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NFC Divisional Playoff Matchup Box: Seahawks at Falcons

When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PT, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Significance: The winner advances to the NFC Championship against the winner of Saturday night’s Packers-49ers game

Records: Falcons were 13-3 in the regular season to win the NFC South and clinch the conference’s top seed in the postseason; Seahawks were 11-5 in the regular season and beat the Redskins in last week’s W playoff round

TV: FOX (KCPQ/13 in the greater Seattle area), with Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Chris Myers and Laura Okmin

Radio: 710 ESPN and KIRO Radio 97.3, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller

Matt Ryan

Matchup microscope

Seahawks cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner vs. Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones: Big on Big. Long against Long. Physical versus Physical. These four going at each other is all of that, and more. And the tandem that wins most often will go a long way in deciding which team advances to the NFC Championship game. There isn’t a bigger corner tandem in the NFL than Sherman and Browner, who combined for 11 interceptions, 30 passes defensed and five forced fumbles. There isn’t a more productive wide-out tandem in the league than White and Jones, who combined for 171 receptions, 2,549 yards and 17 touchdown catches. Usually a defense tries to stop the run and force an opponent to pass. But the Falcons use their passing game to open things up for the running game. Sherman and Browner will need to be on top of it, to prevent Jones and White from using their speed in getting over the top on them.

One to watch

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Wilson already has done something in his first playoff game that Ryan has been unable to accomplish – win it. That happened last week, when Wilson led the Seahawks to a 24-14 wild-card victory over the Redskins. He is stepping up a stage this week, but the Seahawks’ rookie QB has been unfazed by circumstance or game plan during the team’s six-game winning streak. Ryan, a first-round draft choice in 2008, has 56 victories during the regular season. But he’s also 0-for-3 in the postseason. Then there’s this: Ryan has thrown 11 TD passes and nine interceptions at home this season, compared to 21 TDs and five picks on the road. So the pressure is squarely on Ryan, rather than Wilson, in this one.

Fun to watch

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch vs. Falcons linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon: Lynch has been on a roll, even for a back who rolls as consistently well as Lynch. He is averaging 111.8 yards and 6.5 yards per carry during the team’s six-game winning streak. And it was Lynch who ran for the game-winning TD last week against the Redskins. It’s also his presence as one of the options in the Seahawks’ zone-read option that has made the tactic so successful down the stretch. Nicholas (116) and Weatherspoon (114) are the leading tacklers for a Falcons defense that allowed 100-yard rushing performances to the Buccaneers’ Doug Martin (142), Cardinals’ LaRod Stephens-Howling (127), Panthers’ Cam Newton (116), Redskins’ Alfred Morris (115) and Broncos’ Willis McGahee (113). Morris and Martin ranked among the Top 5 in the league in rushing, but Newton and McGahee were 24th and 26th, while Stephens-Howling was No. 30 – in the NFC.

One tough task

Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor vs. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll set the stage for this one by offering, “Nobody can cover him. He’s just killed everybody for a whole career.” And what a career Gonzalez has had. He has become the most productive tight end in NFL history, and his 1,242 receptions rank second only to Jerry Rice. In a passing game that features Jones and White, it was Gonzalez who led the Falcons in receptions with 93. When he caught his first NFL pass in 1997 for the Chiefs, Chancellor was 9-years old. But if there’s anybody who can contain Gonzalez, and make an impression doing it, Chancellor has the length (6-foot-4½ wingspan), coverage skills and physicality needed to pull it off.

Worth noting

This is the first postseason meeting between the Falcons and Seahawks. … The Falcons are looking for their first postseason victory since 2004. … They have advanced to the postseason in three consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. … Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel holds the NFL postseason record with four interception returns for touchdowns, and has seven overall in the playoffs. … This is the first time since their six-game winning streak started that the Seahawks will face a passing offense ranked higher than No. 18. The Falcons are No. 6, while the Bears were No. 29, the Cardinals No. 28, the Bills No. 25, the 49ers No. 23, the Rams No. 18 and the Redskins No. 20. … The Seahawks have scored at least 20 points in their past 10 games, after doing it only twice in their first seven games. … The Seahawks will play without sack leader Chris Clemons, who tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee during the third quarter of last week’s game against the Redskins. … Bruce Irvin, who will replace Clemons at the Leo end spot, led all NFL rookies with eight sacks during the regular season and added a ninth last week. … Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner led the Seahawks in tackles during the regular season (140) and also against the Redskins (nine).


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