NFC South: Robert Griffin III

TAMPA, Fla. -- Early indications are that former Bears coach Lovie Smith is at the top of Tampa Bay's wish list as the Buccaneers search for a new coach.

Smith
But it’s unclear if the feeling is mutual. There’s a report that Smith is expected to interview with the Detroit Lions. There also is a report that the Washington Redskins have an interest in Smith.

The Bucs have several things going for them. Smith formerly was an assistant in Tampa Bay and knows ownership. Tampa Bay has first-class facilities and a good salary-cap situation. Smith, a defensive guru, also could be enticed by Tampa Bay’s defensive talent, which includes defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Darrelle Revis.

But the one major criticism of Smith when he was the head coach in Chicago was that he didn’t have a prolific offense. That’s where Detroit and Washington could have an edge.

Washington already has an explosive young quarterback in Robert Griffin III. Detroit has an established quarterback in Matthew Stafford and one of the NFL’s best receivers in Calvin Johnson.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons don’t have to worry about facing Robert Griffin III and his ability with the read-option, when healthy. But the Falcons' defense still has to be aware of what new starting quarterback Kirk Cousins is capable of doing for the Washington Redskins.

Cousins
When these teams met last season, Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knocked Griffin out with a concussion, and Cousins stepped in and completed 5-of-9 passes for 111 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. But Cousins also had two late interceptions in the Falcons’ 24-17 road win.

"You know, Kirk can throw the ball pretty well," Weatherspoon said. "He did a great job last year when he came in; kept them in the game. Ultimately, he was just a rookie, so we sat back on him in some zone coverage when they had to go down the field, ended up getting a couple of interceptions there at the end to close it out.

"We expect him to be prepared. He knows he’s the starter this week, and that’s always great as a player – when you know early. So he’ll be coming in with some confidence. We just look forward to going out there and just doing our job against him."

Cousins pointed out how last year’s game against the Falcons represented his first NFL regular-season action.

"Did some good things, but also made some mistakes," Cousins said. "Every chance I’ve gotten to play – whether in practice or in games – I’ve learned something from those reps. And I’ve learned from my mistakes. And I’ve learned from my successes."

Cousins might not get much protection from his offensive line, but he could get a boost from a strong running game that ranks second in the NFL, led by 1,000-yard rusher Alfred Morris.

The Falcons won’t have to contend with Griffin's version of the read-option. But they still have to stop the ground game – something they’ve been unable to do consistently all season.

Jerry Jones still fears RG III

October, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Robert Griffin III left Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones admittedly in awe during the Washington Redskins' last appearance at JerryWorld.

Griffin
Jones has way too much respect for Griffin -- or even fear of him -- to take any comfort from RG III’s slow start this season coming off of knee surgery.

"We don't know what we're dealing with in RG III," Jones said Friday on KRLD-FM. "I know that if we're dealing with the same guy that came in here last year, that's enough to lay awake at night about. That was about as impactful a player as we've seen come through here last year."

Griffin has struggled by his standards during the Redskins’ 1-3 start. He’s been a nonfactor in the running game and, while he’s thrown for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns, he’s already thrown four interceptions, just one fewer than he did in his phenomenal rookie season.

But Griffin’s 304-yard, four-touchdown performance during the Redskins’ triumphant visit last season left a lasting impression on Jones, who seemed shell-shocked that day by the thought of having to deal with RG III for the next dozen or so years. With RG III declaring himself “rejuvenated” after the Redskins’ bye, Jones fears his best.

"You say, 'C'mon, Jerry, be real, he hasn't been at his best,'" said Jones, whose defense that has allowed 400-yard passers in each of the past two weeks. “But he's phenomenal and he's a unique and inordinate player. He's got not only physical skills, but I would have to say that mentally he's one of the smartest guys that we've seen in the National Football League.

"Always the case was that he was going to evolve into a quarterback that when you couldn't run him or when he's lost a step, that would be the kind that would get smart and beat you with his experience. The respect I have for him means we could see him come out here and play the way he's going to play the rest of his career.

