In terms of pedigree, the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome on Saturday will be a mismatch.
The two biggest Falcons stars, quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, have one career playoff victory and missed the postseason over the past three years. They were part of the team that blew a 17-point lead to the 49ers in the 2012 NFC championship game. Dan Quinn has been a head coach for two seasons.
Meanwhile the Seahawks have won playoff games for five consecutive years. They’ve retained the core of the team that won back-to-back NFC titles in 2013 and 2014 with one Super Bowl victory. Pete Carroll is still the head coach.
The Falcons are favored to win but the Seahawks have more experience winning games like this one. To counter that deficit, the Falcons plan to rely on the identity they say they’ve developed while planning for their own championship run.
“I would hope it totally comes across how fast and physical that we play,” Quinn said Monday. “We are going to go and attack in all three phases in this game. Those are things we stand for in our program, so we want that to totally come to life.
“The players here, we have a real clear vision of how we want to play. I think that helps a bunch. We are not trying to be anything different than who we are. That process we go through to get ready, that’s what this week is about to us.”
The way the Falcons see it, they’ve gotten this far by following a regimented method each week and see no reason to change things now. That means that each day they will focus on a specific theme in practice, from ball security to spirited competition, leading up to game day
The stakes are higher and the opponent is formidable but the Falcons don’t plan to change their approach. Rookie safety Keanu Neal said his teammates with playoff experience have been playing down the magnitude of the game.
“Not to get too high,” Neal said. “Continue to stay in the process. That’s one thing ‘Q’ really emphasizes. For us, every week is a championship week. The way we prepare, the way we go about our day, that’s what we do now. We continue to focus on the process and do what we do, not to make things up and make it bigger than it is.”
The Falcons already are familiar with the Seahawks after losing 26-24 in Seattle on Oct. 16. The Falcons have emphasized that both teams are different now.
The Falcons showed that while winning seven of 10 games after the loss in Seattle, including their final four. The offense is better and more consistent now. The defense that gave up 17 first-half points to the Seahawks and didn’t force a turnover no longer starts slowly and lately gets takeaways.
“I feel like our defense has jelled more,” Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “Our young guys have stepped it up more. They are deeper into our system. And the offense is firing lately.”
While the Falcons closed the season strong, the Seahawks stumbled down the stretch. Seattle lost two of its last four games, including a home defeat to the Cardinals that opened the door for the Falcons to earn one of two byes in the NFC. .
But then the Seahawks appeared rejuvenated while beating the Lions in a wild-card game on Saturday night in Seattle. Quarterback Russell Wilson, stymied by injuries earlier in the season, looked more dynamic and Thomas Rawls rushed for a franchise-record 161 yards.
“They look a lot better offensively than when we played them,” Clayborn said. “Russ looks like he is running around pretty well. The offensive line is pretty good and they’ve got a running back. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
The Falcons began studying the Seahawks in detail on Monday. They’ll break down the different plays the Seahawks have used since October and anticipate what they’ll try to do in this game. The Falcons will get a read on changes in personnel.
In the big picture, though, the Falcons say they are focused on sticking to the things they believe got them this far.
“The phrase we use is: ‘Do what we do,’” Quinn said.