ATLANTA FALCONS (5-4) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 16th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 10-5. They won 26-24 in Seattle last season. The Falcons have won the only two meetings in the playoffs, including a 36-20 victory in the divisional round last season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After a 3-0 start, the Falcons have lost four of their past six games. But they are coming off an uplifting 27-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys that featured their third-best score of the season.
But they catch the Seahawks at the right time: Seattle just lost cornerback Richard Sherman for the season and has a host of other injured defenders. Safety Earl Thomas is expected to return after missing two games, but strong safety Kam Chancellor is not expected to play, and several other top defenders (Frank Cark, Jarran Reed, et al.) are questionable.
The pressure is on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense to find success against the Falcons' sixth-ranked pass defense. Grabbing an early lead would be a nice boost in order to manage the clock, slow down Atlanta's pass rush (featuring six-sack man of the hour Adrian Clayborn) and keep the defense off the field.
The Falcons' run defense was solid against the Cowboys and Seattle has had trouble running the ball all season, so it might be up to Wilson to make it happen.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Seahawks LT Duane Brown or Matt Tobin vs. Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn. The Seahawks are hoping Brown, their prize trade acquisition, rallies from a sprained ankle suffered at Arizona. If not, fourth-string tackle Tobin will be tasked with stopping Clayborn, who recorded a franchise-record six sacks last week vs. Dallas. That tied for the second-most sacks in a game since the stat started being recorded in 1982. Derrick Thomas set the record of seven in 1990, against Seattle.
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane. Jones is still the most difficult matchup for Seattle and made more problematic with the absence of Richard Sherman. Jones will draw Lane and rookie Shaquill Griffin in coverage, with Byron Maxwell potentially in on that action as well. Jones will be a major challenge for Seattle's defense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons RB Tevin Coleman. With Devonta Freeman expected to miss the game as he recovers from a concussion, Coleman will assume the lion's share of carries against Seattle's ninth-ranked run defense. Coleman ran for 82 yards and a TD last week against Dallas and has been good on the road, scoring nine times in the past 11 games. Coleman caught a TD pass in the playoff game vs. Seattle last season, but he ran for just 10 yards on five carries in the regular-season game in Seattle.
FAST FACTS: Falcons QB Matt Ryan reached 40,000 passing yards in his 151st game, making him the fastest player in NFL history to attain the milestone. In his past 13 road games, Ryan has 3,778 passing yards (290.6 per game), 27 TDs and seven interceptions. He threw for 338 yards, three TDs and no INTs in the playoff meeting last season. ... WR Julio Jones has 18 receptions for 266 yards (133 per game) and a touchdown in two career meetings. He has 25 receptions for 382 yards (95.5 per game) in his past four road games. ... WR Mohamed Sanu has a TD catch in two of the past three games and also scored against Seattle in both games last season. ... LB De'Vondre Campbell had a career-high 13 tackles last week. In his past four games, he has 33 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. ... Seattle QB Russell Wilson leads the NFC with 2,543 passing yards. In his past four games, he has 1,321 yards (330.3 per game), 11 TDs and three INTs. In four career meetings, he has 1,167 yards (291.8 per game), six TDs and three INTs. Wilson is the NFL's top-ranked passer in the fourth quarter (135.2), with 12 touchdowns and one interception. ... WR Doug Baldwin has 27 catches for 349 yards (87.3 per game) and two TDs in in his past four games. Since 2015, he ranks third in the NFL with 24 TD catches. ... TE Jimmy Graham caught two TD passes last week, his 15th career multi-TD game, tied for third among active players. He has nine TD catches in 12 career meetings with Atlanta. ... DE Michael Bennett has five sacks in his past five home games. ... LB Bobby Wagner led the team with 11 tackles last week and is targeting a fourth straight game with at least 10.
PREDICTION: Wilson and the Seahawks are 8-2 at home with at least nine days to prepare, and Pete Carroll knows it's time for his team to turn it on.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 23-20.