Will Saturday be the final NFL game ever played in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome? It will be if the NFC South champion and second-seeded Falcons lose to the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, the third seeds in the conference. But Atlanta could have one more home game — it moves to a new stadium for next season — with a victory and Green Bay upset in Dallas on Sunday. It’s an intriguing matchup on paper this Saturday as Atlanta has the NFL’s best offense and Seattle one of its top defenses.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
Point spread:Falcons -4.5
Date: Saturday, Jan. 14, 4:35 p.m. ET
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Seattle (11-5-1) was a 7.5-point home favourite last Saturday against Detroit with a total of 43 here at Sports Interaction. In my preview, I recommended taking the Seahawks -6.5 points on the alternate line and under the total. They won 26-6. Tailback Thomas Rawls, who has been hurt much of the season. rushed 27 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. This is a vastly different offense when he’s healthy and running like the retired Marshawn Lynch used to. Russell Wilson stayed unbeaten at home in his playoff career in passing for 224 yards and two scores.
The Seahawks defense ranked No. 5 in the NFL in yards allowed during the season and No. 3 in points (18.3 ppg). That group shut down Matthew Stafford and Co., allowing the Lions just 231 yards and 13 first downs. Keep in mind, however, a few things: perhaps no team has a better home-field advantage than Seattle does; that game was out in the elements and Detroit is a dome team; and Stafford hasn’t been the same QB since injuring the middle finger on his throwing hand in Week 14.
It was Wilson’s eighth career playoff win, two more than any other QB since he joined the NFL in 2012. In 11 playoff games, Wilson is averaging 232 yards per game and completing 62.1 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns passes and seven interceptions. Seattle lost in the divisional round last year at Carolina, falling behind 31-0 at halftime but making it interesting by outscoring the Panthers 24-0 after intermission.
Wilson could get back a nice weapon this week in rookie running back C.J. Prosise, who hasn’t played since Week 11 due to a shoulder injury. He’s a nice threat as a receiver out of the backfield. He had two games with at least 80 yards receiving during the year. If he is able to play, Prosise would likely take over as the Seahawks’ third-down back and spell Rawls occasionally on early downs.
Atlanta (11-5) won the NFC South for the first time since 2012, which was also the last time this team was in the playoffs. That Falcons club also hosted Seattle in the divisional round and won a thriller, 30-28, on a Matt Bryant 49-yard field goal with eight seconds left. The Falcons had blown a 27-7 third-quarter lead. Ryan threw for 250 yards and three TDs but also two picks. Wilson threw for 385 yards and two scores and rushed for a touchdown.
Ryan was named first-team All-Pro last week, which means he’s likely to win his first NFL MVP Award over the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Ryan set several franchise records in throwing for 4,944 yards (second in NFL), 38 touchdowns (also second) and an NFL-best rating of 117.1. The Falcons led the NFL by a wide margin in scoring at 33.8 points per game. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 2,482 combined yards and 24 touchdowns.
The Falcons average an incredible 7.58 yards per play on first down, the best this century. By most metrics, it was a Top-10 offense of all-time, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is in demand for some head coaching openings. It should be noted that Ryan is only 1-4 in his playoff career with seven interceptions.
The marquee individual matchup to watch Saturday is Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, who caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards this season in 14 games, against Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman. What makes the Seattle defense so strong is that it can leave Sherman on an island and thus bring a safety up in the box to help stop the run. But if there’s one guy who should know how to attack that defense it’s Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn, the former Seattle defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll.
With last week off, the Falcons are about as healthy as they could be at this point in the season.
Seahawks vs. Falcons Predictions
These teams played Week 6 in Seattle, with the Seahawks having the advantage of coming off their bye week. They won 26-24 on a Steven Hauschka 44-yard field goal with 1:57 to go. On the Falcons’ ensuing drive on fourth-and-10, it looked as if Sherman should have been called for pass interference or holding on Jones, but the officials didn’t flag it. Jones did have seven catches for 139 yards and a TD. Ryan threw for 335 yards and three scores. Rawls wasn’t healthy back then for Seattle.
Ryan closed the season playing perhaps his best football in a four-game winning streak with 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating no worse than 121.8. Atlanta scored at least 33 points in each game. Meanwhile, Wilson has been, statistically, much worse away from home this season.
Lean the Falcons here but would recommend going down to Atlanta -2.5 at -189. Go over the total.