11-5 Seattle Seahawks at 13-3 Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, January 13 at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX
Announcers: Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick
Sideline: Laura Okmin and Chris Myers
Radio: Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
Forecast: Loud, due to it being played in a dome
Line: Opened with Atlanta -2; now Falcons -2½ most places, up to -3 at some
Total: Opened at 44½; now up to 46 most places, some as high as 46½


Why Atlanta Will Win

Atlanta will have a huge chip on their shoulder; has any number one seed ever garnered so little respect? They are focused and out to prove the naysayers wrong about their lack of post-season success.

Seattle will be making back-to-back cross country trips; when the game kicks off Seattle will have traveled more than 8,000 miles in a week. While they played late at Washington, this time they are playing an early game, at 10:00 a.m. their time. Atlanta on the other hand has had time to let their injuries heal, and two weeks to prepare for the Seahawks. For the Seahawks the shoe will be on the other foot, as Seattle will have to play in an extremely loud hostile environment.

The Seahawks could have a bit of an emotional letdown after winning what was for many their first ever NFL playoff game last week. On top of that they could be prone to reading the press clippings on how good they are, and already be looking ahead to a rematch with either the 49ers or Packers. Strange as it may seem, this could be a trap game for Seattle. The team was acting as if they had just won the Super Bowl; they may have peaked too soon.

Before we crown them as being the greatest defense ever, don’t forget that Washington was beating them 14-0 before Robert Griffin re-injured his knee. The Redskins were a mediocre team from a mediocre division; if Washington could do that to the Seattle defense, what will a much superior Atlanta offense do?

Russell Wilson is not the same on the road as he is at home; this year he has ten touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine road games.

In a matchup of Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan versus Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel, I’ll put my trust in Nolan every time.

For all the hype about the Seattle run defense, they don’t perform that well as the game wears on. In close games (within 14 points) Seattle allows 5.6 yards per carry in the second half of games this year. On top of that DE Chris Clemons is out, which weakens them considerably. Rookie Bruce Irvin has been used as a situational pass rusher this year; how will he perform staying on the field for all three downs, for 30 or more additional snaps in this game? Irvin is a good pass rusher but is a liability against the run; I would expect the falcons to be able to exploit that matchup.

The Falcons have the better quarterback and the better receivers. Today’s NFL is a passing league, and Atlanta has better players at the skill positions to make the critical plays that decide a game.

A year ago Julio Jones and Roddy White did not have a problem with Browner or the Seattle secondary; when Atlanta beat Seattle 30-28 that day Ryan completed 17 of the 28 passes he threw to Jones and White, good for 205 yards to those two.

Matt Ryan is 33-6 at home; he and Mike Smith are 56-24 since joining the Falcons in 2008. The two have learned from their previous playoff losses and are focused, and overdue for a post-season victory.


Why Seattle Will Win

The Falcons are 0-3 in the post-season in the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era; the team is soft, and they’ll be too tight on Sunday. Just for the record I don’t believe that’s the case, but that seems to be the opinion of a majority of NFL fans.

The Falcons defense is better designed to stop offenses similar to their own, that rely on spread passing attacks; they are not as well equipped to defend against a non-pocket passer like Russell Wilson, or a powerful running back like Marshawn Lynch.

Although Atlanta has big, physical receivers, Seattle has the biggest and most physical secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman will take advantage of Roddy White’s short fuse and get him off his game, and perhaps goad him into a personal foul or two.

Free safety Earl Thomas is one of the best in the NFL at his position, and is a perfect complement to corners Sherman and Brandon Browner.

Russell Wilson has steadily improved and is no longer playing like a rookie; in his last four road games he has six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Atlanta will not be able to run the ball on Seattle, and that will make them one-dimensional. Michael Turner has hit the wall and shows no burst at all. The Falcons rank 29th in yards per carry, total rushing yards, rushing first downs, and rushing DVOA.


One last thing to consider: the referees.

If the officials call a close game then that works against the Seahawks and their physical secondary; conversely, if the refs let things go then that favors Seattle. Walt Coleman and his crew are the officials for this game, and that should be to Atlanta’s advantage.

Seattle has been the hot pick to make to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl all season, but the matchups, travel, emotions and injury factors all work against the Seahawks this week.


