The Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons meet on Saturday afternoon for the right to go to the NFC Championship game. The Seahawks were there in 2013 and 2014, the Falcons most recently in 2012. It seems like these two teams have been approaching this moment for a while, whether it’s over the last few weeks when they were battling for the two-seed, since Week 6 when they first met, two years ago when one coach left for the other team, or even four years ago. There are plenty of storylines to talk about, here are a few:
Dan Quinn vs Pete Carroll
When Carroll took the job in Seattle in 2010, he could have fired Dan Quinn -- the defensive line coach at the time — but he didn’t. He kept Quinn and Gus Bradley. Quinn left after one season to become the defensive coordinator at Florida, but when the Seahawks job became available after Bradley left, Carroll went right back to Quinn, knowing there was something very special about this coach. Only two years after Quinn took the job in Atlanta, he’s got them into the divisional round of the playoffs with a home game, facing his old mentor. Consider that in 2014, the Falcons were 6-10 and outscored by 36 points. In 2015, they were 8-8 and outscored by six points. In 2016, they went 11-5 and outscored their opponents by 134 points with one of the greatest offenses of all-time. When Quinn can really install a defense behind Vic Beasley, Desmond Trufant, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, they’re going to be much harder to defeat. This could be Carroll’s best shot for a few years, especially if these games are going to be in Atlanta. Unlike Bradley’s stint with the Jaguars, it seems like Quinn’s going to be around as a head coach for quite some time.
2012 Divisional Round Rematch
I will remember this day for the rest of my life. I think that there are people who have vivid memories of a lot of Seahawks games and there are people who have memories of a few specific ones, and then there are people like me who forget pretty much all things moments after they happen, but I had a real life-changing moment on January 13, 2013. Watching the game at a Seattle Seahawks bar in Los Angeles (many of you will know The Backstage well), I was despondent over Seattle getting blown out after such an exciting end to their season with rookie Russell Wilson. Then I was crying tears of joy after they completed one of the most amazing comebacks in NFL playoffs history. Then I was destroyed by them blowing said comeback. I left the bar a changed person. After 10 years of being a smoker, I decided to have my last cigarette that day, so that at least one thing in my life would go right. I have not had a cigarette since. It’s not that hard to quit it turns out — you just need to have your heartbroken.
Four years and one day later: Same franchises, same location, same round, same quarterbacks, many of the same players. A win on Saturday could never make up for that loss, but it would certainly feel like a more satisfying conclusion. And if the Seahawks win, I can go back to smoking!
Week 6 Rematch: Julio Jones vs Richard Sherman
Punch me in the face for this one, but “No-Call” was being brought up before the final whistle even sounded in the wild card game. Atlanta fans are really holding onto this one, if you catch my drift. The context of “No-Call” isn’t that if the refs had called pass interference on Sherman, the Falcons would have won the game. It also isn’t just that if they had properly called hands to the face on Julio Jones, the Seahawks would have won the game. If everything was called by the letter of the law, then it would be a repeat of 4th-and-10 from Atlanta’s own 25 with like 1:30 remaining, down two points. Hey, how about Matt Ryan took a shot 40 yards downfield instead of picking up the first with plenty of time left on the clock? This is also the game in which Sherman was infuriated on the sidelines with his defense and defensive coordinator blowing assignments in the third quarter to allow Ryan to throw three touchdown passes. This is a huge game for Sherman to get what he feels is “revenge” for touchdowns he doesn’t think Ryan should have had, as well as “revenge” for Jones to get the win that really matters after he didn’t get the call he wanted at the end of the first game.
Matt Ryan’s quest to prove his MVP season was for real
There would be no better way for Ryan to show that his historic season was legit than a convincing win over a defense that was leading the NFL in points allowed a few weeks before the season ended, that was the best D in the league from 2012 to 2015 en total, and that did one of the better jobs of containing him all year. Though Ryan was unstoppable in the third quarter in Week 6, the Seahawks actually shut him down quite thoroughly in the other three periods. They won’t have Earl Thomas this time, but they will have Kam Chancellor and a healthy Michael Bennett.
Vic Beasley vs air
Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks this season. In the first game between these two teams he didn’t register a sack, but going up against George Fant or Germain Ifedi or whoever, he could get 15.5 sacks in the first half alone. It may also end up like the Detroit game, in which Ezekiel Ansah got two sacks, Wilson went down a third time, and none of it really mattering as long as he doesn’t get injured.
Russell Wilson going for a road division round playoff win
Though Wilson has never lost at home in the playoffs, he is just 2-2 on the road: A road win and loss in 2012, a road win and road loss in 2015. That puts him at 0-2 in the divisional round on the road against Atlanta and Carolina. He almost pulled it off against the Falcons, but would be nice to get bad taste out of our mouths a year after falling back 31-0 to the Panthers.
Thomas Rawls vs poor defense
Rawls just broke the franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game, and he might do it again just one week later. The Falcons are 29th against the run, per DVOA, even worse than the Lions. They are just 27th on defense overall. If Rawls can get going early and stay healthy, 100 yards seems probable, 150 is well within his abilities.
Return of CJ Prosise?
The potential return of Prosise against a terrible run defense will be much talked about, and for a good reason; Prosise was incredible in limited time this season and adding another element — especially one that’ll be damn near impossible for Quinn to predict — could give the Seahawks the edge they need on offense to not fall behind whatever points Ryan can put on the board.
Seattle football in the Georgia Dome
It doesn’t really matter to me at all, but the Washington Huskies just lost to Alabama in the same stadium a week ago in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.
Jimmy Graham vs old NFC South foes
As a member of the Saints for five years, Graham saw plenty of the Falcons. That being said, a lot changed after he was traded to Seattle in 2015, including the new head coach and much of the defense. In his time with New Orleans, Graham enjoyed wins in five of eight games (not including his part-time rookie season) against Atlanta. He averages about 65 yards per game against them.
What other storylines are you looking forward to / not looking forward to?