When the Seahawks and Falcons met back in Week 6, things were very different. Earl Thomas was healthy, the game was in Seattle and the Seahawks had Christine Michael as their top running back. All of those things would seem to favor the Seahawks, but none of them are the same this time around. Instead, with a trip to the NFC title game on the line, the Seahawks will travel to Atlanta without Thomas or Michael, which puts them at a severe disadvantage.
With the Falcons looking to avenge their loss to Seattle earlier in the season, the offense is going to be firing on all cylinders. Matt Ryan looks like an MVP, while Atlanta’s running backs are two of the most dynamic in the NFL. This time, Atlanta will escape with a win and move one step closer to Houston, and here’s why.
Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman
The Falcons boast something that few other teams in the NFL have: two extremely versatile running backs who are essentially interchangeable. Freeman (24) and Coleman (26) may very well be the best running back duo in the league, and it’s their flexibility that makes them so dangerous. They both can split out wide as receivers, while also catching the ball out of the backfield. Between the two of them, they caught 85 passes for 883 yards and five touchdowns to go with 1,599 combined rushing yards.
The Seahawks have outstanding linebackers in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, as well as Kam Chancellor, but matching up with these backs is extremely difficult. They’ll prove to be a handful for Seattle to handle with Julio Jones drawing plenty of attention in coverage. Don’t be surprised to see Coleman and Freeman break a few big plays against the Seahawks by causing mismatches on the outside.
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Earl Thomas is out
Most safeties in the NFL are fairly easy to replace. They’re not all playmakers and they’re the furthest guys away from the quarterback. However, Earl Thomas is a different breed of safety. He can take away big plays over the top of the defense, while also playing a Robber role in the middle of the defense, reading the quarterback’s eyes and jumping routes between the numbers. Thomas won’t be on the field for this one after breaking a leg, and his absence will be sorely missed.
The Seahawks haven’t picked off a single pass in the five games since he went down, which is tied for the longest drought in franchise history. When Thomas was on the field this season, the Seahawks allowed a passer rating of just 77.8 with 10 interceptions and one touchdown. Without him, they’ve given up nine touchdown passes and a passer rating of 99.5. It’ll make a big difference with him being out in this one, particularly against the pass.
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Seattle isn’t a good road team
There’s no beating around the bush on this one: The Seahawks are not the same team away from Seattle. They were 3-4-1 on the road this season, but 8-1 at home including last week’s win. Not only will the Seahawks be on the road this weekend, but they’re also traveling across the country to take on a team that plays in a dome – and loves playing under a roof. The Falcons are a high-powered offense that thrives on playing in perfect conditions. No wind, no weather, a raucous crowd. It all sets up perfectly for the Falcons in this one, considering how poorly the Seahawks play away from Seattle.
Communication won’t be an issue for Atlanta in this one, but it might be for the Seahawks. With their inexperienced offensive line, false starts could become a problem, as will communicating at the line of scrimmage. Matt Ryan will have no trouble throwing the football in the Georgia Dome’s perfect conditions, which obviously help Russell Wilson too. But it’s Atlanta that will benefit most from playing under the dome.