"I know that we're preparing for him to be really effective."

That's definitely been the trend for quarterbacks who face the Dallas defense.

Enough work for Josh Freeman?

August, 19, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Freeman has played fewer preseason snaps than just about any other projected starting quarterback in the NFL so far.

Freeman has taken only 21 snaps. That ranks No. 29 in the league. But it’s important to note that Robert Griffin III, who ranks No. 32, has been idle and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, who ranks No. 30 with 19 snaps, won’t play his second preseason game until Monday night. That means San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (16 snaps) is the only projected starting quarterback that has played two games and taken fewer snaps than Freeman.

In the preseason opener, Freeman got 13 snaps. On Friday night at New England, Freeman took only eight snaps. Coach Greg Schiano said part of the reason for Freeman’s short stint Friday was because he got a lot of reps in joint practices with the Patriots.

“It’s all by design,’’ Schiano said. “One of the advantages of working against New England was that I feel like he got three days worth of snaps against another team.

"I look at it as if he’s played two games: the New England practices and then the game.’’

Schiano said he doesn’t feel like Freeman needs more action to be ready to take hits in the regular season.

“If it were a different quarterback, I’d fell like, yeah, he needs to get hit,’’ Schiano said. “But I’ve never been around a guy that stands in there as well and moves up in the pocket and doesn’t let the rush get to him, I’ve never been around a guy better than [Freeman].’’

But Schiano said Freeman -- and the rest of the starters -- will play substantially more in Saturday’s preseason game at Miami.

Cam Newton better than No. 100?

August, 19, 2013
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Cam NewtonAP Photo/Chuck BurtonThe Panthers like what they've seen from Cam Newton so far during training camp.
Let’s start this off with a trivia question: Whatever happened to Cam Newton?

Yeah, I know he's still the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. But why is Newton, the offensive rookie of the year for the 2011 season, no longer even mentioned breathlessly as one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks?

It seems as if Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have made Newton an afterthought outside of Charlotte.

The latest example comes in ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 offensive players, which kicks off today. For the record, I had a vote and gave Newton high marks. But, apparently, I'm one of the few who thinks highly of Newton.

He came in at No. 100 on the list. He also came in as the No. 16 quarterback. Luck, Kaepernick, Griffin and Wilson all came in well ahead of Newton. So did Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, whose names rhyme with mediocrity, at least in my book.

I’m not saying Newton belongs in the upper echelon (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan) just yet. But I do think Newton is substantially better than the 100th-best offensive player in the league right now, and I think he could be a top-10 quarterback by the time this season is over.

The guy has thrown for 7,290 yards and 40 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He also has run for 1,447 yards and 22 touchdowns in that same time frame.

So why does it seem as though Newton is in the witness protection program whenever people talk about great players or great quarterbacks?

The answer is simple. Newton hasn’t won, and the way he has handled losing (pouting on the sideline and his body language in postgame interviews) hasn’t earned him fans among the national media.

But I think all that is about to change. I say that after having a one-on-one sit-down with one of the most guarded coaches I’ve ever covered. I say that after talking about Newton with Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

“I feel really good -- and anybody that knows me knows I usually don’t say things like that -- but I do," Shula said on a July morning in Spartanburg, S.C. “When I think about why I feel good, it’s because of the look in [Newton’s] eye. He’s highly motivated. When you get guys that are motivated and are going to listen and do the things you’re asking them to do, you’re way ahead of the game."

Maybe we’ll be able to forget the body language, because Shula knows Newton’s eye language better than just about anyone. Shula spent the past two seasons as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach before being promoted when Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Teammates also are noticing a difference in Newton.

“I think we’re getting ready at the quarterback position, which is the most important position on the field," center Ryan Kalil said. “Experience is a big part of that, and he’s growing. His leadership skills have gotten better, and he’s somebody that guys are looking up to. Those are all good things."

But the main reason I think Newton is in for a big season is because the Panthers finally have figured out how to use his unique skill set. They started off 2-8 last season when they were asking Newton to run the read-option often. They largely scrapped that in favor of a more conventional running game late last season and won five of their last six games. Expect that trend to continue.

