanta offense will look to prove the team is a true Super Bowl contender.
This game has everything you would want. A compelling underdog. A favorite trying to shed its "choker" label in the playoffs. A clash of styles. And, of course, plenty of superstars.
Is it Sunday yet?
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Stream: NFL AudioPass
Listen: Sirius 86 and 92; Dial Global
Betting Line: Falcons (-3), according to Bovada
Seahawks Injury Report (via ESPN)
PK Steven Hauschka, IR
DE Chris Clemons, Knee, Out
Falcons Injury Report (via ESPN)
DE John Abraham, Ankle, Questionable
S William Moore, Questionable
What They're Saying
The last few years haven't been kind to Seattle sports fans. They lost the Seattle SuperSonics. The Seattle Mariners, well, kind of stink. The Seattle Sounders are good, but c'mon, that's the MLS.
But now, as Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times notes, the Seattle fans finally have a team to get behind, and one that has made the rest of the NFL pay attention, too:
The Seahawks have made the country take notice. It isn't just winning eight of nine games entering Sunday's NFC playoff game in Atlanta. It's the way they've won.
It's the Hail Mary pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate that beat Green Bay. It's the fourth-quarter smackdown they gave Tom Brady in the win over New England.
It's the fourth-quarter comeback and overtime win in Chicago, and the avalanche of points that followed in victories over Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco.
They've won with style, which just adds to their "Q" factor. The lights are shining on Seattle again.
I might not have included the Hail Mary pass against Green Bay in the highlights section of the Seahawks' season, but Kelley's point holds true: The Seahawks are relevant. They're fun to watch. They're probably the hottest team left in the playoffs, outside of Denver.
And Seattle fans are surely loving the ride.
Seahawks Player to Watch: Russell Wilson, QB
We all know the Seahawks are going to try to pound the rock with Marshawn Lynch. We know the Falcons will probably try to stack the box to prevent this.
So how will Russell Wilson respond?
The Falcons are vulnerable against the pass. The team gives up 242.4 passing yards per game (23rd in the NFL) and struggles to sack the quarterback (29 sacks on the season, 28th in the NFL). Atlanta's defense could be vulnerable to the play-action pass.
If Wilson has success throwing the ball around, I'm not sure that Atlanta can win this game unless Ryan and the offense puts up a lot of points. But if Wilson is on his game and the Seahawks can move the ball through the air and on the ground, Seattle might win a shootout, too.
Falcons Player to Watch: Michael Turner, RB
You might think the spotlight will be on Ryan this week, and you would be right. But the real player we should all be focusing on is running back Michael Turner.
The Washington Redskins proved on their first two drives last week that, given the right game plan, teams can run the ball against the Seahawks. They might not be able to do it for the whole game, but they can move the ball on the ground.
And Atlanta has a much more dangerous passing game than Washington, meaning Seattle won't ever be able to sell out and stop the run if Turner gets going.
Turner rushed for just 800 yards this year, though he still finished with 10 touchdowns. He's not the back he used to be, and Jacquizz Rodgers could take over as the starter next season. But believe this—if Turner has a big game, the Falcons will absolutely win this game. Keep an eye on him.
Key Matchup: Atlanta's Wide Receivers vs. Seattle's Cornerbacks
There arguably isn't a better matchup in this entire round of playoff games than Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones going up against Seattle's Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
White and Jones combined for 171 receptions, 2,549 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in the regular season. Sherman and Browner are big, physical corners and a huge reason why the Seahawks allowed just 203.1 passing yards per game, sixth in the NFL.
If you aren't looking forward to the battle out wide, well, you're going to miss out. It's strength versus strength, baby.
Seattle has a much better defense and comes into this game having won six in a row. In addition, the dual threat of Wilson at quarterback gives the offense an added dimension for Atlanta's defense to worry about. I'm not sure if the Falcons will choke again, but I do think the Seahawks will win this one simply by being the more physical team.
Seattle wins, 24-21.