Based on what we saw last Saturday night, the Seahawks look like they’re back to being the team that went to two Super Bowls, combining a relentless ground game with a stifling defense.
But it seems more like wishful thinking than rational thinking to me. This team has been too inconsistent this year to feel like everything is suddenly in order.
On Dec. 4, the Seahawks hammered the Carolina Panthers 40-7 with a great running game and defense. The next week they suffered their biggest loss in the last four years, 38-10 at Green Bay.
Rawls ran for 106 yards against Carolina and 161 against Detroit. In the four games between those performances, he rushed for a combined 123 yards.
I don’t think a Seahawks running game that has sputtered most of the season is going to magically churn up yards in the playoffs, though its certainly off to a good start. And Atlanta’s run defense is comparable to Detroit’s, suggesting another big day on the ground is possible.
Part of my negative (realistic?) thinking is that this game’s in Atlanta, and the Seahawks have just been a different team on the road, aside from the signature win at New England in November.
They have averaged 28 points a game at home, 16 on the road. But some more good news – the Seahawks have averaged 26 points this year in road games on turf, which is what kind of surface Atlanta’s Georgia Dome has. Laugh if you want – and Danny O’Neil and Dave Wyman do – but the Seahawks have been statistically terrible in road games on grass this year, averaging fewer than 10 points, so at least that won’t be a factor.
I also think Atlanta will take an early lead and maintain that lead into at least the third quarter. Well, actually, I think they’re going to have the lead after the game ends, too, but for the sake of this rejuvenation-of-the-running-game argument, if the Seahawks fall behind, they’re not going to be able to run the ball as much.
At halftime of their last three playoff road games under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks trailed 20-0 at Atlanta in 2012 then last year 3-0 at Minnesota and 31-0 at Carolina. The Seahawks finish fast, but they’re also known for their slow starts.
Fall behind against the Falcons and you’re not going to be able to ground and pound the way you want. You’re going to lose time of possession, which was a big factor against the Lions, keeping the defense fresh. And against a high-powered offense like Atlanta’s, you’ll have a hard time keeping up, particularly on the road. Keep in mind that Atlanta averaged 25 points a game in the Georgia Dome.
The two things I’ll be wondering about during this game: 1) If it would have turned out differently with Earl Thomas. 2) If it would have turned out differently if the Seahawks had beaten Arizona on Christmas Eve to lock up the NFC’s second seed and instead play the Falcons at CenturyLink again.
Even though I know Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are going to take advantage of Thomas’ absence, I feel like that loss to the Cardinals, which took away a bye week and a home game in this round, is a bigger deal, especially this year with the Seahawks.
Then when you look at Seattle’s recent history of road playoff games and slow starts that lead to season-ending losses, it’s easier for me to think those things will happen again than to say they won’t. I guess you could say it didn’t happen in Minnesota, but that was only because Blair Walsh choked on a chip-shot field goal.
The Falcons are favored by 5 points, but it won’t be quite that close.
Prediction: Falcons 38, Seahawks 27.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.