NFL - Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons preview

Richard Moore previews the match-up between the NFL's most in-form team and the team with the best regular season record.

Seattle Seahawks (11 - 5) @ Atlanta Falcons (13 - 3)

Sky Sports 2/2HD, 5:30 P.M Sunday, 13th January.

Despite not meeting during the course of the regular season the Seahawks and Falcons represent a deeply intriguing and potentially explosive match up - perhaps the most enthralling of the divisional round.

The Seahawks are an aggressive and thoroughly uncompromising group that held a Washington Rushing attack ranked 1st in the league (averaging 169.3 yards per game) to 104 total rush yards - Defensive tackle Alan Branch (five tackles and a sack), and rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin (1 sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass deflection, providing a perfect illustration of just why the Seattle defense really is the ‘legion of boom’.

The Falcons, on the other hand, are an athletic (receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White being prime examples) and pacy outfit unit designed to function indoors at the Georgia Dome, where they have a commendable 33-7 regular-season record, following the arrival of Coach Mike Smith in 2008.

However, Atlanta will be desperate to avoid a repeat of the fate that befell them the last time they were the NFC’s number one seed in 2010, when the Green Bay Packers marched into the Georgia done and decimated the Falcons to the tune of a 48 - 21 rout.

Home advantage may be paramount, but just how advantageous is it?

In 2008, the year Mike Smith arrived in Atlanta, many of the favorites fell hard at home, as a 13 - 3 Tennessee side lost at home to Baltimore at the divisional stage, and 12 - 4 Carolina were humbled by the much maligned 9 - 7 Arizona Cardinals at the same stage; proving seeding is no safeguard against shock.

‘Hawks nest?’

If Running back Marshawn Lynch goes into "Beast Mode.", he’ll provide the perfect foil to Russell Wilson’s play making ability from the pocket.

An explosive power runner with unique skills, Lynch is to Seattle, what Foster is to Houston - the focal point of the offense. Lynch excels at running between the tackles, but is also a dangerous runner on the edges (although the effectiveness of the play is very much dependent on the success of the ‘Pin & Pull’ blocking scheme). Opponents have found it increasingly difficult to contain him this season, even when using eight- and nine-man fronts.

The Seahawks are 8-3 when Lynch (1,590 yards from 315 carries, and 11 touchdowns), rushes for 100 yards or more this season, including Sunday's 19 - carry, 131-yard effort against the Washington Redskins.

‘Home sweet dome?’

It’s imperative Quarterback Matt Ryan and his offensive colleagues protect the football. Turnovers are typically the deciding factor in playoff games, and this one will be no different.

When it comes to ball security, the Falcons have been one of the best teams in football ranking in the top 10 in turnover margin in each of the past three seasons. More importantly, the team has avoided making big miscues in key moments, particularly Ryan, who has thrown just one pick in the Falcons' past five games - form he needs to maintain especially with the impending arrival of Mr. Sherman (8 regular season picks) and co.

The Seahawks will enter the game intent on rushing Ryan into submission and forcing the erroneous nature of performance that surfaced in week 5 against Arizona (five picks) week 6 against the woeful Raiders (three picks).

However, the odds are in Ryan's favor, but only if his offensive line contains a defense that ranks 1st in points allowed (15.3), 4th in yards allowed, and forced 27 fumbles (8 more than the top ranked Pittsburgh Steelers), if not I expect Seattle, despite being 2 - 8 (including Sundays win over Washington) in road playoff games, to continue what may well turn out to be a Giants like march to the Superbowl - Although that team from the ‘Bay Area’ might have something to say about that...

Who is your pick to win?

image: © emeryjl