Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead the series, 9-5. The Seahawks won the last meeting, 33-10, on Nov. 10, 2013. The Falcons have won the last two games played in Seattle, a 30-28 win in 2011 and 34-18 in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons enter the game ranked first in points (35.0), total yards (457.4) and passing yards (333.4) per game, and seventh in rushing at 124.0 yards per game. QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,740 passing yards and 10.4 yards per completion, along with 26 completions of 20-plus yards and 10 of 40-plus. Translation? He is highly comfortable in Year 2 under coordinator Kyle Shanahan and has a wealth of receivers to distribute the ball to. Seattle's vaunted defense, meanwhile, works best when the front four is able to stop the run and the zone pass defense generates turnovers. Atlanta's offensive line is the weak point, and the question will be whether Seattle can pressure Ryan into mistakes. But the zone can be vulnerable to underneath routes, and Falcons RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman could prove a challenge for LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to keep tabs on.
After scuffling out of the gate, the Seahawks found their offensive stride in convincing victories over San Francisco and the New York Jets before a bye week that allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to rest sprains to his right ankle and left knee. While RB Christine Michael has flashed as the lead back with Thomas Rawls (leg) sidelined, this is now an offense that uses the pass to set up the run. Even with limited mobility the past two games, Wilson was effective from the pocket, in no small part due to TE Jimmy Graham showing to be close to full strength. The way to cripple the Seahawks' offense is to stop the run and crash the edges of a suspect offensive line, but getting after the passer is one of the Falcons' biggest weaknesses. Atlanta does enter allowing an average of 98.6 rushing yards per game, so stuffing the run and testing Wilson's mobility remains the key.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Seahawks CB Richard Sherman. Sherman doesn't always shadow the opposing team's top receiver, but he has done so with more regularity the past two seasons, including Week 4 against the Jets' Brandon Marshall -- a battle that included some early struggles for Sherman before a game-turning interception and game-sealing pick. Most teams have chosen to double-team Jones, but the Panthers gambled in man coverage and got toasted for 300 yards in Week 4. The Seahawks have been coy in their plan, but expect Jones and Sherman to see plenty of one-on-one time. The only time they have faced each other was in the 2012 playoffs where Jones caught six passes for 59 yards. However, Sherman was not exclusively on Jones in that meeting.
--Falcons linebackers/safeties vs. Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham. After limited snaps to open the season while recovering from knee surgery, Graham has posted consecutive 100-yard games while making several outstanding catches as he continues to build chemistry with Wilson. Carolina's Greg Olson, New Orleans' Coby Fleener and Oakland's Clive Walford combined for 19 catches, 235 yards and three touchdowns over a three-game stretch against Atlanta.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks RB C.J. Spiller. Signed just days before the Week 4 victory over the Jets, Spiller contributed immediately as a return man and on 15 percent of the team's offensive snaps. With a bye week to get better acclimated to the Seahawks' scheme, Spiller should be even more involved in the game plan.
INJURY REPORT: Atlanta -- Out: LB Paul Worrilow (groin). Seattle -- Out: DE Quinton Jefferson (thumb), RB Thomas Rawls (fibula). Questionable: S Kam Chancellor (groin), DE Frank Clark (hamstring), RB C.J. Prosise (wrist), DT Garrison Smith (oblique).
Falcons OLB Vic Beasley has 8.5 career sacks, including 3.5 to go along with two forced fumbles at Denver last week.
Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin has a touchdown catch in five consecutive home games.
The Falcons' offense feels unstoppable at the moment with so many versatile weapons, but don't underestimate being on the road for two weeks without returning home and facing one of the league's premier defenses in what is forecast to be very wet conditions. Atlanta's defense remains a potential Achilles' heel, and the Seahawks have had a week off to rest and game-plan.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 31-27