Daily Blog • January 12th
Projected Box Score
1:00 pm ET • FOX • @philsteele042 • #NFCDivisional

The Falcons snared a 30-28 win at Seattle in 2011 which was the last meeting. Atlanta had a 27-7 lead after the initial drive of the 2H but the Seahawks rallied and missed a 61 yd FG as the game ended. Ryan had 291 yards (67%) with a td while they held RB Lynch to just 24 yards (3.0). Atlanta hasn't won a playoff game since 2004 but is 7-1 at home this year where they are -10 ypg (+7 TO's). They have a massive situational edge at home for the second straight game off a bye vs a Seattle team that just flew out to Washington. The Seahawks are 5-4 on the road this year (+37 ypg, +0 TO). The Falcons are 5-1 vs the common foes of Carolina/Washington/Dallas/Arizona/Detroit with a +15 yards per game mark (-3 TO's) and a 25-21 average score. Seattle went 3-2 against those foes holding a +54 yards per game entry (+1 TO) and 21-16 average score.

Moving to a rookie 3rd round QB over the touted FA pickup was a surprise move by Seattle but it's paid off. From the New England game on, Wilson has averaged 209 ypg (65%) with a stunning 21-4 ratio. Against top 10 defenses he has averaged 180 ypg (60%) with a 12-4 ratio thanks to a stellar power run game behind Lynch who had ten regular season 100 yard rushing games this year. Despite this being the first 16 game season for WR Sidney Rice, not having a 1,000 yd receiver is more a function of Wilson spreading the ball around and the success of Lynch. Seattle has started 6 different OL combinations this year but LT Okung earned his Pro Bowl berth as he was the only LT to not allow a sack this year. Seattle's Tampa-2 style defense is built around lean, quick twitch defenders that have missed just 7 games via starters with 4 coming via CB Browner's 4 game suspension as the Seahawks have the league's best secondary. The LB unit is solid with Wagner and Hill locking down the middle and they are very mobile. Seattle's DL is designed to be aggressive and they accept giving up yards on the ground (4.5 ypc) to get to the QB (#14 sacks by). SEA has my #9 special teams unit this year thanks to one of the best returners in the league, Leon Washington.

The Falcons took a big risk replacing their OC/DC prior to the year but it has paid off very well. The offense now goes through Matt Ryan instead of supporting him. Ryan put up career numbers across the board but faced just 3 teams that finished with a top 10 defense averaging 301 ypg (68%) with a 10-3 ratio (3-1 record). Ryan has helped White and Jones become Atlanta's first 1,100 yard receiving tandem since 1998 with Gonzalez being 70 yards short of Atlanta's first 1,000 yard trio since 1995. Atlanta's run game hasn't had much if any impact this year as RB Michael Turner has slowed down (3.6). The Falcons' OL has been ultra-reliable with 4 of 5 linemen playing 98.7% of the snaps this year as they had their fifth year of under 30 sacks allowed. While Atlanta's #24 defense is a bit misleading (#5 in defensive points/#2 in defensive ypp) they have struggled for sacks (#27) and have been mauled vs the run (4.8 ypc, 29th). On the flip side, Atlanta's 14-20 ratio was the best in the NFL this year with a very formidable secondary when healthy. Overall, DC Nolan has this defense playing better than the sum of its parts on all levels. Despite a strong year by Bosher (40.7 net, 37% of his punts inside the 20), Atlanta has my #16 special teams unit due to average return units.

Seattle's youth is a big edge here as they can recover faster than other teams coming off back-to-back Eastern time zone games. The only team the Falcons truly dominated was the Giants off back-to-back primetime games and a win against the worst defense in NFL history. Seattle is playing with house money while Atlanta will face unrelenting pressure. I'll go with the Seahawks here.

Projected Box Score
4:30 pm ET • CBS • @philsteele042 • #AFCDivisional

New England blasted Houston on Monday Night Football this year, 42-14 at home. New England had a 419-279 yard edge when Houston conceded defeat mid-4Q by putting Yates on the field down 42-7. Brady only had 296 yards (70%) with 1 td as the Patriots defense held Foster to 46 yards rushing (3.1) and rattled Schaub (232, 59%, 1 int). Houston had rattled off 6 straight wins and Belichick used the Texans varsity jackets pictures as motivation. The Texans went 6-2 on the road this year with a +45 yard per game margin (+7 TO's) and 23-21 average score. New England went 6-2 at home this year (+57 ypg, +5 TO's). Both teams played similar schedules with the only difference being Houston catching the NFC North while New England had the NFC West.

Houston continues to work off the ground game of Arian Foster who has over 1,200 yards in each of the last 3 seasons. Matt Schaub only has a 61-30 ratio over that time but it has minimized Andre Johnson's wear and tear. Owen Daniels is at the top of the second tier of receiving TE's as the Texans spread the ball around after that. Walter is a decent, but not a standout, #3 option but the lack of impact from rookies Martin and Posey (16 receptions, 10.8) is disappointing. Houston has a borderline top 10 OL provided RT Newton is healthy. JJ Watt's historic season for Houston (80+ plays at/behind the line of scrimmage) makes the Texans defense what it is. He has 15 more sacks than the starting OLB's (Connor Barwin/Brooks Reed) which is unheard of in a 3-4. The rest of the DL is solid but more valuable in run support. The Texans have a very formidable CB tandem with Jonathan Joseph/Kareem Jackson but it is a concern that they gave up a 16-4 ratio in the last 7 regular season games. Houston has my #23 special teams unit as they have been poor on both sides of KR's.

For the fourth time in his last 5 years of full starts, Tom Brady has finished with 24 more td's than int. New England's ability to effortlessly shift from the spread, to 2 TE, to a power running game (3 out of 4 years with a top 12 rush offense) sets them apart from other offenses. Stevan Ridley is the first 1,200 yard rusher for the Patriots since Corey Dillon in 2004 and he hasn't fully grown into the system yet. New England has the best 2 TE set in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski being a stronger receiving TE and Aaron Hernandez being more well rounded. Wes Welker is the first player in NFL history with five 100 reception seasons and Brandon Lloyd has been a strong, but not dominant, addition. The OL has been dinged a bit due to injuries to Mankins/Vollmer but it's still a physical system oriented unit. New England's #25 defense ranking is wildly misleading as they are 4th in yards per point and tied Belichick's record with 41 takeaways. Vince Wilfork continues to be the fulcrum of the DL with rookie Chandler Jones making a strong impression. The strength of the defense is versatility with Jerrod Mayo being a rare three down LB. New England's secondary is a concern but picking up Aqib Talib was a great move and Devin McCourty has been stellar moving around. The Patriots' #17 special teams ranking is due to a mediocre net average by Zoltan Mesko who doesn't get to boom it like other punters but New England has excellent coverage/return units.

Brady gets to face a defense that he knows while Schaub and Foster have been here and will be better prepped. Clearly this game will not resemble the blowout that we saw on MNF earlier this year but Houston's playoff inexperience and Belichick, with extra rest, plays right into the Patriots hands.