Tag Archives: Walt Coleman

Seahawks/Vikings Preview (NFC Wild-Card Playoff)

9 Jan
vikings wild card preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (6) Seattle Seahawks at (3) Minnesota Vikings

Site: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Kickoff: 10:05am

On December 6th the Seahawks rolled into Minneapolis and delivered a monumental beat down to the Minnesota Vikings 38-7. One month later the Seahawks will look to do the same thing in order to keep their season alive. The Seahawks travel to TCF Bank Stadium once again on Sunday as they take on the NFC North champion Vikings in an NFC Wild-Card playoff game. The Seahawks enter as the number 6 seed and a win will punch their ticket to Charlotte for the NFC Divisional playoffs. The Vikings are the number 3 seed and a win will send them to Arizona to play the Cardinals next week. Of course the loser of this game sees their 2015 season come to an end. The theme in this game is “different.” There will be multiple things that will be different this week from the last time these two teams faced off 5 weeks ago. For the Vikings, several things will have to be different in order to advance to next weekend. Here are a small handful of differences I will have my attention on in this game.

Last time around Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 78 percent of his passes for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Seahawks also added 101 yards and a touchdown on the ground by running back Thomas Rawls. Rawls is on injured reserve and this week the Seahawks will start someone who was not even on the roster back in week 13, running back Christine Michael. Michael will be thrust into the starting role after the unexpected breaking news Friday night that Marshawn Lynch, who practiced all week and seemed ready to go, ruled himself unable to play. Michael has an opportunity to completely change critic’s opinions of him as an NFL player with a strong performance in Minnesota. Establishing the run on first down will remain important but do not be surprised to see more passes called on first down than runs. If Michael can get going early and be able to put up at least 80 yards on the ground it will take pressure off of the passing game and the Seahawks offense will be able to control time of possession, putting Minnesota at a disadvantage.

In my preview of our regular season matchup against the Vikings I talked about how important it was for the Seahawks defense to corral Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. This is the one and only constant I will be focused on this week. It is the same story as last time: shut him down, win the game. Peterson was held to his worse stat line of his season against the Seahawks, rushing 8 times for 18 yards. In the 4 games to end the season after playing Seattle Peterson averaged 21 carries for 76 yards and recorded 3 touchdowns. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright combined for 17 tackles against the Vikings in the regular season so look for Kris Richard to stuff the box to help defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Ahtyba Rubin, and Jordan Hill out.

One of the biggest reasons this game will be different for the Minnesota Vikings is unlike in our last meeting, Minnesota’s defense is close to full strength. Multiple players who were inactive or hurt during our matchup five weeks ago will be on the field this Sunday. This includes safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr. I am putting my X-Factor spotlight on another one of those players who may be back on the field on Sunday. My X-Factor player to Watch for the Vikings this week is defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Joseph’s absence was a contributing factor in the Seahawks being able to accrue 173 total rushing yards on December 6th. He is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game and I believe he is extremely underrated, much like Brandon Mebane is for Seattle. Right before he got hurt he was putting up big numbers in the tackles category, averaging just over 6 tackles per game in his last 5 games. He has also recorded 7 tackles for loss this season. Against an average Seahawks offensive line Joseph could be poised for a huge game statistically. If the Seahawks run Christine Michael up the middle look for Joseph to make a big impact.

Something else that must be talked about is the weather conditions for Sunday’s game. In our last meeting in Minnesota the temperature was in the high 30’s; an abnormally warm temperature for that time of year. This week brings a completely different story as the Seahawks will be playing in the coldest game in franchise history. The temperature at kickoff is projected to be no higher than 3 degrees but I have seen reports from the national weather service over the past few days that claim the temperature at kickoff could be as low as -20 degrees plus wind chill. It will be painfully cold and the weather could absolutely play a factor in how the game plays out. I remember two seasons ago the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Green Bay to play the Packers in an NFC wild-card game. The 49ers were no doubt the better team but because the temperature was so low it allowed the Packers to play San Francisco tough almost to the point of them upsetting them. It will be harder to throw, harder to tackle, harder to kick, and harder to score. These circumstances could give the Vikings an advantage that is difficult to overlook.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and college navy pants this week. The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and white pants… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for a rare NBC matinee broadcast this week… Walt Coleman is our referee in this game… I find it very interesting the NFL decided to have both NFC wild-card games on Sunday rather than one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. It makes sense going from week 17 into the postseason but one team playing this weekend will lose a day of preparation for next week because they will have to play Arizona the following Saturday… Many people approached me over the past week and asked me if I was going to Minneapolis for the game. I would love to be there even with the weather being what it is, but unfortunately I will not be there. Hopefully I get to make at least one more road trip before the end of our season… I am not a fan of the morning start in the playoffs. That’s the price we pay for going on the road I guess.

