- 2012 Record: 12-5 (defeated Washington 24-14 in Wild-Card Round)
- Regular Season Point Differential: +167 (3rd)
- Strength of Schedule: +1.8 PPG (t-4th)
- Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.36 (3rd)
- Defensive PY/P Rating: 1.53 (3rd)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 6.9 (9th)
- Yards per Carry: 4.8 (5th)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 5.4 (5th)
- Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.5 (23rd)
- Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 2 (Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman)
- Unintentional Comedy Potential: High
#1 Atlanta Falcons (NFC South Champion)
- 2012 Record: 13-3
- Regular Season Point Differential: +120 (5th)
- Strength of Schedule: -1.1 PPG (t-21st)
- Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.05 (13th)
- Defensive PY/P Rating: 1.97 (24th)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 7.0 (4th)
- Yards per Carry: 3.7 (29th)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.7 (22nd)
- Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.8 (29th)
- Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 0
- Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium
12:00 P.M. Sunday, January 13th, FOX (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin)
Look, I’ve had a great time making fun of the Atlanta Falcons’ various misfortunes over the years and I probably always will. They’re an extremely methodical and bland team whose greatest attribute seems to be robotically performing at the same above-average level every week. They are literally the last NFC South team I would like to see in the playoffs and I will shed no tears if/when they get eliminated. If anything, I’ll crack a few more jokes at their expense and aim a celebratory fart in their direction. I don’t like them.
With that said, I must point out that the whole “ATLANTA DOESN’T HAVE THE MOJO TO WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS” meme that’s been going on perhaps since their blowout home loss to the Packers two years ago and at the very least since last year’s thrashing at the hands of the Giants is kind of mularkey. And I don’t mean their former offensive coordinator Mike. It’s the same type of nonsense that dogged Peyton Manning before 2003, Alex Rodriguez before 2009, Lebron James before last year, and basically every other consistently successful player/franchise that didn’t have the initial playoff success their regular season record would suggest. Are the stakes raised considerably in a playoff game compared to an October regular season game in a three-quarters full Tampa Bay stadium? No doubt. Would I personally start uncontrollably crapping my pants if I had to be thrown RIGHT NOW into a Divisional Playoff game and line up across from Patrick Willis? YOU BETCHA. But after an initial set of butterflies that may accompany the first series or so of a game, I’ve got to believe professional athletes settle in pretty quickly and just start playing football the way they have been their entire lives. I don’t think Matt Ryan magically starts throwing interceptions just because he sees the “NFL Playoffs” logo on the field and gets spooked.
Rather, I think he’s thrown interceptions in their prior playoff games – and the Falcons have lost those prior playoff games – simply because the team they were facing was superior. Go back to 2010 when they were the #1 seed in the NFC and look at their Yards per Play on offense (5.0) and then defense (5.6). They didn’t finish in the top half of the league in any major efficiency metric. HOW IN GOD’S NAME DID THAT TEAM WIN THIRTEEN GAMES? The Packers were much better and showed that in the playoffs. Same thing last year with their loss in the Meadowlands – the Giants had another gear they rarely showed in the regular season that the slow-and-steady Falcons just couldn’t match up with. Even in 2008 when they lost to the 9-7 Cardinals they had major issues defensively and that tends to be a problem when you’re going up against Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin. The Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs over the past four years because they have been beaten by better teams and if they lose again this year, the same thing will likely be true. No choking, no lack of the “clutch gene” – just simply being outpeformed.
And because of that, it’s likely Atlanta will lose on Sunday because Seattle is just a terrible matchup for them – basically the worst one you could draw up (other than maybe San Francisco). As you can see from their stats at the top of the page, the only thing the Falcons did well this season was pass the ball – and that was going up against a schedule of defenses that was essentially equal to Houston’s and Indianapolis’s as being the easiest in the league. Once you adjust for that, Matt Ryan’s career year simply looks like another season of above-average, not All-Pro, efficiency. And Seattle has two corners in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner who match up very well with Atlanta’s outstanding receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones. Basically, Atlanta’s greatest strength seems likely to be more than neutralized by Seattle’s even better pass defense.
And that’s before we get into the other statistical categories of the game, in which things become lopsided in a hurry. Russell Wilson has been on fire over the past two months throwing the ball; Atlanta’s poor at best against the pass, even when accounting for the harder-than-average slate of offenses they’ve faced this year. Wilson and Marshawn Lynch provide a two-headed monster for the Seahawks on the ground; Atlanta’s even worse against the run than they are the pass. The Falcons aren’t even likely to capitalize on the Seahawks’ one area of relative weakness, run defense – they ranked 29th in the league in Yards per Carry themselves. It’s possible Seattle will feel more effects from jet lag this week with the early start time (10 A.M. Pacific Standard Time) than they did last week playing in their customary late-afternoon window in Washington D.C. If they’re playing at their usual level on Sunday, however, it’ll take the game of Matt Ryan’s life for the Falcons to move on. And if that happens, let’s all promise ahead of time to stop giving him so much crap.
Projected Final Score: Seattle Seahawks 27, Atlanta Falcons 23
Team to Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: Seahawks (+2.5)