The playoff field is officially set, as the Falcons earned the number 2 seed with their 38-32 week 17 victory over the Saints. Atlanta now knows they will face one of three teams depending on who wins Wild Card weekend. The Falcons will face either the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers or New York Giants in the divisional round on Saturday, January 14th at 4:35 ET.
The Falcons’ first-round opponent will basically be determined by the result of the Seahawks vs. Lions wild card game this weekend. If the Seahawks win at home, they will be the Falcons first round opponent no matter what. However, if the Lions pull off the upset, Atlanta will play the winner of the Green Bay vs. New York game.
The Seahawks are 9-0 in their last nine playoff home games, while the Lions have not won a playoff game since 1992. Seattle is without a doubt the favorite in this game and are the Falcons’ most likely divisional round opponent.
While Seattle may have the edge in the Wild Card matchup, that comes primarily from them playing at home, where the Seahawks are 7-1 this season. The Seahawks have been a different team on the road in 2016 though. They finished under .500 in the regular season on the road and would have to travel to Atlanta for the divisional matchup.
Not too long ago, the Seahawks looked like the favorites to come out of the NFC. Russell Wilson was finally returning to full health, and the team was just coming off a road victory in Foxborough. But since that game, things have not come as easy as people thought it would for Seattle. They have not yet put together back-to-back wins since defeating the Patriots. The offensive line, which is paid the least amount in the entire NFL, has continued to struggle. Their failure to protect Russell Wilson has caused this offense to go completely stagnant at times. They have also suffered several major season-ending injuries to key players. Star safety, Earl Thomas, will not be playing during the playoffs. His absence is sure to be felt. Tyler Lockett, one of Russell Wilson’s favorite targets, suffered a broken leg in week 16.
With all of the bad going on in Seattle right now, it would still be wrong to count them out. They still have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and have way too much pride to go down without a fight. The Falcons faced off with Seattle in week 6 of the regular season. The matchup took place in Seattle, but the Falcons were able to give the Seahawks a scare. They held a lead deep into the 4th quarter, but were unable to finish the job.
That matchup was a tale of two halves. Seattle swarmed the Atlanta offense in the first half, putting constant pressure on Matt Ryan. But the Atlanta offensive line got it together in the second half, giving Matt Ryan plenty of time to throw, who in turn shredded the Seattle secondary for three second half touchdowns. The key to this matchup would be the same in the divisional round. With Earl Thomas out, the Seattle defensive line has to make up for it with pressure. They are more than capable of that, but the Atlanta offensive line has been one of the best in the league this year. The Falcons win if they can give Matt Ryan time.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers began the season 4-6 and seemed a long shot to even make the playoffs. That 4-6 start did not rattle Aaron Rodgers, who in total Aaron Rodgers style said, “I don’t see why we can’t run the table.” And run the table they did. The Packers finished the season 6-0 on their way to the NFC North crown.
The Packers really struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers early in the year and also suffered some key injuries in the secondary. This led to their 4-6 start, but ever since, the offensive line has been terrific at protecting Aaron Rodgers, and we all know when Rodgers has time he is going to shred defenses. During the 6 game win streak, Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. The secondary has also continued to heal. They are still nothing to write home about, but they are starting to get some stops and most importantly create turnovers. The defense will have to continue to play well if they want to make another Super Bowl run.
The Falcons met up with the Packers in week 8 in one of the best games of the year. Two MVP candidates, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, put on a show. They combined for 7 touchdowns, as Matt Ryan was able to deliver the final blow with a touchdown pass to Justin Hardy to give the Falcons a 33-32 victory. Both of these teams feature high flying offenses with suspect defenses. If Atlanta and Green Bay meet up again in Atlanta, expect another thriller.
New York Giants
The New York Giants, like seemingly always, are one of the most intriguing teams in this year’s playoffs. Their 11-5 record comes against one of the weaker schedules in the league, but also features two wins against the NFC’s top team, the Dallas Cowboys.
The strength of this team is their defense, particularly the defensive line. They have spent loads of money on guys like Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul to formulate one of the most dangerous pass rushes in the league. What has been unexpected for the Giants this year has been the play in their secondary. Safety Landon Collins has put himself in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors. The second year safety has 125 total tackles to go along with 5 interceptions and 4 sacks. He has been a true thrill to watch, but he is not the only one that has stepped up. Janoris Jenkins has vaulted his way up the list of top cornerbacks with his stellar play this season. This defense has come together nicely and will be a nightmare for opposing offenses to score against.
The offense has been a different story for the Giants. Eli Manning has been inconsistent all year long, but that is kind of what Eli Manning does. Who knows if this is one of those years that Manning puts it all together for a playoff run. However, he has not gotten much help from his offensive line this season. It would be imperative that the Falcons are able to put pressure on Manning in this potential matchup. Manning is still an elite quarterback, and for the first time in a long time, has an elite group of pass catchers around him. The Giants might actually have the perfect formula to give this Falcons team fits.