Prediction: It will not be a blowout and the weather will be a factor, but I still believe the Seahawks will punch their ticket to the Divisional round. Russell Wilson will throw touchdowns to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. A late touchdown run by Adrian Peterson will keep things close but the Seahawks will be able to convert third down opportunity with under two minutes left to seal the win. The Seahawks will come home and get ready for an NFC Divisional playoff against the Carolina Panthers.

Seahawks 27, Vikings 17

Seahawks/Ravens Preview

12 Dec
ravens preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens

Site: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland)

Kickoff: 10:00am

Before the regular season started I picked the Baltimore Ravens to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. With this game originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football many people including me thought this game could shape the postseason picture for both teams. As it turns out only the Seahawks are vying for playoff position heading into this week. Seattle heads to Baltimore for the first time since 2003 to take on the Ravens. After a 38-7 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings last week the Seahawks are 7-5 and are in prime position to make a serious push for the #5 seed in the NFC. The Ravens however struggled out of the gate and never recovered. Poor play and a wide array of injuries to key players have put the Ravens at 4-8 on the season. The all-time series between these teams is tied 2-2 with Seattle taking the last two meetings. These two teams last met in Seattle in 2011 where the Seahawks upset the Ravens 22-17. Here is what I will be watching out for in this game.

The main offensive key for the Seahawks this week is to remain consistent in order to carry over the success from last week. In the games we have won in recent weeks the running game led by Thomas Rawls has been superb. The Seahawks will likely establish the run again but it is only a matter of time before Rawls has an off game. Could this week could be that game? Baltimore ranks 10th in run defense allowing only 97.5 rushing yards per game. This may be a game where Russell Wilson has to do more through the air to score points instead of relying on Rawls for big pickups. With the emergence of wide receiver Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s go-to target over the past two weeks it would not surprise me to see Baldwin receive extra coverage from the Ravens secondary. This should open up looks for our other receivers. With the Ravens only allowing 39 yards receiving to tight ends per game look for Jermaine Kearse to make a significant impact in the passing game.

This could be a fairly easy day for the Seattle defense. We will not be facing regular Ravens starters Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith. There are two keys to victory on defense I will be focusing on. The first will be to put pressure on whichever Ravens quarterback starts. I believe the slightest bit of pressure will throw either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen off and he could be more prone to forcing the ball and throwing bad passes. The second key is to make sure we tackle well and do not give up yards after contact. With a backup quarterback comes the very high probability of them throwing a lot of high percentage passes. High percentage passes means the ball carrier or receiver will have space to make big plays potentially happen. Look for linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner to make a huge impact in the middle of the field.

