By Matthew Asher
The Atlanta Falcons have finished the season 13-3 and have locked up the top NFC Playoff seed. While the Falcon faithful do not want to relive the disastrous 2011 Green Bay game, they shouldn’t expect a repeat performance. Who says so? History and geography.
Hopefully everyone watching this game knows that Seattle is in the western portion of the country while Atlanta is on the east side. The Seahawks have already had to travel from their home state of Washington to the district of Washington to win their first playoff game. Now they return to the Eastern Time Zone for the second time in as many weeks. The fates have not been kind to West Coast teams playing back-to-back East Coast Playoff games.
According to STATS LLC, there has only been one instance of a West Coast team with back-to-back playoff game wins. The 1989 Los Angeles Rams had to travel to Philly and New Jersey to defeat the Eagles and Giants, respectively. To be clear, STATS’ defines “West Coast team” as those from only Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Arizona.
While it’s certainly an interesting fact, and may actually be a question in Trivial Pursuit, not too many players are putting a lot of faith in that one piece of information. Atlanta’s Tyson Clabo made light of the tidbit with a very astute observation. “It’s not like they’re going to be going to the moon or anything,” Clabo said. “They have a schedule they follow when they travel and I’m sure they’re going to keep it the same.”
Of course, Falcons fans will probably not rely on this information alone as reason to believe the Falcons will win their first playoff game since Mike Vick was the quarterback. The good news is that this 2012 Falcons team is nothing like the teams either from 2011 or 2010.
Coach Mike Smith has learned from the mistakes he has made each season. Unlike the 2010 team, Smith is making sure his team doesn’t get too much time off in between practice and the game. “We worked a little bit longer,” Smith said. “I think one of the things we had to do was to get some work done between playing games. We needed to work on some things fundamentally that we didn’t do well at the end of the season.”
Clabo seconded Smitty’s belief on cleaning up some of the team’s fundamental issues. “We needed to work on some things,” Clabo said. “We’re not perfect. As a player and as a team you’re always striving to find things you can improve. We did a little self-scout and said ‘Let’s do this.’”
Smith believes that the three postseason losses Atlanta has suffered in his five year tenure with the team has the players better prepared to beat Seattle. “We’re a much more mature team because of our experiences,” Smitty said. “I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs. This is a team that has been very focused from the very beginning of the season and we’ve got a lot of guys who have experienced the playoff atmosphere. They’re going to be able to help some of the younger guys who haven’t.”
While some people believe the “one and done” stigma for Smith only adds to the pressure of winning this game, Smitty says he has approached this game the way he’d do for any other game regardless of the importance of the game. “To me it’s no different than any other game,” Smith said. “It’s 100 percent on our football team to go out and play our best, whether it’s a preseason game or regular-season game or whether it’s the postseason.”
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.