NFC preview: Falcons still have things to prove

How much is experience worth?

The Atlanta Falcons are about to find out, as they’re hoping the fourth time in the playoffs is a charm. They’ve reached the postseason four times in Coach Mike Smith’s five seasons but were one and done in their previous three playoff games.

Smith said the top-seeded Falcons are “much more mature” than they were in previous years because of the disappointment and frustration they have endured in the playoffs.

“I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs,” Smith said. “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.”

The Seattle Seahawks, led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, have grown as a team too.

They were 1-5 in their first six games on the road this season but reversed the trend with a big win at Chicago, a stomping of Buffalo in Toronto and last Sunday’s win at Washington.

Seattle hopes to join the 1989 Los Angeles Rams as the only West Coast teams to win consecutive playoff games on the East Coast.

“It’s not like they’re going to be going to the moon or anything,” Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo said, according to the Associated Press. “They have a schedule they follow when they travel and I’m sure they’re going to keep it the same.”

Let it reign

In the 11 seasons since realignment in 2002, 28 of the 32 NFL teams have won a division title at least once. Of the teams remaining in the postseason, only Seattle qualified as a wild card, with every other club winning its division.

How the 2012 divisional teams have fared in the 11 seasons since realignment in 2002:

Team Division titles Playoff berths
New England Patriots 9 9
Green Bay Packers 6 8
Seattle Seahawks 5 7
Baltimore Ravens 4 7
Atlanta Falcons 3 6
Denver Broncos 3 5
San Francisco 49ers 3 3
Houston Texans 2 2

Another view

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young of ESPN: “The Falcons, their whole narrative of who they are, perceptionally, it’s now at stake. There’s nothing that they can do from September to December that we even really paid much attention to. Go undefeated? We are like, ‘Oh, that’s just great, but we want to see you in January.’

“The fact that their coach is 0-3 and the history of the Falcons, I think this is the chance. This is the moment. This is the one, so you’re going to see a ferocity from them. There’s not going to be an inch that they’re going to give.”

By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):

Category Seattle Atlanta
Points scored 25.8 (9) 26.2 (7)
Points allowed 15.3 (1) 18.7 (5)
Pass offense 189.4 (27) 281.8 (6)
Rush offense 161.2 (3) 87.3 (29)
Pass defense 203.1 (6) 242.4 (23)
Rush defense 103.1 (10) 123.2 (21)
Sacks 36 (18) 29 (28)
Penalties 6.9 (27) 3.4 (1)
Turnovers +13 (T5) +13 (T5)

Farmer’s pick

Losing defensive end Chris Clemons is huge for Seattle, because that makes the defensive front far more vulnerable to the run. Still, I see the Seahawks coming away with a narrow victory behind the running of Marshawn Lynch and scrambling of Wilson.


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