Like I previously mentioned the Baltimore Ravens have one of the more depleted offenses in the league. On the offensive side of the ball running back Javorius “Buck” Allen will have to have a big game to take the pressure off of either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen in the passing game. If Baltimore has any shot to win this week it will come on the shoulders of an extremely impressive defensive performance. Similarly to the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple weeks ago, the Ravens have lost dynamic leaders on the defensive side of the ball over the past few years. Future hall of famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone. All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs is also injured and out for the season. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil leads all Ravens defenders in sacks with 6 but my focus will be on the second level of their defense. There are two guys I will have my eye on in particular and they are both responsible for defending the middle of the field. My X-Factor Players to Watch are inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley. Smith is in his 12th NFL season and is on pace for the best statistical season of his career. Mosley is in his second season after being drafted in the first round by the Ravens last season. These two guys have combined for 174 tackles so far this season which is good for nearly one quarter of the Ravens total tackles. They can also get to the quarterback and drop into coverage. They each have 3 sacks this season while Mosley has dropped back to record 5 passes defensed. Watch out for how these two players attack Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, Luke Willson, and all the Seahawks receivers on short crossing routs to the middle of the field.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and college navy pants. No word on what color jerseys the Ravens will wear but there is this stat: The Ravens have only worn their black alternate jerseys once this season. With three home games remaining including this week and one more eligible opportunity to wear their alternates, there is a 33 percent chance the Ravens will sport black in this game… Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis have the call for FOX with Tony Siragusa commentating from the sidelines. Many complain about other announcers such as Joe Buck and Chris Myers but I think Seahawks fans will be really annoyed with the broadcast this week. Why? Siragusa is a former Raven who could have a biased loyalty towards the home team. If you watch this game and get frustrated because the commentators are not giving the Seahawks proper credit this is probably why… Walt Coleman is the referee for this week’s game… It looks like it will be another abnormally warm week weather wise. The game-time temperature is slated to be in the low to mid 60’s and cloudy. It’s funny because that is pretty much the same weather the Seahawks had in Washington D.C. for a game in early OCTOBER last season… Quite frankly I am glad this game got flexed out of Sunday Night Football and the reason I am glad is because of the players. A primetime game on the east coast starts at 8:30pm which means the game won’t end until close to midnight. After meeting with the media, driving to the airport, and a cross-country flight, the Seahawks likely would not land back in Seattle until about 5:00am pacific time. This would make for an epically cruel and tiring Monday. Having the game start at 10:00am pushes that itinerary back. Now the Seahawks will likely land back in Seattle around the same time Sunday Night Football ends, which is about an 8 hour difference… Fantasy playoffs start this week and I made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Shoutout to my starting lineup: Aaron Rodgers, Amari Cooper, Marvin Jones, Jonathan Stewart, T.J. Yeldon, Thomas Rawls, Gary Barnidge, Graham Gano, and the Carolina Panthers defense.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: With a win the Seahawks take control of the #5 seed in the NFC. If the Seahawks lose they will still hold the #6 seed if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lose. The Seahawks fall out of the playoff picture if they lose and the Buccaneers win. Here are other games this week with playoff significance. Teams to note are bolded.

New Orleans (4-8) at Tampa Bay (6-6)

Atlanta (6-6) at Carolina (12-0)

Prediction: This game will not be as close as the score indicates. Both Husky receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Smith will catch touchdown passes from Russell Wilson, Smith’s being the first of his career. Thomas Rawls will also gallop for a 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Ravens will score two garbage time touchdowns but the Seahawks will have the game wrapped up. The Seahawks will head home 8-5 with two straight home games on deck in the middle of the holiday season.

Seahawks 30, Ravens 17

Review: Seahawks 13, Panthers 9

26 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

After two weeks of uncertainty including two losses and various reports of locker-room tension, the Seahawks took a huge step forward to silencing their critics. Although it was incredibly frustrating and hard to watch, the Seahawks came away with a huge 13-9 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Seahawks improve to 4-3 on the season while the Panthers fall to 3-4-1. Even though we were victorious there is still much to improve on moving forward. Here are my positive and negative thoughts I took away from this week’s game.

YAC Makes Me Puke: Today the Seahawks had a serious problem tackling the ball carrier at the first point of contact. On several occasions throughout Sunday’s game the Panthers were able to break out of Seattle’s tackles and fight for extra yardage. Many of these plays set the Panthers up for manageable second down situations, leading to 17 total first downs. Carolina is equipped with several big, physical skill position players so it is not surprising that the Panthers do a good job in picking up yards after contact. What was frustrating however was that the Seattle defense did not have an answer for quarterback Cam Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart, and the rest of the Carolina offense as the game wore on. A common thing I saw in this game was that the Seahawks tried to wrap up Newton and Stewart above the waist, allowing them to shed tackles easier and for them to use their sneaky elusiveness to make plays and pick up extra yards. Fundamentals need to be tightened up in practice this week because these small plays have come back to bite the Seahawks historically.

Thoughts on Russell Wilson: With the exception of a couple specific throws, it seemed like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was out of sync with his receivers throughout Sunday’s game. Being known as one of the more accurate passers in the NFL, Wilson struggled to hit his receivers, often underthrowing them. There were a couple of short slant routes that were thrown in between two receivers and it is possible that miscommunication among the wide receivers may have been at fault. The Carolina defense did an excellent job of playing tight coverage and it was difficult for Wilson to find open receivers all game long. All in all, Wilson finished 20/32 for 199 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. I will give Wilson some credit though as he did a fantastic job leading the Seahawks down the field for the game-winning score, including a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Luke Willson. That reception was proof that Wilson’s throws were improving as the game wore on. Once again the Seahawks offense played their best football at the end of the game.