The Panthers are ready to let DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart be running backs, and they’re ready to let Newton be just a quarterback.

“One of the things I’ve talked to him about is don’t let a day go by here in training camp where you don’t think about how you felt the first half of the season last year and then how you felt at the end of the season," Shula said. “And just think about that every day as you’re going through practice and use it as motivation."

Maybe, by the time this season is over, Newton no longer will be a forgotten man.

Greg Hardy: Aiming for 50 sacks

June, 11, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- This is going to sound outrageous, but that shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider it’s coming from Greg Hardy.

The defensive end for the Carolina Panthers was asked Tuesday if he had a goal for the number of sacks he’ll register this season.

“Fifty," Hardy said during a break between minicamp practices. “Why shoot low, right? If I’m going to shoot at it, I’m going to shoot at it with a 50 caliber. I’m going to shoot at a little bird with a 50-caliber bullet. That’s the goal for this year, 50 sacks, that’s where I’m at. That’s the goal, 50. You heard it first."

Yeah, that sounds more than a little ridiculous. But give Hardy, who had 11 sacks last season, credit for having confidence in himself and the rest of the defensive line.

“Our D-line is about getting money and not like you all are thinking," Hardy said. "Just everybody winning. If the tackles are getting it, that means they’ve got to block them now and while they’re blocking them, I’m sneaking in the backdoor and taking everything. It’s the type of situation where we want everybody to win -- the young guys, the new guys, the old guys. It was the same way last year. That’s how we got to RG III [Redskins QB Robert Griffin III], that’s how we got to Chicago, all those guys. Just breeding confidence into all of the defensive linemen and letting them know they can win."

Speaking of money, Hardy did talk about his contract situation. His absence from several recent OTAs had led to speculation that he was making a statement he wants a new contract. His current one is scheduled to run out after the season.

But Hardy said he has no plans to hold out during training camp.

“Yeah, I will be there bright and early, same as always,’’ Hardy said.
PanthersElsa/Getty ImagesThe Panthers plan to feature a power running game and Cam Newton's pocket passing next season.
We haven’t heard much about Cam Newton lately.

Since early last season, it seems Newton has been overshadowed by a bunch of young quarterbacks. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III started winning and took a lot of attention off Newton, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011.

But it would be a huge mistake for anyone to overlook Newton. Call it bouncing back, breaking through or whatever you want, but I’m predicting a big 2013 season from the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. Yeah, I’ll even step out on a limb and say he has a better 2013 season than Wilson, Kaepernick, Luck and RG III.

Why?

Several reasons pop to mind, but let’s start with this -- Newton has more all-around talent than any of those guys.

Luck can pass nicely, but opposing defenses don’t have to game plan for his running ability. Wilson, RG III and Kaepernick each have some throwing ability, but they aren’t pure pocket passers, and their big 2012 seasons came largely because of their mobility.

Newton is capable of more than any of those guys, because he’s as mobile as RG III, Kaepernick and Wilson. At the same time, he’s as good a pocket passer as Luck.

A lot of people think Newton slumped in 2012. But that’s not necessarily true. His numbers were comparable to his rookie season, but his visibility lessened because the Panthers didn’t take the leap many expected.

They went 7-9 and were largely overlooked.

But you can’t overlook Newton and the Panthers headed into the 2013 season, and that takes us back to Newton’s rare ability. He is so talented, I don’t think Carolina’s coaching staff really knew how to maximize his ability in his first two seasons.

For reasons that never have been explained and I sure as heck can’t figure out, the Carolina coaching staff didn’t take advantage fully of what Newton brings or what else was on the roster at the start of last season.

Although the Panthers had a talented (and very pricey) backfield with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, they barely used that trio at the start of last season. Instead, they featured Newton heavily in the read-option early last season.

In other words, they turned their quarterback into a running back.