Key metrics – Atlanta offense
Points: 26.2 (7th)
Yards: 369 (8th)
Giveaways: 18 (T-7th)
DVOA: 6.1% (12th)
3rd down: 45.1% (2nd)
Red zone (TD only): 58.7% (9th)
Penalties/yards: 55 (1st); 415 (1st)
Yards per pass: 7.7 (8th)
Passer rating: 99.1 (6th)
Yards per carry: 3.7 (29th)

Key metrics – Seattle defense
Points: 15.3 (1st)
Yards: 306 (4th)
Takeaways: 31 (T-5th)
DVOA: -14.1% (4th)
3rd down: 38.4% (17th)
Red zone: 47.5% (6th)
Penalties/yards: 102 (T-19th); 902 (22nd)
Yards per pass: 6.2 (3rd)
Passer rating: 71.8 (3rd)
Yards per carry: 4.5 (23rd)

Key metrics – Atlanta defense
Points: 18.7 (5th)
Yards: 366 (24th)
Takeaways: 31 (T-5th)
DVOA: -2.9% (12th)
3rd down: 40.5% (25th)
Red zone: 45.2% (4th)
Penalties/yards: 83 (4th); 641 (1st)
Yards per pass: 7.4 (20th)
Passer rating: 77.1 (5th)
Yards per carry: 4.8 (29th)

Key metrics – Seattle offense
Points: 25.8 (9th)
Yards: 351 (17th)
Giveaways: 18 (T-7th)
DVOA: 18.5% (4th)
3rd down: 40.2% (12th)
Red zone: 53.3% (16th)
Penalties/yards: 110 (27th); 890 (21st)
Yards per pass: 8.0 (4th)
Passer rating: 100.6 (5th)
Yards per carry: 4.8 (5th)


Prediction: Falcons 24, Seahawks 20
Falcons -2½
Under 46½



This Day In Patriots History


January 12, 1950:
Neil Graff was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Graff was signed as a free agent and served as the backup QB to Jim Plunkett, and holder on field goals and extra points in 1974 and 1975. In his two years Graff was 0-2 as a starter with 19 completions in 36 attempts, 241 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.


January 12, 1965:
Henry Thomas was born in Houston

The defensive tackle from LSU was originally drafted by Minnesota and at one time was their franchise player after making two Pro Bowls; the Pats signed him as a free agent in 1997 at the age of 32. Thomas played for the Pats from 1997 to 2000, appearing in all 67 regular and post-season games. While with the Pats he had 21 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries; he also had two interceptions.

In 1997, Thomas had seven sacks, which was the most by a Patriots’ defensive tackle since Ray Hamilton had seven in 1973. In 1998 he had a highlight reel play when he intercepted a Danny Wuerffel pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, bouncing off multiple would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone. That same year Thomas led the Pats with 6.5 sacks to became the first interior defensive lineman to lead the team in sacks in 29 years; the last DT to lead the team in sacks was AFL great Houston Antwine in 1969. In 1999 Thomas led all Patriots defensive linemen with 87 tackles, including 56 solo stops.


January 12, 1979:
Jarvis Green was born in Louisiana

Green was drafted in the 4th round of the 2002 draft, 126th overall, out of LSU. He played eight years with the pats at RDE, appearing in 121 games and making 279 tackles (171 solo), 28 sacks, 9 forced fumbles and 6 fumble recoveries. In 2006, Green tied for second on the team with 7.5 sacks, tied for the team lead with three forced fumbles; in 2007 Green tied for second on the Patriots with 6.5 sacks while starting a career-high 10 games.


January 12, 1981:
Dan Klecko was born in New Jersey. The son of standout defensive lineman Joe Klecko was drafted by the Patriots in the 4th round (117th overall) of the 2003 draft after his college career at Temple. In three years with the Pats the defensive tackle appeared in 29 games, with three starts; he had 2 sacks, a fumble recovery, and was in on 31 tackles. The Pats also used him on offense in goal line situations; he had 2 carries for 5 yards and 3 receptions for 18 yards.


January 12, 1986:
Squish The Fish Game
New England Patriots 31, Miami Dolphins 14 at the Orange Bowl
AFC Conference Championship Game for the 1985 season

The third and final road victory of the ’85 post season was a 31-14 win over the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game that not only clinched the Patriots their first Super Bowl berth, but was the first time the Patriots defeated the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. All week long local rock music icon WBCN pounded the theme of ‘Squish the Fish’ as Pats fans anticipated a chance to finally beat Miami.

On Miami’s first play from scrimmage Steve Nelson hit Tony Nathan to force a fumble, which was recovered by Garin Veris; six plays later barefoot kicker Tony Franklin’s 23-yard field goal gave the Pats a 3-0 lead. In the second quarter Dan Marino got in a rhythm and Miami scored to go up 7-3. The Pats responded with a 66-yard drive as they regained the lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Tony Eason to Tony Collins, with the key play on the drive being a 45-yard run by Robert Weathers.

