The Falcons got a lucky break...or rather, no break when it came to talented edge-rusher John Abraham. Abraham played in Sunday's divisional playoff against the Seahawks with a swollen ankle, the result of a late-season sprain. When he left the game in the first half, the worry was that he had done more damage.
Abraham’s absence allowed Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson more freedom in the second half—something the Falcons won't want to give Colin Kapernick considering he is coming off a record-setting divisional playoff win over the Packers.
Look for Abraham to be tested early with a couple Frank Gore runs right at him to see whether he can set the ankle and change directions, perhaps with a Pistol-set read option that will force him to go wide against a cut.
The Niners might also let Abraham get a couple steps in toward Kaepernick, knowing their QB is great at dodging and rolling away from pressure.
According to a San Jose Mercury News report, while Abraham did roll the ankle again against Seattle, the support he was wearing did keep him from doing significantly more damage. Video from before the game showed Abraham wearing a lace-up brace, which can be made tighter than tape without the confinement of a bulkier external or hinged brace.
Abraham came into the game at "about 80 percent," according to the Mercury News report, yet still was effective until he hurt the ankle on a sharp lateral cut.
Injuries similar to Abraham's usually result in the player coming back for the next game. He is likely to need daily maintenance and therapy, with mobility that is only slightly compromised. He will likely be wearing the same brace against the 49ers, so there’s a good chance he will face the same type of re-injury risk.
A difference for the conference title game is that while Abraham and the Falcons had the bye week leading into their first playoff game, he doesn’t have the same luxury before the NFC Championship Game. Mike Smith told the media he expects Abraham to practice later this week. That's a positive, but it will be very difficult to get a read on his actual physical capability with such a small amount of practice time.
Abraham finished the divisional without any official stats, but his presence had been felt. According to the NFL’s official stats, Abraham was in on 15 plays, or 22 percent of the defensive snaps, but the Seahawks second half stats and points tell a clearer story than a lack of tackles or pressure.
Wilson put up over 200 passing yards in the second half, once Abraham was out of the game, as well as the majority of his rushing yards. No offensive stat available accounts for the scrambling that Wilson was freer to do in Abraham's absence.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Football Outsiders.