The Atlanta Falcons have the best record in all of professional football. Only the Denver Broncos, who the Falcons defeated 27-21 back in September, can equal their record of 13-3. They have the No. 1 seed in the NFC and are waiting to start their run to the Super Bowl with back-to-back wins in the playoffs. The road to the Super Bowl flows through Atlanta, Ga.
There’s just one problem.
The Falcons may have the best record in the NFL but the best team in the NFL right now is coming to Atlanta on Sunday. In the NFL, it’s about who is playing well right now. Statistics and a six-game winning streak indicate that the Seahawks are that team right now.
Which team would you rather be?
The Falcons are 13-3 but lost twice in December and haven’t won a game since Dec. 22. They lost their last game of the year at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team they tried to beat by leaving their starters in for most of the game. Atlanta’s high-powered offense managed just 278 yards and didn’t score a touchdown until late in the third quarter that day.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have put together one of the most impressive runs not only in franchise history, but NFL history. They outscored opponents 193-60 in December and, unlike the Falcons, put up some impressive numbers during that stretch.
In December, Atlanta’s offense averaged just 332 yards per game, 85 of those yards coming on the ground. During that same period, the Seahawks’ offense averaged 425 yards with 211 coming on the ground.
The defensive statistics tell a similar story. The Falcons have given up an average of 411 yards over the last five games whereas the Seahawks have yielded an average of just 299 yards. Furthermore, the Hawks have played a tougher schedule than the Falcons during that period.
Throw on top of that the pressure the Falcons must be feeling right now. The past two seasons they’ve lost in the playoffs after successful regular seasons. This must feel like the 2010 season all over again for their fans. Much like this year, the 2010 Falcons finished with a 13-3 record and enjoyed a first-round bye. Then the hottest team in the league came to town and the Green Bay Packers put the Falcons down 48-21 on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
I’ll give you this – the loss of Chris Clemons does concern me. The worst thing you can give a quarterback like Matt Ryan is plenty of time to find his big targets like wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and all-world tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Clem’s 11.5 sacks will be missed. The Seahawks may have to dial up some pressure as defensive coordinator Gus Bradley did late in the game last week against the Redskins’ backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins.
But the Seahawks have been here before. When linebacker Leroy Hill was down with an ankle injury, backup Malcolm Smith filled in for him and the defense didn’t miss a beat. While cornerback Brandon Browner served his suspension, no one threw the ball deep against backups Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. I expect that rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin will follow suit.
The Seahawks are on a roll and when that happens it means you’re playing with confidence. You expect to play well and when you don’t, like the Hawks’ first quarter in Washington last week, you know that you will eventually.
They did it in Chicago against a playoff-caliber team at that time. They came back twice against the Bears to win in overtime. They did it on the road in Buffalo by scoring 50 points. They did it last week by scoring 24 unanswered points in a playoff win in Washington.
The Seahawks know they can win this game. The only thing the Falcons know is that they’ve lost in the playoffs the past two years and they have a 13-3 record against some pretty ordinary opponents.
Again, I ask: “Which team would you rather be?”