Opposing defenses didn’t have to worry much about Newton’s passing, and that was one of the major reasons the Panthers got off to a 2-8 start.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireA physical running game led by Jonathan Stewart could help quarterback Cam Newton turn the Panthers into a contender next season.
That changed down the stretch. The Panthers got back to using a power running game, and they let Newton be a pocket passer. They won enough games to save coach Ron Rivera’s job.

Rivera and his staff took notice of what happened late in the season, and that is another reason I think Newton is in for a big season. Rivera has said he wants to rely more heavily on the power running game in 2013.

In other words, it sounds like the Panthers are going to let their running backs be running backs, and they’re going to let Newton be a quarterback. That sounds to me like a formula for success.

Carolina is going through a change. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula is taking over the play-calling duties.

Shula had a reputation for being too conservative when he was the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, and the head coach at the University of Alabama. But, like Newton, I think Shula is ready for a breakout season.

Part of the reason Shula was so conservative in previous stops was because he didn’t have big-time talent at the skill positions. He has that talent now with Newton, the running backs, receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen.

I still expect Shula to be a bit more of a traditionalist than Chudzinski, but I think that’s a good thing. He’s going to rely on that running game more, and that’s going to open up the passing game for Newton.

Newton threw for more than 7,900 yards in his first two seasons. He also rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Newton’s legs are a valuable asset, and the Panthers can’t ignore that. The Panthers can use the threat of Newton’s running skills to keep defenses off balance, but they also need to keep their offense balanced.

I think they need to adjust things a bit and take an approach similar to what they were using at the end of last season. Scrap the read-option, or at least cut way back on it. Let Newton use his legs to scramble and keep plays alive.

But, first and foremost, let Newton be a passer.

There aren’t many quarterbacks in the league with Newton’s arm strength. The Panthers need to play to that strength.

If they do, Newton won’t be overlooked anymore, and this team could be in the playoffs.

NFC South evening update

May, 8, 2013
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Let's take a look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

John Manasso throws out the possibility of defensive end Kroy Biermann getting some playing time at outside linebacker, particularly when the Falcons use a 3-4 set. The coaching staff hasn’t mentioned anything about this yet. But it makes plenty of sense. Biermann is very versatile and could bring the threat of a pass rush from an outside linebacker spot.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Cam Newton said he’s not envious that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick took the spotlight off him. Instead, Newton said the success of the other young quarterbacks helps to motivate him. Newton is as talented as any of those guys. If the Panthers can figure out the right way to use him, Newton will be back in the spotlight in a hurry.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

In this lengthy feature on rookie John Jenkins, Larry Holder points out that the defensive tackle’s weight has fluctuated to as high as 360 pounds. Coach Sean Payton already has said he wants Jenkins to play at about 340 pounds. That could provide a very nice anchor to the middle of the Saints’ new 3-4 scheme.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The big news here, of course, is that defensive back Ronde Barber has decided to retire. But, in other news, Mark Cook reports that the Bucs are not interested in veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney or John Abraham. I think there was a lot of wishful thinking about those two from fans. But bringing in veterans doesn’t fit the Bucs’ profile, especially at defensive end where they have high draft picks invested in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers.
Their offseason program barely has begun but the Atlanta Falcons already are devising game plans for the upcoming season.

“We’ve already put one day in the books, where it was pretty much just about the way we are defending the read-option,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re heading in that direction.”

It already was widely reported that Atlanta’s defensive staff spent some time at Clemson studying the read-option offense in March. But it’s worth exploring this matter a little further.

The read-option and the pistol are the hot offensive trends in the NFL and the Falcons had mixed results against them last season. Carolina’s Cam Newton put up big numbers against the Falcons using the read option in two regular-season games. Atlanta had some success against Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

But the Atlanta defense had problems with Seattle’s read-option and San Francisco’s pistol offense in the postseason. All four of those teams are on Atlanta’s schedule in 2013.

Clemson’s offense employs aspects of the read-option and the pistol, so it was a good idea for Atlanta’s defensive coaches to exchange ideas with the college’s offensive coaches. If the Falcons are going to have success in the upcoming season, they’ll have to defend the read option and the pistol.

