Did your stomach just turn? Maybe your teeth clenched. It is strictly against the Jinx Rules of Sports to speak confidently about your team right before a big game. I have practically invited a flash flood of the team hotel in Atlanta. And, let’s be completely honest, the Seahawks may lose today. The Falcons feature a quarterback who looks every bit the franchise player who could lead a team to the Super Bowl one day. Their mentality will be the best it could be for this one contest. They are a veteran group that is solely focused on getting their first playoff win. Never mind that they would get eviscerated in the next round. They will play today like it could be the last game of their career (Tony Gonzalez), or their last game as coach (Mike Smith), because it could be. Eliminating any team is hard. Eliminating a talented, focused and desperate team on their home turf is really, really hard. The thing is, beating the Seahawks may be harder.
Playing this Seattle team is like going through the boot camp. You think you are tough. You think you are prepared. Then you start to question yourself as your body and will wears down. Just when you think the finish line has to be in sight, you look up and see nothing but more pain and suffering. There is no escape. Some will be able to run the gauntlet. Most will not. Most will ring the bell and pack for home.
Yoda took Luke Skywalker into that hole to face his greatest fear. Pete Carroll is Yoda, and he has made that fear portable.
The Falcons will complete passes to their dynamic receiving talent today. Those receivers will also hear the rhinoceros footsteps of Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner closing in on them before feeling pain that will wake their ancestors. They will have to get up and do the whole thing again. And again. And again.
John Baker will be ready for Bruce Irvin’s 4.4 speed the first few times Matt Ryan drops back, but the cheetah is a volume hunter. He may be unsuccessful the vast majority of times, but it only takes one kill to feed his family for a week.
Teams have avoided Richard Sherman all year long. He still managed to get eight interceptions. This looks like the first game all year when he will be targeted. Putting the cross-hairs on an assassin is a dangerous game.
That is just when Atlanta’s offense is on the field. Seattle’s offense may have more pelts on their wall than the defense in terms of opponent injuries. Marshawn Lynch appears to put equal weight on hurting opponents and gaining yards. He treats linebackers like human shields, barreling through the defense while opponents hit their teammates as often as they hit him.
Russell Wilson has shown in his brief history that he takes a little time to acclimate to a new speed of play. It happened from OTAs to training camp, from pre-season to regular season, and regular season to playoffs. He also has consistently rebounded with stunning precision and productivity.
This offense will pound on the undersized Atlanta defense. They may celebrate once, twice, three times even before realizing that the pain will not stop. Tom Cable and his merry band of maulers will not relent.
The Falcons think they are ready to win a playoff game. They will be proud of themselves if they play well early. They will be basking in the glory of proving that they came to play. Ask the Redskins how that went. Fear and doubt will enter their system when they realize playing well does not equal winning.
Playoff football is ugly. It is a grudge match. The Seahawks are an armored truck. The Falcons are a Ferrari. Sure, it is possible that the Ferrari wins the race, but it will need some serious body work before it’s next race.
This Seahawks team requires no superstition. We know who they are. More importantly, they know who they are. Today, the Falcons get a personal introduction.