A lot has changed since last Atlanta-Seattle game
ATLANTA — As with any rematch, there are certainly things that each team learned about the 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 in Seattle.
“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 its best cornerback, Desmond Trufant.
Vic Beasley, in particular, established himself as one of the league’s best pass rushers.
“Both teams now are a better version of themselves than when we played back then,” said Falcons head 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 Thomas. In the first meeting, he 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.”
While Ryan is coming off the best season of his career, completing 69.9 percent for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns, his career mark in the playoffs is just 1-4.
In an interesting twist, that lone postseason win came against Seattle in the divisional round four years ago, when he guided the Falcons to a last-second, 30-28 victory after the Falcons blew a 20-point lead. Ryan said the past won’t be a factor in this game.
“I feel like I’m playing my best,” he said, “better than I ever have.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had a lot to celebrate this season, the best of his career.