“The Wildcat was rolling for a while,” Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Then I think it changed. There are some incredibly intelligent defensive coordinators and driven head coaches who are telling their defensive coordinators, 'Figure it out and figure it out now.'"

Count Atlanta coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan among that group. The real proof will come on the field, but Smith and Nolan already are getting their team ready for the read-option and the pistol.
NEW ORLEANS -- The best NFC South quote of Super Bowl week came Friday afternoon.

I was sitting on radio row waiting for my turn with Doug Martin when the Tampa Bay running back delivered an order to fans in an interview with WDAE’s Steve Duemig.

Martin
Martin said he’s more than fine with fans calling him “Dougernaut," “The Dougernator’’ or “Muscle and Hustle.’’ In fact, he’d encourage the use of any of those nicknames.

But there’s one nickname that Martin doesn’t like.

“Muscle Hamster has to stop,’’ Martin said in a very firm tone.

Duemig laughed, I laughed and I’m sure listeners laughed. I think Martin laughed, but only a little.

As Martin came away from his interview with Duemig and began chatting with me, I got the sense that he’s somewhat serious about putting an end to the nickname that’s followed him since college.

“I’ve been trying for the whole year and it hasn’t helped,’’ Martin said. “There are shirts and hats and all sorts of things. Half of my teammates are helping to keep it going and that doesn’t help.’’

But there’s at least a chance Martin could add a new title Saturday night. He could be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s one of the finalists for the award.

“It’s an honor just to be considered and just to be here,’’ Martin said.

Martin realizes his chances of picking up the award might be slim because he’s up against quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Quarterbacks are more visible than running backs and usually win popularity contests.

But even if Martin doesn’t win, that doesn’t take away from a sensational rookie season. He rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and one touchdown.

“I was happy with my season,’’ Martin said. “We didn’t make the playoffs and I’m not happy about that part. But, overall, I’m happy with it. I’m already looking forward to next season and hitting the ground running.’’

And maybe, after his plea, Martin finally can run away from the nickname he despises.

Drew Brees going to Pro Bowl

January, 9, 2013
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It looks like it truly is a new year in New Orleans, where a cloud seemed to hang over the Saints all of last season -- and most of last offseason.

But the outlook suddenly is a lot more positive. On the same day the team officially announced coach Sean Payton’s contract extension was finalized, Drew Brees announced, on his Twitter account, that he’s going to the Pro Bowl.

“I’m excited to join teammates Jahri Evans and Thomas Morstead at the Pro Bowl in a few weeks. Praying for a speedy recovery for RG3,’’ Brees tweeted.

Brees initially wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl. But he obviously was a first alternate and the injury to Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III means Brees will be going to Hawaii.

Around the NFC South

January, 8, 2013
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Let's take a quick tour of the top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons may have a little edge on the Seahawks when it comes to preparation. The Falcons were off all last week and the coaching staff used that time to prepare for any of the three possible opponents. Once it was decided Seattle was the opponent, Atlanta’s coaching staff began focusing in on the Seahawks, who were flying across the continent Sunday night and will have to make another long flight to Atlanta.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person has an overview of six candidates for the general manager position. The Panthers have been very quiet on this front, so it's at least possible there is another candidate or two in the mix.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Larry Holder writes that the injury to Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III could clear the way for Drew Brees to be named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Former NFL coach Brian Billick says Josh Freeman’s problems with accuracy stem from the decision-making process. He has a point. Too often, it was like Freeman was trying to force things and make the big play instead of settling for safer alternatives.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson gets mentioned a lot with fellow rookies Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

That’s natural because they’re Wilson’s contemporaries. But I think Atlanta coach Mike Smith made a far more accurate comparison Monday when he was asked for a scouting report on Wilson.

Wilson
“Well, when you watch him scramble around there, he looks like Fran Tarkenton,’’ Smith said.

