Change in the air for Falcons, Seahawks
Both teams showed plenty of growth despite key injuries
ATLANTA — As with any rematch, there are certainly things that both teams learned about each other the first time around.
Then again, so much will be different when the Atlanta Falcons host Seattle in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday. Especially for the Seahawks. Seattle found a running game in its playoff opener, and quarterback Russell Wilson appears as healthy as he’s been all season.
Yet the defense looks a lot less imposing without safety Earl Thomas, out for the season with a broken leg.
Most significantly, this game will be at the Georgia Dome, costing the Seahawks perhaps the most imposing home-field advantage in the NFL. A 26-24 victory over the Falcons in Week 6 was at the Link.
“We’ve got the best fans in the world,” said Wilson, no doubt mindful that Seattle is 8-1 at home this season but just 3-4-1 on the road. “We don’t take that for granted.”
In addition to having the fans on their side for the rematch, the Falcons look a bit different on the field.
The young defense, with as many as four rookie starters, has grown up considerably over the latter part of the season, even after a season-ending injury to top cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Vic Beasley, in particular, established himself as one of the league’s most dominant pass rushers.
“Both teams now are a better version of themselves than when we played back then,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a former defensive coordinator in Seattle.
The Atlanta offense has been on point all season. Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, one of the leading contenders for MVP, the Falcons (11-5) romped to the NFC South title and a first-round bye behind the league’s highest-scoring offense, averaging nearly 34 points a game.
Ryan has been especially accurate on his deep throws, an area of vulnerability for the Seahawks without their star safety. In the first meeting, Thomas had one of just seven interceptions Ryan threw all season.
“His accuracy is phenomenal,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He puts it in all of the right spots.” Seahawks (11-5-1) at Falcons (11-5) When/where: 3:35 p.m. today.; Atlanta. TV: Fox. Seattle update: Thomas Rawls, who missed the regularseason win over the Falcons with leg injury, ran for a team postseason-record 161 yards with a TD against Detroit last week. Without Rawls, the Seahawks had only 72 yards rushing against Atlanta. … Russell Wilson’s 64 wins, including postseason, are the most for a starting QB in his first five seasons in NFL history. Wilson’s 8-3 in 11 playoff starts. He has thrown for 18 TDs with nine interceptions in those games. … WR Doug Baldwin has a team-record 50 postseason catches, including 11 for 104 yards with a TD last week. … TE Jimmy Graham has eight TD catches in his last 10 games against Atlanta. … DE Cliff Avril had two sacks last week. Atlanta update: QB Matt Ryan’s 117.1 passer rating led the NFL and was fifth-best in league history. Ryan set a Falcons record with 4,944 yards passing to rank second in league. … Ryan is 1-4 in playoffs. … WR Julio Jones was second in the NFL with 1,409 yards receiving despite missing two games. … DE Dwight Freeney’s 10 career playoff sacks are tied for third among active players. … LB Vic Beasley Jr. led the NFL with 15½ sacks. … LB Deion Jones (106) and S Keanu Neal (105) led NFL rookies in tackles. … RB Devonta Freeman ran for 1,079 yards.
Quarterback Matt Ryan will try to burnish his MVP-like season by leading the Falcons past the Seahawks and into the NFC title game.