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Falcons-Seahawks: The Most Favored Underdog Ever

The Atlanta Falcons are ostensibly the favorites this Sunday afternoon, though you wouldn’t know it; everyone and their Seahawk-loving mothers are picking Seattle to win this game, some by a large margin. The Falcons are at home, in the playoffs, and the number one seed, yet they are only one point favorites in this game, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it swung the other way by week’s end and the Seahawks were favored.

In recent memory, I can’t remember a number one-overall seed facing such intense doubt and scrutiny in a playoff game. However, the causes are warranted; the Falcons have failed dismally in the playoffs in head coach Mike Smith’s tenure, never worse than in a 24-2 loss to the New York Giants last season.

“We’re a much more mature team because of our experiences,” Smith said. “I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs. This is a team that has been very focused from the very beginning of the season and we’ve got a lot of guys who have experienced the playoff atmosphere. They’re going to be able to help some of the younger guys who haven’t.”

Seattle, on the other hand, might be the story of the year this season. The Seahawks wrapped up the year at 11-5, and rank as one of the most balanced NFL teams in recent history; they’re third in the NFL in rushing yards, sixth in opponent passing yards, and tenth in opponents rushing yards. The loss of defensive end and team sack leader Chris Clemons will undoubtedly hurt them in this game, though that isn’t stopping many picking them for the upset, and why not? Seattle ended their season on one of the hottest runs in league history, scoring 50-plus points in back to back weeks and flat out demolishing their divisional opponent, and a supposedly much better team, the San Francisco 49ers.

“We haven’t been as solid as we are now,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re much more solid in our thinking and mentality and just the resolve about everything we’re doing.”

The Falcons offensive game plan all year long has focused on deep balls to their two best offensive threats, wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. However, if Seattle’s back line can shut them down, they could easily fluster Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into a few turnovers. However, Matt Ryan is 33-6 in the Georgia Dome, while the Seahawks are only 2-8 all-time in road playoff games, including their win over the Redskins last week. But Ryan hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in postseason play, no matter where the game took place; he’s 0-3, and if he loses on Sunday will tie Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterback – ever- to lose all of his first four postseason starts. Given the Falcons 56-24 regular season record under Mike Smith and Matt Ryan, that is a shameful record to near tying. However, the Falcons are eager to erase the memories of their recent past playoff failures.

“The coaching, the locker room, the brotherhood in the locker room is totally different than 2010,” Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recently said. “I think that guys are eager to get into the playoffs and make our presence known. We are a team that’s going to be able to make this run in the playoffs.”

I don’t typically like jumping on board with the pundits, but I have to agree with this one; Atlanta’s close wins against bad teams this season does not bode well for them here. Seattle is a hardened team rounding into shape at just the right moment, and I think they win here.

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