That’s precisely what I thought as I watched Wilson against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Smith’s comparison might be lost on his players (elder statesman Tony Gonzalez was born in 1976 and Tarkenton finished his career in 1978). But plenty of people around Atlanta remember Tarkenton because he went to high school in Georgia and played at the University of Georgia before going on to the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.

I was young when Tarkenton still was playing. But the thing I remember best about him was his ability to scramble and make things happen. Smith sees a lot of the same things from Wilson.

“I mean, he can extend some plays,’’ Smith said. “He’s got a very strong arm. He can throw the ball 55, 60 yards down the field. That’s the thing that impressed me. He’s very hard to get your hands on, especially when he’s running around on passing plays. He extends those plays and that causes a lot of issues for defenders.’’

Wilson also can make things happen on the read option that the Seahawks sometimes use. Atlanta’s seen the read option from Griffin and Carolina’s Cam Newton. But Smith might want to dig up some tape of Tarkenton and show it to his defense.

He also might want to show that tape to rookie quarterback Dominique Davis, who is going to run the scout team and try to do the things Wilson does. Davis was born 11 years after Tarkenton’s career ended.

But Wilson might be a lot more like Tarkenton than any other quarterback.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 6, 2013
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Five things to know about Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome:

1. Red-hot Seahawks: For the third straight season, the Falcons could be facing an opponent that’s peaking at the right time. Last season, Atlanta lost to the New York Giants in the wild-card round. The year before that, the Falcons lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Both the Giants and the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl. Even before Sunday’s 24-14 victory against the Washington Redskins in the wild-card round, the Seahawks had won their previous five regular-season games and seven of their past eight.

2. Strength on strength: Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez, an offense that ranked in the top 10 all season is Atlanta’s biggest strength. But the Falcons are going to be facing a defense that allowed a league-low 245 points (15.3 points a game). The Seahawks haven’t given up more than 17 points in a game since Week 12 and allowed more than 20 points only once in the second half of the regular season.

3. Triple trouble: Atlanta’s defense could have its hands full with this matchup. We’ve heard a lot about the brilliant rookie season by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He can pass, although he doesn’t have big-time playmakers at wide receiver. Wilson also can run out of the read option and the Falcons have some experience with that after facing Carolina’s Cam Newton (twice) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III during the regular season. But Seattle also often uses a traditional running game with Marshawn Lynch and that could be the biggest concern of all. The Falcons had trouble with power running games much of the season and ranked No. 21 against the run. They used their nickel package a lot in the regular season, but I think you might see them switch to a heavy dose of their 4-3 base defense, with middle linebacker Akeem Dent getting a lot of playing time to try to counter Lynch.

4. Home in the dome: The whole world knows the Falcons are 0-3 in the postseason in the Ryan-Mike Smith era. But two of those losses came on the road. Since Ryan arrived in 2008, he’s 33-5 at home in the regular season. Prior to a meaningless loss to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale, the Falcons had won 11 straight home games. Despite their impressive win Sunday at Washington, the Seahawks aren't a great road team, going 3-5 in the regular season.

5. Getting healthy: While the Seahawks will come out of the wild-card round with some bumps and bruises, the Falcons look to be about as healthy as possible. The bye week gave defensive end John Abraham time to rest an ankle injury and cornerback Dunta Robinson time to get over a concussion. Strong safety William Moore, who missed the final four games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Saturday and should be at full strength for Sunday.

Redskins or Seahawks?

January, 6, 2013
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As we get ready for the wild-card game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, let’s hear your thoughts on which team you’d rather see play the Atlanta Falcons next week.

Hit the comments section below.

For the record, I think the Seahawks are the team the Falcons would rather face. Yeah, I realize the Falcons won 24-17 on the road against the Redskins in Week 5 of this season. But the Redskins got hot after that, quarterback Robert Griffin III kept getting better and they’re a different team now than the one Atlanta faced a few months ago.

I’m not saying Seattle would be an easy draw for the Falcons because the Seahawks have a good defense and an offense that has some balance with quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. But the Seahawks were 3-5 on the road this season and I think they might have a tough time in the Georgia Dome.

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