The Seattle Seahawks weren't anyone's favorite pick to win the Super Bowl when this season started.
Now, it's hard to not include them in this year's sleeper picks.
Seattle faces its toughest roadblock on Sunday, though, as the Atlanta Falcons await with the No. 1 seed in hand and another successful regular season that included 13 wins and over 4,700 Matt Ryan passing yards.
The offense for Atlanta is as dangerous as any. The same can be said about Seattle's defense, particularly in the secondary, where games have been changed this season by the fearsome foursome Seattle employs.
Still, Atlanta is no joke, and this looks like a matchup of an unstoppable offense against an immovable defense. We're in for a good one on Divisional Weekend, and we've got you covered with all the latest information on these two teams as Sunday creeps closer.
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta, Geo.
Spread: Atlanta -3 (according to Bovada)
Atlanta gets no help in the spread department this week, except for the standard three-point gift to the home team. That being said, it's been tough to bet against both the Seahawks and the Falcons this season.
Seattle is riding a five-game winning streak, including last weekend's Wild Card win over the Washington Redskins, but they take a 7-14 road record into Atlanta to face a team that is 11-1 at home in its last 12 games.
Granted, that one loss was Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Still, the Falcons will have the edge of home-field advantage and figure to have the edge in this game.
However, I'm staying away from picking this game this weekend, and you should, too. If you do want to pick a winner, head to the straight-up variety.
Over/Under: 46 (according to Bovada)
The over/under has been a little bit easier, at least for the Falcons. Despite being an offensive juggernaut in Vegas, they have been under the total 11 times this season, and Seattle was under the total eight times.
With two stingy defenses colliding in a playoff atmosphere, don't be surprised if the under is the popular choice. Seattle allows just 15.3 points per game; Atlanta allows 18.7. That's nowhere near 46, and smart money begs you to play the under again this weekend in what's sure to make points-lovers cringe for most of Sunday afternoon.
RB Marshawn Lynch — Questionable, Back
S Jeron Johnson — Questionable, Groin
CB Byron Maxwell —Questionable, Hamstring
K Steven Hauschka — IR, Calf injury vs. Washington
DE Chris Clemons — IR, Torn ACL vs. Washington
DE John Abraham — Questionable, Ankle
S William Moore — Questionable, Hamstring
CB Christopher Owens — Questionable, Hamstring
CB Dunta Robinson — Probable, Head Injury
S Charles Mitchell — Questionable, Calf
Players to Watch
Seattle DE Bruce Irvin
With Clemons on the shelf and full-time duty knocking at his door, Irvin must be ready to start stopping the run in addition to rushing the passer.
He had a tackle and a sack against the Redskins, but Seattle is really going to miss Clemons along that defensive front if Irvin can't make an impact in slowing down Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers.
We know he can get to the QB—he has nine total sacks on the year after last week's takedown is added in. But for Irvin to take on the brunt of a role he wasn't drafted for as a rookie is a tall task—one Pete Carroll will expect him to accomplish without blinking.
Atlanta RB Michael Turner
To slow down this potent Atlanta passing attack, Seattle needs to ensure the threat of the running game isn't a pressing issue. Turner, who only ran for 800 yards this season in a somewhat limited role, can help break the door wide open for Atlanta.
Roddy White and Julio Jones figure to see a lot of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, both in one-on-one situations and with safety help. That being said, Seattle is going to try and squash this running game early to force Matt Ryan into a straight throwing game plan.
If that happens, you almost have to give the edge to Seattle's defense. They've been so good against the pass that being one dimensional just doesn't fly.
Look for Turner to try and fix that. If he comes alive like the 2008 Michael Turner once did, then the Falcons are even more dangerous on offense than they have been this season.
Keys to Seattle Win
First and foremost, Seattle must find some sort of passing attack. QB Russell Wilson has been great over the past few games, but the glaring lack of a vertical threat is one of the only issues Seattle has right now.
Marshawn Lynch is also banged up, so if Wilson was to take some of the load off his shoulders against this defense, it would give Seattle more flexibility in the second half and later in the ballgame.
On defense, look for Irvin to try and fill in for Clemons, while we see if Red Bryant and the rest of the front seven can get any pressure on Ryan in passing situations. If they can't, look for Tony Gonzalez to have a big day—lots of time in the pocket has generally equaled huge success for the greatest NFL tight end of all time.
Seattle won't be scared of playing on the road, and it needs to get out early and make Atlanta aware of that fact. The Seahawks are in for a dog fight, and that's just how they like it.
Keys to Atlanta Win
The running game will be a priority, as will be making sure the Seattle secondary doesn't control this game from the outset.
For Ryan, no turnovers and clean football will be the name of the game, as will getting White and Jones in situations where they can run with the football.
On defense, it's all about Wilson. The dual-threat QB can hand off to Lynch, keep it himself or get the ball to his receivers, and he's proving each day that the label "rookie" is just that—a label. This kid plays with heart and emotion, and he's the soul of an offense that has its ups and downs.
Atlanta has flirted with teams all season, but generally been able to stage late comebacks and pull out victories. That won't fly on Sunday, as this is the playoffs, and Seattle isn't a team to joke around with. If Atlanta is down by more than 10 heading into the final frame, chalk one up for Seattle.
With a great defense and three straight road wins under their belt, the Seahawks keep the train rolling. It won't be pretty, but Atlanta hasn't hit the playoffs running and had to sit for a week while Seattle continued to pick up speed. Lynch has a big day and the Seahawks move on.
Seattle 20, Atlanta 17
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Check him out on Twitter.
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