Seattle (11-5-1) at Atlanta (11-5)
When: Saturday, January 14th 2017
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Time: 4:35 ET | TV: FOX
The Atlanta Falcons will look to advance to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in five years when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Matt Ryan has put up MVP-type numbers this season, but does not have a good postseason track record. His lone playoff win in five tries came four years ago against these Seattle Seahawks when he had a three touchdown performance en route to the victory. He also threw for three scores in a 26-24 regular-season setback to the Seahawks on October 16th of this season. Star wide receiver Julio Jones made seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in the most recent encounter but was left searching for a pass interference call that never came against Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman that effectively ended the game. Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman averaged 4.8 yards per carry this season but was limited to 40 on 12 carries by Seattle’s stingy defense, which held opposing runners to a league-low 3.37 yards this season. Speedy wideout Taylor Gabriel has been a great complement to the 6’3″, 220-pound Jones, finding the end zone in six of his last eight games. Gabriel is expected to return from a toe/ankle injury and red-zone target Austin Hooper is also hopeful of returning this week from an MCL sprain. Pro Bowl LB Vic Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks this season but did not record one against the Seahawks earlier this year. The Falcons 29th-ranked run defense could be an issue against the Seattle run game.
That running game stepped it up in last week’s Wild Card win over Detroit as Thomas Rawls rushed the ball 27 times for a franchise playoff record 161 yards. Rawls missed the first meeting with Atlanta as he was dealing with a fractured leg. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw for only 224 yards in the victory against the Lions but was 11-of-12 for 104 yards and a touchdown when targeting wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who has a franchise-best 50 career postseason catches and five touchdowns in his last seven playoff games. Baldwin was limited to four receptions for 31 yards in the first meeting with Atlanta in October. Tight end Jimmy Graham has been held to just 11 catches in his last five games but hauled in six passes for 89 yards in the first encounter with the Falcons. The Seattle defense showed last week why they still are one of the best even without All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks held Matt Stafford and the Lions to just two field goals and 2-of-11 on third downs. Pro Bowl DE Cliff Avril had two sacks last week and recorded two of his team-leading 11.5 in the first encounter with the Falcons. Seattle is third in the NFL in points allowed (18.2) and fifth in overall defense (318.7).
I think Seattle’s offense is going to have trouble on the road in the loud Georgia Dome. They haven’t been clicking all season and the run game outside of last week, has been bad. The Falcons will slow down Rawls and the Atlanta offense will score at least four touchdowns as they pull away for a victory.
Pick: Falcons -5