It took 256 regular season games, but we’ve finally whittled down the 32-team NFL field to just 12 teams that have rightfully earned their place in the 2016-17 NFL playoffs. After a disappointingly non-competitive Wild Card Weekend, we’re onto the divisional round, which is oftentimes the best weekend of football of the year. As we did for round one, we’ll be breaking down each game right here, with a special emphasis on the most important things, like who might win, why, and most importantly, by how many points. All lines and spreads are courtesy of Westgate Sportsbook.
The theme in the divisional round is that of familiar foes as each of the four matchups are rematches from earlier this year. Incredibly, the only game that was even remotely close the first time around was the one between the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks back in Week 6, which the Seahawks won 26-24, but not without a bit more than a modicum of controversy.
With the Falcons trailing late in the fourth quarter on fourth down, Matt Ryan heaved the ball up to Julio Jones. Jones was held by Richard Sherman on the play, but no flag was thrown, resulting in a Seahawks victory as the Falcons and their fans (and the rest of the nation) screamed in disbelief at the non-call.
But hey, now they have a chance to right that wrong in spectacular fashion in front of a national audience… what more could you ask for?
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons – Sat. Jan. 15, 4:35 p.m. ET
Spread: Falcons -4.5
Spread: For the Seahawks it’s going to be all hands on deck on the defensive side of the ball against a ridiculously good Atlanta Falcons offense. The problem is, they’re short one of their best players as they have been since Week 12 when Earl Thomas was lost for the season to a gruesome lower leg injury; one that had the Pro Bowl free safety publicly questioning whether he’ll ever return to action.
The Seahawks have managed without Thomas, but his absence will be felt against a Falcons team that litters the field with explosive weapons on offense. Julio Jones is fully healthy after a week off and Matt Ryan has done a masterful job of distributing the ball to the rest of his receiving corps as well, including Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. Not to mention running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both of whom are major threats as rushers and receivers out of the backfield.
While the Seahawks limited Ryan and Co. in the first half of their Week 6 meeting, Ryan came out and obliterated the ‘Hawks’ defense in the third quarter, throwing three TDs to take a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 335 yards and 3 TDs. Oh yeah, and he did that in Seattle with Thomas in the lineup.
It’ll take a Herculean effort for the Seahawks to contain Ryan as they did back in Week 6, as the Falcons have only gotten stronger offensively, while the Seahawks have gotten weaker on defense.
I don’t think the Seahawks will have an easy time slowing down the Falcons, which will put the pressure on Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense to trade scores with Atlanta.
Could he do just that? Absolutely — the Falcons’ defense is far from invincible, after all. But Wilson and Seattle’s offense have struggled this year, especially away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks finished the year 7-1 at home, but just 3-4-1 on the road. More damning, the Seahawks averaged just 15.9 points per game on the road compared to 28.4 points per game at home. That means 64 percent of their 354 points scored this year were scored at home.
As a result, I like Atlanta to get the job done. Atlanta -4.5
Total: If Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense can hit their stride, this one is going to get out of control quickly and might go over by the end of the first half. However, I think they struggle, and I think Seattle’s defense does enough to keep the Falcons under the 30-point threshold, keeping this total under. Under 51.
Final: Seahawks 17, Falcons 27