After winning their first road game in over 25 years last Sunday against the Washington Redskins, the Seattle Seahawks look to continue their six-game winning streak against one of the best home teams in the NFL in the Atlanta Falcons (1pm ET, Sunday).
While the Falcons once again had a stellar regular season going 13-3, the team has yet to record a playoff win in three tries in the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era. For this reason, the home team is listed as just 3-point favorites.
Can Matt Ryan Handle the Pressure?
Since Matt Ryan entered the league a mere five seasons ago, he was heralded as the savior that the Atlanta Falcons needed. To add to that pressure, Ryan was also considered and expected to be one of the next great quarterbacks in this league.
So far, to be fair, the 27-year-old really has handled all of the pressure and most of the expectations placed upon himself. He has improved each season, ultimately culminating with an MVP worthy campaign in 2012 that saw him post career highs in completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating.
While Ryan has been a solid quarterback, he has yet to enter into the conversation of elite status. His 2012 numbers certainly rival those of the best in the league and his consistent improvement over the years has him inching closer to being one of the best in the league, but there is still something missing: a play-off victory.
Most may look at the top-five quarterbacks in the league and admire not only their stats, but the laundry list of hardware each has. Between the five, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, each has at least one Super Bowl ring and several more appearances. Each also has either a Superbowl or regular season MVP.
Ryan meanwhile, doesn’t even have a playoff win. In fact in most lists of top-ten quarterbacks, Ryan is in the minority as the only one without just one playoff victory.
And that has kept the media with all eyes on Atlanta and all eyes on Ryan entering this playoff game.
Not only are the Falcons 0-3 in Ryan’s three playoff starts but Ryan himself has performed well below average. He has the worst QBR of any quarterback with three or more playoff starts, has yet to throw a 200+ yard game and has just three touchdowns versus four interceptions.
Ryan will need to play much better if the Falcons hope to beat the very physical Seattle Seahawks. In fact, this is likely the toughest defense Ryan has faced in his playoff career and could present the most amount of trouble.
That said, if the young quarterback can get past his playoff demons, then the Falcons stand a very good shot at not only winning this game, but potentially at making a run at the Superbowl.
Can the Falcons Receivers out Duel Seattle’s Cornerbacks?
Other than Ryan, Atlanta’s best asset this season has been a pair of wide receivers that rival Denver’s Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas as the best double team in the league.
Atlanta’s Roddy White, an eight-year veteran, led the Falcons this year with 92 receptions for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. His younger partner, just in his second NFL season, supplemented White in the backfield with 79 receptions for 1,198 yards and a team high 10 touchdowns.
Together the two caught 17 of Ryan’s 32 touchdown passes and over half of his total 4,719 yards. Essentially, although Ryan is the one throwing the ball, having these two at his disposal has certainly made the Atlanta quarterback look good this season.
While White and Jones, both headed to the Pro Bowl this season, are two of the best and most explosive wide receivers in the league, they will be facing up against two of the best cornerbacks as well in Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
Sherman, the younger of the duo, recorded his best and one of the best seasons overall for all NFL quarterbacks this season. He had 64 combined tackles, three forced fumbles and a second best in the league eight interceptions. He also played some of the best man coverage in the league and he too is headed to the Pro Bowl.
Also with just two years of experience, the 28-year Browner, has been nearly as good in the backfield. He has 44 combined tackles, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Despite his totals falling off slightly from last year, Browner still had a solid season for Seattle.
So with two excellent and physical corners up against two Pro Bowl receivers, it is anybody’s guess which duo will excel. On the plus side for Atlanta, both White and Jones have played exceedingly well against man coverage and have not been phased by double teams this season. These are two things that Seattle’s bread and butter rest in as both Sherman and Browner play best in man coverage. The plus-side for Seattle is that Ryan has been susceptible to making mistakes in the playoffs and that overall, the Seahawks defense has been able to stop a range of pass catchers, some very similar to Jones and White.
Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Picks
Seattle has the advantage of having played a game last week against Washington. This gave rookie QB Russell Wilson a chance to shed his status as playoff rookie and as it turns out, gives him one more playoff victory than his competitor at the position has. The Seahawks also possess a much stronger running game and more physical defense. Overall, they could be favored in this game.
Seattle is not favored however because despite past struggles, Atlanta is still almost unstoppable at home and Ryan is coming off of his best career season yet. Atlanta can match Seattle’s secondary with its core of talented receivers and has a good short yardage game with tight end Tony Gonzalez and the recent emergence of running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
Ultimately, I find it really tough to pick against Atlanta even with the lack of playoff success. That said, Seattle won’t go away without a fight so take the Seahawks with a headstart on the points spread.
- There is a disparity on the spread between the firms, although in terms of value it evens out between the two USA-facing sportsbooks. Seattle Seahawks are just +1pt @ better odds of +120 with BetOnline. They are +3pts @ -115 with Bovada, and I would prefer to take the extra points advantage at the cost of shorter odds.
- If you are not an American then the best option is +3pts @ 5/6 with BetVictor or Pinnacle.