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NFC Divisional Round Preview- Falcons Look For Revenge Against Seahawks –

NFC Divisional Round Preview Atlanta Falcons via


NFC Divisional Round Preview- Falcons Look For Revenge Against Seahawks

In a repeat of their last playoff victory, back in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons welcome the Seattle Seahawks to the Georgia Dome with a place in the NFC Championship on the line.

The Falcons leapfrogged the Seahawks into the 2nd seed in week 16, beating the New Orleans Saints in the final week of the season to confirm a 1st round playoff bye.

After dropping to the 3rd seed, the Seahawks found themselves hosting the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round, disposing of them comfortably in a 26-6 victory.

Falcons News

With the exception of those on injured reserve, the Falcons look as if they will be at full strength for Saturday’s game. While they would have been confident of advancing to the Divisional round even without the bye, having the week off will have been welcome for a team looking to return to health.

Taylor Gabriel returned to practice last week after being held out of the Saints game with a foot injury. The explosive receiver has evolved into an important part of the offense and opposing teams have been unable to find a way to deal with his speed. With the Seahawks’ pass rush still capable of creating pressure, Gabriel could provide a good outlet, having already shown his effectiveness on screen passes and misdirection plays.

Rookie tight end Austin Hooper sprained his MCL in the week 15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and missed the remaining games in the regular season. The Falcons have done a good job with limited resources at tight end. Matt Ryan has shown an affinity for targeting tight ends in the red zone, with Hooper, Jacob Tamme, Levine Toilolo, Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea all having receiving touchdowns this season. Hooper is unlikely to be targeted frequently, but the Seahawks have struggled to defend the middle of the field since All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas landed on injured reserve and Kyle Shanahan should look to exploit that.

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After being forced to miss 3 games in December, defensive end Adrian Clayborn should have benefited from the bye week. While he hasn’t been racking up huge sack numbers, Clayborn has been consistently disruptive and quarterbacks are far less comfortable when he’s healthy. Going up against Cam Newton and Drew Brees late in the season, it was only natural that Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith would want Clayborn back, but his impact was limited due to a lack of fitness and the team will hope that he’s back up to speed after a lower-intensity week.

Vic Beasley took a huge step forward with a league leading 15.5 sacks this year, but looked to tire slightly towards the end of the season. Given the Seahawks’ struggle at offensive tackle, a rejuvenated Beasley would be a huge asset. On the other side, Dwight Freeney will hope to roll back the years in what could be his last opportunity to make a Super Bowl run as he approaches his 37th birthday. Freeney and Courtney Upshaw are the only players on the roster to have won the Super Bowl and their experience will be invaluable to the younger players on the team.

Seahawks News

Running back C.J. Prosise practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday as he attempts to return from a shoulder injury that has seen him sidelined since week 11. With Thomas Rawls returning late in the season, Prosise would likely be used more as a receiver out of the backfield in a role reminiscent to the one that draft analysts thought he would be best suited to when he arrived in Seattle. Given the Falcons’ propensity for scoring points early, a reliable receiving back would be a huge asset to the Seahawks’ offense if they were to have to chase the game.

Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel was also limited with a concussion, having been held out of the Seahawks’ victory over the Lions on Saturday. McDaniel isn’t a world beater, but opting to bring him back for a second spell in August has proven a good value signing and helped the team maintain their tough reputation against the run.

It’s no coincidence that Seattle’s running game finally hit form when Marcel Reece was in the line up. The Pro Bowler saw the most snaps of any Seahawks fullback in a game this season and contributed greatly to the team posting their second-highest rushing total of the year. With an undermanned offensive line, having a player like Reece opening gaps is a welcome addition to the running game.

Second year wide receiver Paul Richardson shot to fame on Saturday after one of the more athletic touchdown grabs of the season, showing great ball skills to make a one-handed catch against a physical defender. He practiced in full despite a foot injury and will play on Saturday.


This game is going to be determined by game script. The Falcons struggled to score points in the 1st half of the previous meeting between the two teams, having to rely on a hot streak at the beginning of the 2nd half to fight their way back into the game. The defense is at its best when the team is ahead and they can force teams to become one-dimensional and their weaknesses in run defense have been masked by the fact that teams have had to throw the ball to catch up.

The Falcons’ offensive line has been excellent this season, with free agent center Alex Mack set to play his first ever playoff game, but they will have to be at their best against a defensive line that includes Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Clark and Avril both reached double figures in sacks, while Bennett has been one of the best defensive players in the league in the last few years.

In the passing game, Kyle Shanahan will look to move Julio Jones around and create mismatches. One of the strengths of the Falcons has been the sheer number of receivers that Matt Ryan has targeted and, with Earl Thomas out and Richard Sherman likely shadowing Jones, Shanahan will look to target any areas of weakness, whether it’s by using the speed of Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson, the physicality of Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo or the reliability of Justin Hardy and Nick Williams.

Similarly, the Seahawks will know that they are capable of moving the ball through the air. While Robert Alford and Jalen Collins have been excellent since Desmond Trufant’s injury, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will be confident that the speed of Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson can be used to the team’s advantage.

Given the Falcons’ struggles against tight ends, it could easily be a game in which Jimmy Graham, who was a thorn in the side for many years while in New Orleans, is able to flourish. After a disappointing 2015, Graham has re-established himself among the very best in the league at his position and would love nothing more than another big performance at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons have proven that they can score points against anybody, including the Seahawks, and home field advantage should help them do the same again. The Seahawks have struggled on the road, losing to the Rams, Saints and Buccaneers during the regular season, while being held to a tie by the Cardinals.

Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have proven that they know how to win games in January, but this is a different Falcons team to those from past years. Dan Quinn has created a winning culture and the team has an opportunity to show the world exactly what they’re capable of.