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Matt Ryan unafraid of Seahawks defense, with or without Earl Thomas

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The big story for the divisional round game between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons on Saturday revolves around the likely MVP and number one offense going against a defense that up until recently was regarded among of the best in NFL history. In the first meeting this season, Ryan was indeed MVP-like in the third quarter, taking apart the defense for three touchdowns, but they locked him down for roughly 75% of the game and the Seahawks won 26-24. Seattle had Earl Thomas that day and won’t have him this time, but Ryan says that doesn’t matter ... because they made plays against the Seahawks defense with Thomas too.

“We created some big plays with Earl in the lineup, too," Ryan said, via ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "There's plays to be made at all times through games. One guy's not going to make it ... Earl's a great player, there's no question about that, but there will be opportunities. There always are during games. Like always, whenever we get our opportunities, hopefully we can make those plays.”

Of course, there are other significant differences from then and now, mainly that Kam Chancellor and Frank Clark didn’t suit up, while Michael Bennett missed the second half.

"Earl's out; Kam's back in. When we played them, Kam didn't play for them. He's such a good player, too. Kind of sets the tone for them in terms of physical [style] and being aggressive. Earl's a good player for sure and covers a lot of ground."

Earl’s backup Steven Terrell has played as well as could be expected but certainly has been seen on the wrong side of some missed plays. The Seahawks will obviously be relying more on Richard Sherman to slow down on Julio Jones, who has seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. I do find it interesting how much praise the NFL.com article heaps upon Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel as guys who will be “gashing the intermediate level” and “taking the top off.” Sanu and Gabriel are nice complementary pieces, but neither has the ability to take over a game: in a combined 28 starts, the highest single-game output for either of them is 84 by Sanu, which came on nine catches against the Green Bay Packers.

What will be interesting is to see how Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman do, especially early. Freeman was held to 40 yards on 12 carries in the first meeting, while Coleman had 10 on five. They also combined for four catches and 17 yards that day, which is a big reason why Seattle held the NFL’s top offense to 24 points. Even without Thomas, is that not offset by the addition of Kam, Clark, and a half of Bennett? That’s something we will find out on Saturday, with the added mystery of this game happening at the Georgia Dome instead of outdoors at CenturyLink.

I would imagine that the Seahawks do need to score more than 26 points to win. I don’t imagine that Earl’s loss won’t be significant, but hopefully the additions of the other three will surprise a lot of people, including Ryan, and not allow many opportunities.