NFL

NFL Divisional Playoffs - Jan. 12-13

Ravens 38 vs Broncos 35 | Texans vs Patriots | Packers 31 vs 49ers 45 | Seahawks vs Falcons


No. 5 Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at No. 1 Atlanta falcons (13-3)

Sunday, January 13 - 1pm et/10am pt on CTV



Can Smith, Ryan finally lead Falcons to playoff win?

ATLANTA (AP) -- It's 2010 all over again for the Atlanta Falcons.

Just like two seasons back, the Falcons finished 13-3 in the regular season. Once again, they have the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

This time, they vow they're mature enough to make the most of the opportunity.

The Falcons will try to end their recent trend of first-game post-season exits Sunday when they play the streaking Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs.

Watch the game live on CTV and CTV.ca at 1pm et/10am pt.

The Falcons had a first-round bye last week while rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led Seattle to a 24-14 comeback win at the Washington Redskins.

The Seahawks (12-5) bring a six-game winning streak to Atlanta.

Atlanta had never managed back-to-back winning seasons before a new era began in 2008 with general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons have five straight winning records and four playoff seasons, including three straight.

So far, all the regular-season success has led only to post-season disappointment. Smith and Ryan are 0-3 in the post-season, including a home loss to Green Bay in 2010 and an ugly 24-2 loss at the Giants last year.

The Falcons say they've learned from the playoff defeats and are better prepared this year.

"We've been here in the past before and now we're more mature," said safety Thomas DeCoud. "We know what we can and cannot do.

"It's a sense of pride, more of an internal sense of pressure rather than anything external. As professional athletes we all want to go out there and perform well and get this monkey off our backs, so to speak."

The Falcons can only marvel at Wilson's ability to pull off a road win in his first playoff game. Wilson completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards and ran for 67 yards in last week's win. Seattle overcame a 14-0 deficit to beat the Redskins.

Wilson, a third-round pick, has outlasted Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the playoffs.

"My expectations are very high," Wilson said. "That's allowed me to be where I am today. If I listen to everybody who said I can't do it, there's no way I could play in the National Football League, there's no way I'd be starting in the National Football League. There's no way I'd be here today."

Previous Matchups
Oct. 2, 2011 ATL 30 @ SEA 28
Dec. 21, 2010 ATL 34 @ SEA 18
Dec. 30, 2007 SEA 41 @ ATL 44

Centre Todd McClure, in his 13th season, is the only holdover from the last Atlanta team to win a playoff game, in 2004.

"I feel like this is the best team I've been on since I've been here," McClure said. "I'm not just saying that. I feel like this is the best opportunity I've had and we've had to make a run. We have to go out on Sunday and execute. We have to play our best football to win this game and I think we're ready for it."

The 35-year-old McClure says he thinks he'll return for another season. Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is 36, says he's 95 per cent certain he will retire even though he made his 13th Pro Bowl. Among other key veterans on the team are cornerback Asante Samuel and running back Michael Turner.

Looking back at 2010 and 2011, McClure says the Falcons are fortunate to have this opportunity to make up for past post-season failures. He says there is no assurance there will be another chance.

"These opportunities in the playoffs, they don't happen every year," McClure said. "Some teams seem like they're in just about every year but you look over guys' careers and it's hard to get in the playoffs. Even if I do play another year it's not a certainty I'll be back in this situation. It's like that for everybody in this locker room. We want to take advantage of where we're at."

The Falcons' offence has evolved in the five seasons under Smith, whose early teams featured Turner's runs. First-year offensive co-ordinator Dirk Koetter made this a pass-first offence with more screens and more big plays for Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Ryan set franchise marks with 4,719 yards passing and 32 touchdowns while completing 68.6 per cent of his passes for another record.

With Ryan orchestrating the no-huddle attack, the Falcons have the ability for quick-strike big plays. It's a contrast to the Seahawks, who prefer to control the ball with powerful running back Marshawn Lynch, who set a career high and ranked third in NFL with 1,590 yards rushing.

"If we can hold the football, it's frustrating to an offence who wants to go fast," said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "We're not trying to sit on the clock at all, but we're certainly committed to the running game. There is nothing better that we can do than to be making first downs and handling the football to keep them from being on the field. The best thing we could do is to keep them on the sideline, and the best way we can do that is to convert, and running gives us a great chance."

The Seahawks, only 3-5 on the road in the regular season, must make their second cross-country trip in as many weeks. According to STATS LLC, the only NFL West Coast team to win two games at East Coast sites in the same post-season was the 1989 Los Angeles Rams, who won at Philadelphia and the New York Giants.

Seattle lost sacks leader Chris Clemons to a knee injury last week. Rookie Bruce Irvin will start for Clemons, who had 11 1-2 sacks, at defensive end.