9 Points That Should Have Been: There were two plays that should have been made which would have put 9 extra points on the board for the Seahawks. First was the fake read-option pass which worked with Ricardo Lockette in our week 1 win over Green Bay. Wilson showed run from the read-option formation and then threw in the direction of a wide open Cooper Helfet. The pass was underthrown however, and Helfet was unable to stop his route, come back, and make the catch. Upon further review it looked as though Wilson could not get a proper grip on the football because he had to make the throw before he crossed the line of scrimmage. The pass came out of his hand funny and the ball was poorly underthrown. It would have been an easy touchdown but instead the Seahawks settled for a field goal which tied the game at 6-6. The second play came on first down from the Carolina 8-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Michael Bennett was able to penetrate the Panthers offensive line and he had Cam Newton dead in his tracks in the endzone which would have resulted in a safety and given Seattle an 8-6 lead. Instead, Newton was somehow able to shed Bennett’s sack and escape, leading to a throwaway. Although it did not result in a sack and two points, it was this play that set the Seahawks up for phenomenal defensive play on the Panthers next and last drive of the game.

Irvin Prevents Potential Last Minute Magic: Lately it seems like all Bruce Irvin is useful for is racking up roughing the passer penalties and lining up offsides… multiple times… in the same game. Today however, Irvin made two huge plays that preserved the Seahawks victory. The first was a sack of Cam Newton on the Panthers final drive of the game. A 2nd and 10 which turned into a 3rd and 18. Irvin thought that was so much fun that he went back for seconds on the very next play. In a moment where I have been begging Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to dial up extra pressure late in the game, Irvin was successful in sacking Newton again, which set up an improbable 4th and 25. In games against Peyton Manning and Tony Romo earlier this season, Seattle has played relaxed defense late which cost us crucial late-game points. The decision by Quinn to send the house in addition to the play by Irvin made sure that the Carolina Panthers would not drive down the field to make this finish interesting, much like Denver and Dallas had respectively.

Thoughts on Carolina: The Carolina Panthers defense played a very sound game this week. I think their defense can lead this team but the offense could cost them points and perhaps even wins. In a very weak division thus far, I believe the NFC South could come down to “which team does not screw up the most.” Right now the Panthers lead the division with a losing record. Their only competition for the division title will once again be the New Orleans Saints. Having said this, Cam Newton must improve under pressure. He played the final drive of this game, specifically the 4th and 25 play as if he knew the Panthers had already lost. If the quarterback play improves, the Panthers may be able to get into the playoffs as the NFC South champions.

Random Thoughts: For the first time in 2014 the Seahawks wore their wolf grey jerseys and wolf grey pants. The looked slick as always but in my opinion they don’t look as cool when it is sunny. Nevertheless the Seahawks are now 4-0 all-time when wearing wolf grey… The Panthers wore their black jerseys and silver pants as expected… I think referee Walt Coleman called a pretty average game. Not a big fan of that guy… Dan Fouts is not a very good color commentator for CBS. Still better than a FOX broadcast with Chris Myers though… My Bellevue neighborhood lost power late Saturday night so I trekked to Seattle to watch the game, as I had no TV access on the eastside. That is a first… The Seahawks split the road trip. Too bad we couldn’t take both games and honestly if I knew we were going to split these two games I wish we would have beaten St. Louis and lost to Carolina… Now that our back-to-back road games are in the books it is time for back-to-back home games. In fact the Seahawks play 3 out of their next 4 games at home. It is time to get some momentum going at CenturyLink Field and get back in the division race!

Check back next Saturday as I preview the Seahawks week 9 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Thanks for reading as always. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Panthers Preview

25 Oct
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Site: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Kickoff: 10:00am

For the third straight season, the Seahawks travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers. After two straight losses the Seahawks currently sit at 3-3, 3rd in the NFC West. After winning the NFC South a season ago the Panthers currently sit atop the division once again this season. Following their loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, Carolina sports a 3-3-1 record. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Panthers 5-2. Their last meeting came on opening day last season when the Seahawks went into Bank of America Stadium and squeaked out a 12-7 victory to get their 2013 season started on the right foot. With this week’s game coming on the road and the Seahawks looking at a possible 3-4 record, I am calling this week’s game a must-win. Here is what I will be looking for out of both the Seahawks and Panthers this week.

