This was supposed to be one of the toughest games of the season. A marquee re-match of one of the greatest playoff games in the last decade. Two title contenders vying for a number one seed, this game was supposed to go a long way in deciding which of these two teams would have that tie-breaking edge.
Instead, while the Seahawks are 8-1 and a couple of bounces of the ball away from 9-0, the Falcons are a shell of their former selves and look to have next-to-no chance of making the playoffs at all!
It happens every year. Teams who were good before, who you would expect to be good again, inexplicably falling off the face of the Earth. No one ever predicts it, and no one ever expects it to happen to them. Maybe it starts with losing a game you should’ve won. In this case, the Falcons lost three games they should’ve won, in a row: @ Miami, vs. New England, and vs. the Jets. We’re talking about one of the great home teams in the NFL; they should ALWAYS go 8-0 at home, and if they even lose one game, it would probably be a close one against a divisional opponent. Surely not THE JETS! Not on Monday Night!
Of course, to truly fall flat, you have to suffer a snowballing of injuries. Roddy White came out of the gates with a high ankle sprain that still hasn’t fully healed. He foolishly tried to play on it, only delaying his recovery while making zero impact whatsoever on the field. Hell, he actually had a negative impact, because all defenses had to do was put their worst cornerback on him and double-team everyone else. Then, Steven Jackson went down for a few weeks. Not that you’d expect the Falcons to run the ball much (or at all), but at least Jackson had that threat. Plus, he’s a good blocker and pass-catcher out of the backfield. THEN, the hammer: Julio Jones, out for the year. I know virtually nothing about the rest of this team, but I can safely tell you this team is rotten from the inside out. Without Jones, without White, they have a healthy-yet-aged Tony Gonzalez in his confirmed final season … and that’s it. Their backup receivers are duds, defenses are triple-teaming Gonzalez, and that leaves Matt Ryan trying to do too much.
This team is dreadful in the red zone. Aside from injuries, that’s been their big killer. Even when they had Julio Jones and a hobbled Roddy White, they couldn’t punch it in the endzone as much as they should have! When you don’t try to run the ball at all, that’s what happens. Defenses get to tee off on your quarterback. They know Matt Ryan’s tendencies – throw to Tony Gonzalez in the back of the endzone – and once they take that away, the rest is simple. Bend, don’t break. You let Atlanta move the ball up and down the field, then you force them into kicking field goals. That’s how you beat this team.
So, open and shut case, right? Seahawks win by a landslide. Well, let’s not Dewey Defeats Truman this thing just yet.
If I was talking about the Seahawks of three weeks ago, I’d be a lot more confident. Remember those Seahawks? The ones who went into Arizona and turned it into Seattle South? Well, ever since, we’ve given up 9,000 yards rushing to two teams who have no business getting more than 50 per game. We’ve looked stale and predictable on both sides of the ball far too often, and were almost upset twice by two of the worst teams in the NFC.
If Tampa and St. Louis can run on us, what makes you think Atlanta won’t? Maybe, in a desperate attempt to turn their season around, they’ll totally flip the script and try their hands at a power-rushing scheme. Maybe they’ll take some sage advice from Steven Jackson – who is well aware of what the Seahawks are capable of – and run him into the teeth of our defense 25 times. Or, shit, maybe they’ll just use Tony Gonzalez to burn us like he burned us back in the playoffs. Anything is possible.
I fully expect a Seahawks victory this Sunday, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be shocked if we lost. Matt Ryan is still an elite quarterback who is fully capable of taking advantage of an aggressive defense. If the Seahawks win, I expect it to be something of a blowout. The offense should be able to move the ball just fine; and this is the first time since I can remember that we’re not dealing with a quality front seven, so Russell Wilson should remain fairly clean. If the Seahawks lose, then I would expect another cardiac finish. Keep those defibrillators handy.