St. Louis Rams fans will get a chance to watch two of their division rivals in the playoffs this weekend, as the Seattle Seahawks will travel across country to take on the #1 seed Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at 1 pm ET. The San Francisco 49ers will be hosting the Green Bay Packers on Saturday at 8 pm ET following their first round bye. Both of these games figures to be pretty close as the 49ers and Falcons are mere 3 point favorites, the spread typically given to the home team when the game could go either way. The Seahawks picked up a road playoff win for the first time since 1983 when they stormed back from an early 14-0 deficit against the Redskins to win 24-14, and as the lowest seed in the NFC they will need to keep the road success rolling if they hope to reach the Super Bowl. So what are the hot topics with Seahawk fans and local media?
Russell Wilson. Wilson versus RGIII was a favorite storyline for the media leading up to the game, and quite frankly it was a bit of a disappointment. Wilson was 15/26 for 187 yards 1 TD and was sacked 5 times, he also tacked on 67 yards on 8 carries. Griffin was limited by his lingering knee issue but still managed to look very impressive during the Redskins first two drives, throwing 2 TDs en route to a 14-0 lead. Early in the game RGIII appeared to have aggravated the injury and never really looked the same, losing velocity on his deep ball and clearly lacking the mobility that made him such an explosive young player this season. Wilson struggled early on but began to find a rhythm as the Seahawks defense started to gain momentum against a hobbled RGIII. Wilson’s numbers wont be good enough to win many playoff games, and as much as Seahawks fans want to believe that having the only rookie QB left in the playoffs proves that Wilson should be Offensive Rookie of the Year, it was really the running game and defense (combined with the misfortune of the Redskins and their superstar rookie) that won them that game.
Legion of Boom. One of the more clever nicknames in modern professional football is the Legion of Boom, what the Seattle secondary has coined as their nickname. There isn’t a secondary as big or physical as what the Seahawks put on the field, and they can make life difficult for quarterbacks. This weekend they will match up against the most talented receiving group in the NFL with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez roaming the field. White and Jones are both big and physical wide receivers that should still be able to win one on one against Seattle’s corners. The real matchups to watch will be how the Seahawks safeties handle covering first ballot Hall of Fame player Tony Gonzalez and sensational second year back Jacquizz Rodgers, both of which can create mismatches in favor of the Falcons. The Falcons running game has fallen off in recent years with the emergence of Ryan, White and Jones, so if the Legion of Boom is successful this weekend it would go a long way towards a Seahawks victory.
Pass Rush. Something that hasn’t been discussed enough since the Seahawks victory is the loss of their best pass rusher Chris Clemons. The area of biggest concern for the Seahawks entering the post season was their inability to generate a pass rush, and without Clemons this goes from being a minor concern to a glaring weakness. Seattle finished the season tied at 18th in the NFL in total sacks with 36, and Clemons had 11.5 of them. The player who is set to replace him in the rotation is rookie Bruce Irvin, who himself collected 8 sacks in the regular season which seems like good production, but he only had 17 tackles all season and was purely a situational rusher. He could become a liability against the run as well as losing some of his effectiveness rushing the passer when pressed into duty as a starter. As good as the Legion of Boom is no secondary in the NFL can cover for extended periods of time, if Seattle’s pass rush can’t get to Ryan it will be a very long day in Atlanta.
Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had a very nice day running the ball against the Redskins putting up 132 yards on 20 carries, with a nice 27 yard touchdown run to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Falcons finished the regular season 21st in the NFL against the run at 123.2 yards per game and 29th in yards per carry at a whopping 4.8 yards. It would seem that the Seahawks have a very favorable matchup on the ground, and as long as the Falcons don’t somehow jump out to a big lead early Marshawn Lynch should have a huge day. Of course the Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter of their wild card game and it wasn’t enough to get the Seahawks to abandon their gameplan, so the Falcons defense needs to be prepared to slow down the read option attack of the Seahawks for the entire four quarters.
Overall this matchup has plenty of storylines and reasons to watch this game. Can Matt Ryan and Mike Smith finally get a post season win together? Can Seattle become the first west coast team to win two east coast road playoff games in a row since the 1989 Rams? There are the great matchups between the Seattle secondary and the Atlanta wide receivers, and wondering if the Falcons can keep Lynch from rushing for over 5 yards per carry. The Seahawks look like the type of team that could give Atlanta trouble, with their ability to run the ball and control the tempo of the game as well as their imposing secondary and the potential to limit the Falcons high octane passing attack. One question is can the Seahawks shake the early morning East coast troubles that have plagued them recently, they are 1-11 on the east coast in 1 pm ET kickoffs during the past 5 years. This should be another great game, but unlike the Seahawks wild card opponent the Falcons offense wont be limited by a quarterback playing at 75% (or less) health. If the Falcons receivers can’t find ways to win in one on one situations this game could be very close, if they manage to find space in Seattle’s secondary than it could be a double digit victory for the Falcons.