Falcons divisional playoff preview
Opponent: Seattle Seahawks
Where: Georgia Dome
Time: 1 p.m.
Records: No. 1-seeded Falcons (13-3); No. 5-seeded Seahawks (12-5).
Point Spread (Danny Sheridan’s USA TODAY odds): Atlanta is favored by 3 with an over of 46.
Key Offensive Matchup: The Seahawks’ cornerback duo of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have received much attention this week for their size and the physical nature with which they play. Browner, in his second season in the NFL, stands 6-foot-4, making him the tallest cornerback in the league. Sherman, who is 6-3, has gained as much notoriety for his trash-talking – taking on targets such as New England quarterback Tom Brady and Washington right tackle Trent Williams – as for his play. Because of their cornerbacks’ size and style of play, the Seahawks often play eight defenders in the box against the run, leaving only one safety. If Seattle chooses to remain with that scheme and to play man-to-man coverage on Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, two big, physical types themselves, and tight end Tony Gonzalez, it will be incumbent on the Falcons to win that matchup. If they do, they will likely win the game.
Key Defensive Matchup: The Falcons say that stopping quarterback Russell Wilson will be the key, but if they can limit running back Marshawn Lynch, the league’s No. 3 rusher during the regular season, then it would follow that stopping Wilson should be an afterthought. The Falcons’ strong performances against top runners this season would seem to be vastly outnumbered by their good ones, as they rank 21st in the NFL against the run. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said poor tackling and explosive plays have characterized the Falcons’ poorer performances against the run. Since the bye week, the Falcons have emphasized fundamentals, including the need to tackle well. Whether all that time translates into an effective performance remains to be seen. Significantly, Lynch, a bruising back, did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of a foot injury. Lynch returned to practice on Friday but was limited. If the foot hinders his play, the Falcons would benefit greatly.
Inactive: For Atlanta: quarterback Dominique Davis, wide receiver Tim Toone, cornerback Chris Owens, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, offensive tackle Lamar Holmes; for Seattle, wide receiver Deon Butler, cornerback DeShawn Shead, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Allen Bradford, guard Rishaw Johnson, tackle Mike Person, defensive tackle Jaye Howard.