Two plays later the defense came up with another big play when NT Lester Williams recovered a fumbled snap by Marino, giving the Pats possession on Miami’s 36-yard line. Eason hit Derrick Ramsey for a one-yard touchdown pass that increased the Patriots’ lead to 17-7 with 5:25 left in the first half. The Pats caught a break when Miami tight end Dan Johnson, who scored the first touchdown for the Dolphins, dropped what should have been a 16-yard touchdown pass; they caught another break when Miami kicker Fuad Reveiz then missed a 31-yard field goal. The Pats were up 17-7 at halftime and shocking the favored Dolphins on their home turf; destiny seemed to be shining on the Patriots.

On the opening kickoff of the 2nd half Mosi Tatupu placed a huge hit on Miami kick returner Lorenzo Hampton, and Greg Hawthorne recovered for the Pats on the 25-yard line. Six plays later the Pats were faced with a 4th-and-1 at the Miami 2-yard line. Head coach Raymond Berry decided to go for it and the decision paid off, with Weathers catching a 2-yard touchdown pass from Eason to increase the lead to 24-7. While the Orange Bowl went quiet, homes and sports bars in New England were in a loud frenzy.

The Dolphins took the ensuing kickoff and drove to the Pats 16-yard line, looking to cut the lead to ten points. Marino threw a pass that free safety Fred Marion intercepted inside the 5-yard line, and returned to the 25. The Pats then ran the ball 12 of the next 13 plays, chewing up 7:57 off the clock; however, Franklin missed on his 41-yard field goal attempt.

Miami finally got a break when Roland James fumbled a punt return away three plays into the 4th quarter, with Marino immediately capitalizing on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tony Nathan. The Miami defense forced a three-and-out, seemingly giving the Dolphins life. Two plays later with the ball on their own 38, Dolphin RB Joe Carter fumbled and DE Julius Adams recovered. Craig James and Tony Collins ran the ball eight straight times, and Mosi Tatupu capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

The Pats were up 31-17 but there was still 7:34 left to play, and Marino came out throwing. Miami advanced to the Pats 8-yard line but two penalties pushed them back to the 28; the drive ended with Raymond Clayborn picking Marino off in the end zone to seal the victory.

The Pats running game was in excellent form for this game, led by Craig James (105 yards on 22 carries); in addition Robert Weathers had 16 carries for 87 yards and Tony Collins had 61 yards on 12 rushes. Thanks to the running game and the defense the Pats only threw the ball twelve times, but Eason was near perfect when he did throw: 10-for-12 for 71 yards and three touchdowns. But the big story was the defense, which forced six turnovers while limiting Marino to 20 completions on 48 pass attempts.

With the victory the Patriots became the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl by winning three road playoff games, a feat that many considered to be unattainable at the time.


January 12, 1997:
New England Patriots 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 6 at Foxboro
AFC Championship Game

On a frigid day with numbing 30-mph wind the Pats defeated Jacksonville, to advance to the Super Bowl where they would face the Packers. The game featured an 11-minute power failure midway through the 2nd quarter when a transformer blew outside the stadium, dimming lights to the point where officials halted the game.

On the first Jacksonville possession Larry Whigham tackled the Jaguars punter at the 4-yard line after the snap was high and wide; two plays later Curtis Martin scored to give the Pats a 7-0 lead. Adam Vinatieri then kicked two field goals in the 2nd quarter to give the Patriots a 13-3 halftime lead. The second field goal came with no time left after Drew Bledsoe hit Shawn Jefferson on a 38-yard pass down to the 3-yard line with three seconds remaining.

The score was 13-6 in the 4th quarter and Jacksonville was driving deep into New England territory when Wille ‘Big Play’ Clay intercepted a Mark Brunell pass in the back of the end zone with 3:43 left to play. Then with 2:24 to go Otis Smith recovered a fumble and ran it 47 yards for a touchdown to clinch the victory.

The Pats defense did a great job on Jacksonville RB Natrone Means, holding him to 43 yards after he had run for 175 yards and 140 yards in the two previous games. Drew Bledsoe credited the defense with bailing him out. He had one interception deep in Pats territory that Jacksonville was held to a field goal on, and he also fumbled twice.

Larry Whigham was named the AFC Special Team Player of the Week for his performance in the game.



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January 12, 1954:
Felipe Rose, the Indian of the Village People, was born in New York

January 12, 2003:
Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees died of a heart attack following abdominal surgery at the age of 53




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