1. Red-hot Seahawks. For the third straight year, the Falcons could be facing an opponent that’s peaking at the right time. Last year, 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 last five regular-season games and seven of their last 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 only allowed more than 20 points 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. The Falcons 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 at Washington on Sunday, the Seahawks weren’t a great road team this season. They were 3-5 on the road during 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.