In their three road games this season the Seahawks defense has allowed an average of 25 points per game. With the same core group on the defensive side of the ball over the past 3 seasons the Seahawks have allowed only 19 total points in our road games against the Panthers in 2012 and 2013. This week the Seahawks need to do what they have done in these prior two games; get off the field on third down and do not let Panthers quarterback Cam Newton pick up large chunks of yardage both on the ground and through the air. Last season against Seattle the Panthers were 45% effective on third down. The Rams were 44% effective on third down last week which is unacceptable. If the Seahawks can hold Carolina to under 40% effectiveness on third down we will be able to force changes in possession, giving the ball to our offense to try to score points.

The biggest concern for the Seahawks defense this week will be stopping Cam Newton’s legs as well as his arm. I include his arm because of the comfort opposing quarterbacks have had in the pocket in recent weeks.  The Seahawks have proven that they can shut Newton down on the ground; Newton has averaged 40 rushing yards per game in two games against Seattle. If the Panthers win this game I believe it will be on the arm of Cam Newton. With as shaky as the Seahawks have played in the middle of the field recently, look for Newton to test the Seahawks linebackers on short/intermediate range throws this week. Greg Olsen and Brandon Williams, Carolina’s two tight ends, could be in for big games if Newton has time to make throws. I am calling upon the Seahawks pass rush as well as linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith to step up. If the linebackers struggle it could once again be a long day for the Seahawks.

Last week the Seahawks fed the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch 18 times for 53 yards. It was not until the second half that the offensive coaching staff got quarterback Russell Wilson involved in the running game. The play in the running game will determine how well the Seahawks offense plays once again this week, but the pocket protection for Wilson must improve so Wilson does not have to run so much. Center Max Unger will likely be inactive once again this week so the Seahawks will start the same line combination they did in St. Louis last week. Until this makeshift line can prove that they can give Wilson a clean pocket consistently, in addition to avoid falling into an early deficit, Wilson may run more early on in the game. This week I believe rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson will have a larger impact after catching 4 passes last week. Richardson could be Wilson’s unsung go-to guy this week, possibly in roles that Percy Harvin held prior to his trade to New York. Also keep an eye on the blocking of fill-in fullback Robert Turbin. Turbin filled in last week at fullback on short notice after starter Derrick Coleman broke his foot during pregame warmups. In my opinion Turbin is built like a fullback and with a week’s worth of practice and preparation under his belt I think Turbin carries the potential to help open up big running lanes for Lynch.

Perhaps above all else, the Seahawks cannot let the off-the-field noise that has come in the days since the Percy Harvin trade get to them on the field. There have been numerous reports over the past week about tension between different players and the potential of a broken locker room. What makes all this talk worse is the fact that we have lost two straight games. To get back on the right track, we need to win this week. A win can help silence the critics and hopefully bring the positive dawn of the post-Harvin era.

Last season the Carolina Panthers defense carried them to a 12-4 record and an NFC South division championship. Even after losing key members of their defensive unit the Panthers still have the talent that is keeping them on top of the division even if their total defense rankings do not highlight it (22nd in passing, 26th in rushing). The Panthers provide a good combination of pass rush (15 total sacks) and secondary play (7 interceptions). Middle Linebacker Luke Kuechly continues to be a dominant tackler, patrolling the middle of the field and being in on almost every play. With the shaky play of the Seahawks offensive line I have decided to focus my attention on the Carolina defense to the pass rush. My X-Factor player to watch for the Panthers this week is defensive end Charles Johnson. Johnson is in his 8th season with the Panthers he has recorded double digit sacks in three different seasons including the past two. So far this season Johnson has recorded 3 sacks, one in each of their last 3 games. Johnson will likely line up across from Seahawks rookie right tackle Justin Britt, who has struggled keeping defenders from penetrating the line on passing downs.

