The Seahawks Face Their Greatest Challenge In Atlanta This Weekend

The 2012 Seattle Seahawks have had a bit of a charmed life with regards to their schedule.  All of their toughest games were at home.  Green Bay, New England, Minnesota, Dallas, San Francisco … the only difficult road test was those same 49ers, but I don’t know how much that counts since they’re on the schedule every year anyway, what with them being in our division.  And sure, that road 49ers game was probably the greatest challenge of the regular season, but I don’t think it compares to what we’re going to face this Sunday.

That was a Thursday game.  I don’t know about you, but I pretty much throw all of those out the window.  They’re meaningless!  They’re reasons for the NFL to increase revenue.  But, you can’t take anything away from them, other than having watched 60 minutes of terrible football.

This is a playoff game.  Automatically:  stakes raised.  Also, not for nothing, but we’re talking about the #1 seed in the NFC.  You don’t get to be 13-3 unless you’re really fucking good!  There’s no such thing as an easy 13-3 team.  I don’t care if it’s Winless-In-The-Playoffs Matt Ryan.  I don’t care if it’s in We-Can’t-Sell-Out-Our-Stupid-Fucking-Stadium-Because-We’re-The-Worst-Fans-In-Sports Atlanta.  It’s a good, desperate team with a chip on their shoulders playing at home in a dome that will be loud whether or not they fill every seat.  A team that’s coming off a BYE week, so they’re extremely well-rested to boot.

Right now, I fear this game more than I fear a potential showdown against the winner of the San Fran/Green Bay game.  Just as Green Bay should be fearing San Fran over whoever comes out on top of our contest.  Teams on a BYE in the playoffs win something like 75% of Divisional Round games.  I HATE those odds.  I absolutely hate them.

But, you know, they’re odds.  They’re not concrete.  In 2011, the Giants bucked the trend.  In 2010, both the Packers and the Jets moved on.  In 2009, the Jets once again moved past the Divisional round as a Wild Card team.  In 2008, a whopping THREE out of four teams who played in the Wild Card round moved on to their respective Conference Championship games (Arizona, Baltimore, Philly).  In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 2004 season’s Divisional Round to find a scenario where all four BYE teams moved on.

So, what do the Seahawks have to do to keep that trend alive?

I think one of the reasons why people like the idea of going into Atlanta so much is because of what/where they’re not.  They’re not San Francisco and they’re not Green Bay.  Clearly, the four best teams in the NFC are still alive and kicking, but if you hand to rank them by toughest home environments, it would look like this:

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. San Francisco
  4. Atlanta

That’s not to say going to Atlanta is a stroll in the park or anything.  Over their last 40 regular season home games (that would be 5 seasons worth, for those doing the math), the Falcons are 33-7.  That’s absolutely astonishing!  I’m not going to bother going over Seattle’s road record in that same span, but rest assured there’s a reason why we all collectively ejaculated over our big win in D.C. last week.

Still, my point being:  better Atlanta than the other two.

You know how we’re going to beat Atlanta?  Getting off the field on 3rd down.  I know people generally think of the Falcons as this high-flying, vertical passing attack that’s going to dominate you with their long bombs.  When in fact, the Seahawks on offense measure up just as well, if not better, in most offensive catagories (and the Seahawks had to contend with their first month’s infant offense).

I know the Seahawks have two good cornerbacks (or, rather, one good and one Best Cornerback In The Game), but they’re not going to completely shut out Roddy White and Julio Jones.  Granted, their production will probably be down in this game compared to most others, but they’re still going to get a percentage of theirs.  You can’t worry about that.  Elite receivers figure out a way to get receptions and yards (unless you play for Arizona, and then you’re fucked) no matter the opponent.  I’m not worried about these two; I’m worried about Tony Gonzalez and whoever their third wide receiver is.  I’m worried about the Falcons converting an inordinate amount of 2nd or 3rd & shorts with little slants and dump-offs in the middle of the field.

This is where the Seahawks are hurt by not having even a decent pass rush from their front four.  Make no mistake, I’m a pig in shit when it comes to our elite secondary.  After all those Holmgren years where we were fielding a little league squad back there, it’s nice to be among the NFL’s very best in pass defense.  But, when you’ve got 3rd and short, and you’ve got a team prone to emptying their backfield in the shotgun, it’s nice to be able to get in a quarterback’s face before he’s had time to make himself a club sandwich and a glass of cool, refreshing iced tea.

But, you know, them’s the breaks.  The Seahawks HAVE to force some punts.  I’m not expecting to keep the Falcons in the 15-point range like we have most everyone else this season (though, surely I’d take it in a heartbeat), but we can’t let them score in the 35-point range.  That’s suicide, plain and simple.

On the flipside, I like the Seahawks’ chances of scoring on this team.  That doesn’t mean I think they’re going to come out of the gate marching up and down the field (though, again, I’d take it in a heartbeat).  But, once the shock of flying across country (again) starts to fade, I like our chances of moving the ball exactly as we did against the Redskins in the middle stages of that game.

The Falcons don’t have the best run defense in the game, so that’s where we’re going to have to hit them.  In the two Carolina games (where they should have lost both, but ended up 1-1), the Falcons gave up 195 and 199 yards on the ground.  Against Tampa in week 17, they gave up 144.  As long as Beastmode is healthy, he should have a field day against this defense.

So, what do I think?  A small part of me has this weird feeling that we’re in the midst of a truly special season and the Seahawks will once again figure out a way to keep the magic alive.  After all, can you go wrong when a guy like Nate Silver is in your corner?  I’ll take him over the Stephen A. Smiths and the Shannon Sharpes of the world, that’s for damn sure.

But, if you force me to pick a winner or else my family gets sold into slavery, I can’t help feeling that this is the end of the road.  Three days from now, we’ll all be looking forward to the 2013 season when the Seahawks go 14-2, capture the #1 seed, and cruise into the Super Bowl.

I hope I’m wrong about this Sunday, though.  I’d give just about anything to be wrong.  But, I can’t have my family sold into slavery (it would make next Christmas depressing as shit!).

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