Losing Clemons is big for a defence that allowed only 203 yards -- 99 passing and 104 rushing -- against the Redskins.

"I think it's a matter of who can execute their system better than the other team at a higher level," said Seattle tight end Zach Miller. "It's going to come down to who is more on their game. We're similar type teams in that we don't turn the ball over. We don't make many mistakes."

Wilson said the playoffs are "time to do something special."

"Obviously we've got a tough seed in front of us," Wilson said. "We're going to Atlanta. It's going to be a hostile crowd. ... We just need to enjoy what it is and see what happens."

Players To Watch
Bruce Irvin - Defensive End

The Seahawks first round pick has excelled in his role as a situational pass rusher in his rookie season but will be forced to take on a heavier load with Chris Clemons' done for the year. Irvin has proven his ability to get to the quarterback on passing downs but the Seahawks will need him to help stop the run now too.

Michael Turner - Running Back

The passing game is the Falcons bread and butter but against a stout defence like Seattle they will need to establish the running game as well. Turner averaged a career low 3.6 yards per carry during the regular season and has averaged less than three yards in two games against the Seahawks as a member of the Falcons. Atlanta will need him to be better than that on Sunday.


The Seahawks win if...

The Seahawks are riding a wave of momentum and look to be hitting their peak at the perfect time. If recent history is any sort of indicator, that bodes well for the Seahawks who have won six straight games.

2012 Team Stats
Points SEA 25.8
ATL 26.2
Pass Yards SEA 189.4
ATL 281.8
Rush Yards SEA 161.2
ATL 87.3
Points Allowed SEA 15.3
ATL 18.7
Pass Yds Allowed SEA 203.1
ATL 242.4
Rush Yds Allowed SEA 103.1
ATL 123.2

The two most recent Super Bowl champions, the 2011 Giants and 2010 Packers, were both teams that hit their stride in the playoffs and both knocked off the Falcons en route to the title.

The Seahawks defence has no reason to think they can't shut down the Falcons high-powered offence after giving up a league-low 245 points this season. Their defensive line is as good as you'll find in the NFL and if they can get into the Falcons' backfield and disrupt Matt Ryan's rhythm the Seahawks stand and excellent chance of pulling off a road upset.

The onus will also be put on the Seahawks big, physical secondary. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will be tasked with roughing up Roddy White and Julio Jones and keeping them from making the big play.

Offensively, the Seahawks should hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch early and often against a Falcons team that had trouble shutting down power rushers this season. Russell Wilson has also shown the ability to use his legs to burn defences with his legs. That doesn't bode well for an Atlanta team that finished the year ranked 21st against the run.

The Falcons win if...

They do what they almost always do at home. Under Matt Ryan, the Falcons are 33-5 at home during the regular season had won 11 straight under the dome in Atlanta until their meaningless Week 17 loss to the the Bucs.

The play of the offensive line will be a huge factor in determining the outcome for the Falcons on Sunday. When Matt Ryan has the time to go through his reads, he is as good as anyone in the NFL at finding his targets. Ryan and his triple threat of receivers in White, Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez had the Atlanta offence as a top-10 unitl all season long. No matter how good Seattle's secondary might be, if the Falcons have good protection on offence, they will make the Seahawks pay.

Atlanta should also be able to use the extra week off to its advantage. The Seahawks came out of their win over the Redskin a tad on the banged up side while the Falcons should be well-rested and healthier, especially on defence. Defensive end John Abraham's ankle should be a lot better as should strong safety Dunta Moore's hamstring.

Team Leaders

Seattle
Passing Russell Wilson 64.1% 3,118 Yds 26 TD 10 INT
Receiving Sidney Rice 50 Rec 748 Yds 15.0 Avg 7
Rushing Marshawn Lynch 315 Att 1,590 5.0 11
Tackles Bobby Wagner 85 Solo 54 Ast 139 Tot 2 Sacks
Sacks Chris Clemons 11.5 Sacks 40 Tkl 3 FF 1 FR
Interceptions Richard Sherman 8 INT 57 Yds 7.1 Avg 1 TD

Atlanta
Passing Matt Ryan 68.6% 4,719 Yds 32 TD 14 INT
Receiving Roddy White 92 Rec 1,351 Yds 14.7 Avg 7 TD
Rushing Michael Turner 222 Att 800 Yds 3.6 Avg 10 TD
Tackles Stephen Nicholas 71 Solo 24 Ast 95 Tot 2 Sacks
Sacks John Abraham 10 Sacks 36 Tkl 6 FF 0 FR
Interceptions Thomas DeCoud 6 INT 42 Yds PDef 9 0 TD


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