Random Thoughts: No word yet on jersey combination for the Seahawks this week. With 5 road games left and 2 opportunities to wear wolf grey that gives the Seahawks a 40% chance of wearing wolf grey this week… The Panthers will wear black jerseys with silver pants… Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts have the call for CBS this week. That’s right, this week’s Seahawks game has been cross-flexed from FOX to CBS. This will be the first Seahawks road game broadcasted on CBS since 2001, and personally this will be the first time I watch a regular season Seahawks game on CBS since Christmas Eve 2005… Walt Coleman is the referee this week… Second straight 10am kickoff. I really have a love/hate relationship with 10am kickoffs. The only question this week is do I get up earlier to watch Falcons/Lions which kicks off from London at 6:30am… After this week we play 3 of our next 4 games at home. These road stretches where we don’t play at home for 3-plus weeks are miserable… I’m pulling for the Eagles this week. Please, please, please beat the Cardinals for us!

Prediction: The Seahawks running game will finally get going early this week. Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson will combine for 140 yards but unfortunately too many drives will stall or result in field goals. The defense will play a much tighter game overall. The Seahawks will win the turnover battle 2-1 and the Seahawks will pull out a very close victory.

Seahawks 19, Panthers 17

Check back late Sunday night for my review of this game. Enjoy the game everyone. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Falcons Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

12 Jan

Image

Matchup: (5) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Atlanta Falcons

Site: Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Georgia)

Kickoff: 10:00am

The Seahawks enjoyed their first helping of playoff football by knocking off the Washington Redskins last week. Now it’s time to head back to the buffet for more. The Seahawks head to Atlanta to take on the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons in an NFC Divisional playoff. This is the first meeting between these two teams in the playoffs. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Falcons 8-5 but have lost three straight. Their last meeting was in week 4 of last season. The Falcons got out to a 24-7 halftime lead but a strong second half charge put the Seahawks in a position to come back and win. They could not however, falling to the Falcons 30-28. This is also Seattle’s first trip back to the Georgia Dome since week 17 of the 2007 season. There is lots to talk about this week so let’s get to it.

After the Seahawks beat Washington last week I immediately turned my attention to the team statistics of the Atlanta Falcons. The stat that caught my eye was their team rushing defense. The Falcons are ranked 21st in the National Football League in rushing yards allowed per game. That number is 123 yards per game. With Marshawn Lynch attracting lots of attention by the Falcons this week combined with the running threat of quarterback Russell Wilson, I think the Seahawks will have many prime opportunities to move the ball effectively and put up points. My key in the running game is getting off to a fast start and moving the ball while at the same time keeping the Atlanta defense on their feet and keeping their crowd silent. I will monitor Marshawn Lynch’s yards quarter by quarter while also taking a look at how well the zone-read option works early. It will be big for Atlanta if they can sniff out the zone-read and limit that dimension of our offense. I think if Lynch averages 25-30 yards per quarter and Wilson can run for a couple first downs per quarter the Seahawks offense will put many points on the board. The Falcons are also ranked 23rd in the NFL in passing yards given up and that will be a factor as long as Wilson doesn’t turn the ball over but the running game is the x-factor for the Seahawks effectiveness this week.

All of the talk in the national media this week has been the matchups on the outside. The Falcons boast arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league with Roddy White and Julio Jones. Across the line of scrimmage the Seahawks boast arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. The wide receivers are very talented and have the capabilities to make plays. The cornerbacks are also fully capable of taking those big plays away. The thing to be watching for is potential penalties on Sherman and Browner. Depending on whom the referees are on the outside, they will either keep their flags in their pockets, allowing Sherman and Browner to be extra physical or if they look like they are making too much contact, they will be called for penalties. This fortunately or unfortunately will decide how effective both units are. The Seahawks may be in trouble if the cornerbacks are being called for holding or illegal contact especially early in the game.

With the season-ending injuries to defensive end Chris Clemons and kicker Steven Hauschka, the Seahawks have added two new players. The more recognized new face is Hauschka’s replacement; kicker Ryan Longwell. Longwell, 38, has spent the previous 15 seasons split with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Longwell is a Puyallup native and beat out a handful of kickers including former Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers and rookie Carson Wiggs for the job. Longwell has a stronger leg than Hauschka but has not kicked all season. I trust Longwell to make moderate field goals (21-45 yards) but field goals from 46+ yards are a mystery to me. The other new Seahawk is defensive end Patrick Chukwurah. Chukwurah has been absent from the NFL for four years. He has spent the last few years in the United Football League and led the league in sacks the past two seasons. He last played in the NFL in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but did not record any statistics. Although Bruce Irvin will start and take a lot of snaps, I expect Chukwurah to see between 10-20 plays this week in place of Irvin. Longwell will wear number 7 and Chukwurah will wear number 97 for those wondering.

