Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks at Falcons

ATLANTA – Greetings from the Georgia Dome, where the Seahawks will attempt to continue their historic postseason run in today NFC divisional playoff game against the Falcons.

Last week, the Seahawks won a road playoff game for only the second time in franchise history, and the first time since 1983. Today, they can match the club record for postseason victories – two by the 1983 and 2005 teams – and advance to the conference championship game for a third time, as those teams did.

With a win over the top-seeded and favored Falcons, the Seahawks will play the NFC West rival 49ers in San Francisco next Sunday, for the third time this season, after the 49ers’ impressive 45-31 victory over the Packers last night. The Seahawks lost to the 49ers by seven points in San Francisco during Week 7 of the regular season and then beat them by 29 in Week 16 in Seattle.

The Seahawks faced the same opponent three times in a season in 1983, when they did it twice by splitting games with Broncos during the regular season and then beating them in a wild-card playoff game and sweeping the Raiders during the regular season and then losing to them in the AFC Championship game; 1984, when they split with the Raiders during the regular season and then beat them in a wild-card playoff game; and 2004, when they lost the Rams twice during the regular season and again in a wild-card playoff game.

Of course all of this will remain just that – history – if the Seahawks don’t beat the Falcons.

And that won’t be easy, after the Falcons went 13-3 to secure the top seed in the NFC this season. But the Falcons haven’t won in the postseason since 2004, when Jim Mora was the coach. Since then, QB Matt Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason despite compiling 56 regular-season victories. The headline in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it all: Feeling the Pressure.

For the Seahawks to extend their winning streak to seven games, they’ll have to contain the six-handed receiving crew that is tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, who combined for 264 catches, 3,479 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns during the regular season. They have the length and physicality to do it in strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. But do they have the speed, and will they be able to generate enough pressure on Ryan without sack leader Chris Clemons?

For the Seahawks to earn that rubber-match matchup with the 49ers, the Seahawks will need to continue running the ball with the same productivity they’ve displayed in winning their past six games, when All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch has averaged 6.5 yards per carry in ripping off five consecutive 100-yard performances and the team has averaged 214 rushing yards.

“He’s a great back after contact,” Falcons safety William Moore told the Journal-Constitution. “It’s hard to get him down. If you look at him on film, most of his big plays are made after contact. One guy is not going to bring him down. It’s important this week to gang-tackle him.”

For the Seahawks to advance to a conference championship game for a third time, rookie QB Russell Wilson will need to continue his own streak – coming up with a new wrinkle to his ever-expanding game. Last week, he blocked for Lynch on what proved to be the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter of the wild-card victory over the Redskins. The week before that, it was throwing his 26th TD pass, tying the NFL rookie record that was set by Peyton Manning in 1998. The week before that, it was throwing four TD passes against the 49ers. The week before that, it was running for three TDs against the Bills.

“We’ll have some eyes on Russell Wilson,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon told the J-C. “Eyes, legs, feet, bodies. That’s the plan, get bodies on him. He likes to extend the play, so you have to leverage the guy.”

The Seahawks also will need to protect the ball against a Falcons team that was, like the Seahawks, plus-13 in turnover differential. They’ll also need to generate turnovers, with the knowledge that Ryan has thrown nine interceptions at home this season compared to five on the road – with a TD pass disparity to match, 11 at home and 21 on the road.

It won’t be easy, but then it’s not supposed to be when you reach this part of the postseason.

Enjoy the game, which kicks off at 10 a.m. PT on Fox (KCPQ/13 in the greater Seattle area), with radio coverage on 710 ESPN and KIRO 97.3.

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