11/10/2013 10:43 AM
Seattle -3 over Atlanta (bought half):
While the last 2 weeks for the NFC's best team the Seattle Seahawks (8-1) have looked nothing convincingly close to dominating, it's more than an understatement that head coach Pete Carroll have been fortunate enough to escape with narrow comeback victories. After tearing through lesser competition while showing their dominance, it took a final goal line stand on MNF in St. Louis followed by a 21 point deficit scare at home to Tampa Bay to keep the best conference record intact.
While it's inevitable the Seahawks would love nothing more than a complete effort and result against lowly Atlanta (2-6), Seattle may perhaps be looking over their shoulder a little bit as San Francisco is just 1.5 games back with a contest at hand. The Seahawks return to the Georgia Dome on Sunday looking to gain a measure of revenge and capitalize on Ryan's struggles while seriously damaging what's left of the Falcons' playoff hopes. Last season Marshawn Lynch scored with 31 seconds left, but Matt Ryan helped Atlanta get in position for Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to win 30-28 in the NFC Championship game. The Seahawks had put together their own comeback, erasing a 20-point, second-half deficit, but they're looking for a much more complete performance this time as we enter the second half of regular season play.
Russell Wilson (144/231 1546 15 TD 6 INT) has displayed toughness by absorbing sacks and shots the past few weeks but still finds a way to finish what he started. In the Week 7 win against the Cardinals in Arizona, Wilson lost two fumbles while being sacked three times. The following week against the Rams in St. Louis, he was sacked a career-high seven times. In Sunday’s overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wilson was not sacked, but he absorbed some after-the-throw or just-as-he-was-throwing shots that left him sore after the game.
Fortunately for Wilson, Lynch (167-726 4.3 6 TD) has looked at times near flawless bursting through the seams behind a line that looks to wear opposing defenses down while creating space between the line of scrimmage. The star back ran for a season-high 125 yards on 21 carries (5.0) last week, but 44 came on six rushes during a 51-yard drive that set up the winning field goal in a 27-24 overtime win over the Bucs. Wilson is especially dangerous calling his own number (67-375 5.6 1 TD) but must be more in sync holding onto the ball as evident by his 8 fumbles which he has surrendered 5.
As Sidney Rice recovers from a season ending torn ACL, the bulk of the throws have gone to team leading receiver Golden Tate (35-468 3 TD). Tate caught 3 passes for 93 yards in week 9 but was held without a reception until midway through the third quarter. Fortunately Doug Baldwin (29-447 2 TD) had a stronger showing (6-75) and while Lynch (19-197 1 TD) is a shorter option in the flat Wilson has options mixing it up in the play calling. That does not bode well for the Falcons defense which ranks 29th overall against the pass and just 17th in opposing rushing.
Seattle's defense ranks second giving up only 296 yards allowed per game. and allows only 1180 passing yards while tied with Denver for the most interceptions at 13. Matt Ryan (225/332 2442 15 TD 10 INT) has been anything but ice so far this season. Still, much of Atlanta's success rests on Ryan, who has five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 129.3 passer rating in the team's victories. He has 10 scores, 10 picks and an 81.9 rating in the defeats. With Julio Jones sidelined for the season due to foot surgery, longtime vet and future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez (44-476 4 TD) leads the dirty birds in catches. Harry Douglas (38-571 1 TD) has emerged as Ryan's favorite target, however chances could be limited given Seattle boasts one of the best secondaries in the league. Add to the fact that the Falcons running game or lack there-of has rushed for only 515 yards all season. Steven Jackson (38-140 3.7) has missed 4 games this season with a hamstring injury and has not found the end zone despite gaining 57 yards on 13 carries (4.4) against Carolina in week 9.
While Seattle has only looked like a shell of themselves over the last 2 weeks Atlanta has roughly nothing much else but pride to play for. That could be dangerous with Seattle only looking to improve on the league's best record, but the wheels have fallen off in Atlanta losing their last 3. The Falcons are likely to be down early and forced to throw against an intimidating secondary, which will come away making plenty of plays setting up shop for the Seattle methodical but efficient offense.