The Georgia Dome may be a louder stadium to play in than FedExField was last week but the fan base may not be as tough to face as last week. There were over 5,000 tickets still available for Sunday’s game according to ESPN and the NFL. Combine that with the recent playoff woes of the Atlanta Falcons, I get the gist from the Atlanta media that it feels like there is not as much excitement over Falcons football as should be expected. I think the environment will be loud but manageable. If the Seahawks can get off to a fast start, the crowd will not matter. This is the first time I can remember that the field conditions and weather will not play a factor for a road playoff game. I think this gives us a hidden advantage that many other people would overlook. Nevertheless we are traveling across the country, playing the number one seed in the conference, and playing in a dome. Warning Seahawks fans, it should be normal to be cautiously optimistic and/or a little bit worried this week in regards to the environment.

It’s time for me to throw some numbers out there! This might make the 12th Man feel better about what to expect on Sunday. The Falcons went 7-1 at home in 2012. Their only loss was in week 17 to Tampa Bay when they had already clinched home-field advantage and played their second stringers for most of the game. The Falcons either trailed or held a one-score lead at halftime in 5 of their 8 games this season. Of their 7 victories, 5 of them ended as one-score wins. The scary thing though was that their 10-point win over New Orleans and their 34-0 shutout of the New York Giants occurred in the second half of the season. Of their 5 one-score margin of victory wins, they went into the half either tied or trailing three times. Based on these numbers the conclusions I have drawn are that the Falcons have shown they could get off to a slow start but have improved in the first half of games as the season has progressed. The Seahawks are the best defense the Falcons have faced all year and they have not played a team that qualified for the playoffs since playing the Redskins in week 5. This game could definitely be close at halftime and that is exactly what I expect to happen.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks are going to wear white jerseys again this week. I don’t think you can mess up a winning combination, thus I hope the Seahawks wear white pants again… The referee this week is Walt Coleman. We will see if his all-star crew (the NFL puts together the best referees into different “all-star” crews for the playoffs) will be calling a tight game for Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner this week… The Seahawks only won one 10am kickoff game this season. Not going to lie this worries me a little bit… Don’t sleep on Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez will most likely see a lot of Kam Chancellor in the middle this week and he has the best hands of any tight end in the league. Last week a lot of short passes caught the Seahawks defense off guard early and if Matt Ryan can connect with Gonzalez he can make some catches he is hard to bring down. He will definitely be a challenge that cannot go unnoticed… Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick have the call for FOX this week with Laura Okmin and Chris Myers patrolling the sidelines. It should be a good broadcast because I am a fan of Brennaman and Billick does a good job offering his very educated commentary… I’m having another group of friends over to my house Sunday morning for the game. Hopefully more show up than last week but it will be tough to beat since we had a good number of people over last week… It feels like it’s about time to get over this divisional playoff hump. We have been stopped in this round our last three trips to the playoffs. It feels like it should be time to break the barn door down and get back to the NFC Championship game.

Prediction: This kills me but like I always try to preach, I try to be a realist. Although the Seahawks have the best defense the Falcons have faced all season I just feel that Atlanta’s offense is too powerful for us to handle. I think since there has been expanded speculation in the media this week about the way the refs will call the game along the outside, the game will be called tight and the Seahawks will suffer. Those penalties will come at the most inopportune times and will keep Atlanta drives alive and unfortunately translate into points. The better overall team will unfortunately not win this game as mistakes and one more turnover than the home team will doom us. The game will be close but those penalties and mistakes will cost us a trip to the NFC title game. DO NOT get me wrong, I hope to God that I am completely wrong and hopefully we will advance to either San Francisco or Green Bay to play for the NFC Championship but unfortunately I think there is a slightly better chance that we will come up short.

Falcons 35, Seahawks 31

Win or lose, check back hopefully Sunday night (It might be published in the early morning hours on Monday) for my review of Sunday’s game. Hopefully I will have at least one more preview to write for next weekend also. Enjoy the game everybody. I’M IN! Go Hawks!