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Divisional Playoff Football Preview: Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons Betting Advice

By Paul Wilson in Sports
| January 13, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons NFL

Who: Seattle Seahawks (10–5–1) vs. Atlanta Falcons (11–5)

Where: Georgia Dome. Atlanta, Georgia

When: Saturday, January 14, 2017. 4:35 PM (EST)

The Atlanta Falcons are set to host a playoff game this Saturday afternoon, which means two very important things for fans of the franchise.

First, and most obviously, the Falcons’ Super Bowl dreams are at stake, with this being their first win-or-go-home matchup in the 2016/17 postseason after sitting out of Wild Card Weekend with a first-round playoff bye.

Second, the Georgia Dome is slated to be demolished during the spring and summer of 2017 to make way for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which broke ground in May of 2014 and is slated to open in July of 2017. The new stadium will have a retractable roof, which will give the Falcons the opportunity to play outdoors, and it should be completely state of the art, potentially giving the city of Atlanta the chance to host another Super Bowl.

What this means is that for Falcons fans who have been attending games at the Georgia Dome since it opened in 1992, this game against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday afternoon could be their last opportunity to watch the Falcons play a game in the Georgia Dome.

If the Falcons lose, it will be the last Falcons game played in the old stadium. If they win (and the Packers win), then next week’s game will be.

But it’s not just the opportunity to stay alive in the playoffs or the hopes to help the Georgia Dome go out with a bang that’s driving the Atlanta Falcons players this week.

The franchise is hungry. Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons made the playoffs in four out of Matt Ryan’s first five seasons after drafting him with the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. However, during this stretch they won only a single playoff game (coincidentally against the Seattle Seahawks).

Following that playoff victory in the Divisional Round of the 2012/13 playoffs, the Falcons imploded, going 4–12 the following season and 6–10 the season following. These back-to-back losing seasons ultimately led to the firing of head coach Mike Smith, despite Smith having won the Coach of the Year award in his first of seven seasons with the Falcons and having one year left on his contract.

After a rebuilding season last year under new head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons are back in the playoffs and looking to have their second consecutive playoff victory be against the team they last beat in the postseason: The Seattle Seahawks.

However, during that last meeting between these two teams, the Falcons were facing off against a much less experienced Russell Wilson, then in his first season with the Seahawks. Since then, while the Falcons sat in their slump, the Seahawks have made it to the playoffs each year, winning a total of seven playoff games (if you include last week’s win over the Lions) and making it to two Super Bowls, winning one.

So between the two franchises, with the Seahawks being perennial postseason contenders in the Russell Wilson era, the Atlanta Falcons certainly lay claim to the case of being the hungrier of the two franchises, having endured a frustrating stretch that must have had Falcons’ fans wondering whether or not the dynamic combination of Matt Ryan (now 31) and Julio Jones (now 27) would ever come to fruition by way of a deep playoff run.

But as anyone knows, anything can happen in the playoffs, and just because a city is hungry to make it to the dance after a long hiatus and just because it is their final hurrah in the old stadium does not mean that they will end up getting the victory.

Either way, though, regardless of which team deserves to win and which team wins, for fans of the game this matchup holds great potential to be seriously entertaining. And more importantly, for interested gamblers this matchup could hold great value.

Let’s review all of the different in which you could wager money on this matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks to see where the value lies. We’ll review moneyline bets, betting against the spread, as well as the total score over/under bet and any individual prop bets that could hold value in this matchup.

Seahawks vs. Falcons Betting

MoneyLine

  • Seahawks +166
  • Falcons -185

Deciding which team to bet for moneyline odds is nothing more than picking which team will win the game straight up. But as any gambler knows, this is much more difficult than it appears. To determine which team will win the game, our approach (generally speaking) is to make an evaluation of which team has the will and the heart to continue playing throughout the entire 60-minute game.

We believe that the team which maintains the drive and the discipline necessary to remain fundamentally sound and to win individual matchups even late into the fourth quarter is generally the team that ends up leading when the clock finally runs out.

One surefire way to determine which team has the heart to win during the latter part of the regular season is simply to assess which team has playoff hopes still alive, as the prospect of making it to the postseason (or the prospect of missing the playoffs) can provide a powerful motivator for a team.

Obviously once you’re in the postseason, though, every game provides that same “win-or-go-home” motivation for every team. Therefore, in the playoffs our calculation of which team will have the drive to maintain focus and show heart throughout the entire game has to rely on other, more nuanced factors.

Of these, the simplest is home field advantage, which is generally stronger in the playoffs. The fans and players are all well aware of the stakes, and given that the games are nationally televised and higher profile, there’s always a full turnout and full investment throughout the entire game.

While the Georgia Dome is not necessarily known specifically to be a stadium with a particularly potent home field advantage. The Falcons certainly style their game after a dome style of play, relying on the perfect weather conditions to add some regularity and predictability to their passing attack, and domes are undoubtedly louder than outdoor stadiums, but the Falcons are not known for having any especially strong home field advantage.

Nonetheless, the Seahawks do have a home field advantage, and correspondingly they have difficulties on the road. Of the Seahawks’ 10 wins during this year’s regular season, 7 of them came at home, yielding a road record of 3–4–1.

Certainly Seattle’s Twelfth Man influences the outcomes of games, but in the context of this game it’s more important to look at why the Seahawks have been worse on the road.

In this case, the reason seems clear. With a couple of rookies on the offensive line and a variety of different offensive line rotations started throughout the course of the season, communication is definitely a challenge for the Seattle offense. In a loud environment – unlike the silent home crowd – the offensive line could easily lose focus and create the pre-snap penalties that can hamper a drive and put the offense in unfavorable down and distance.

And as it turns out, the Seattle Seahawks do have the most penalized offensive line of any of the remaining playoff teams, with 33 penalties committed. Also in keeping with our theory about difficulties communicating on the road, throughout the course of the 2016/17 regular season, the Seahawks’ O-Line did commit 5 more penalties on the road vs. at home, indicating that they could certainly be susceptible to the influence of the loud dome environment.

In addition to home field advantage, another factor that we believe greatly impacts the ability of playoff teams to maintain drive and focus throughout the entire game is injuries. In tightly fought playoff games with everything on the line, the outcome can often come down to the slightest of mistakes turning the momentum of the game.

Home field advantage can prompt increased nerves and mistakes, and so too can having backups on the field. Indeed, the team with the most regular starters available the latest in the season is often the team that winds up winning it all.

This also gives a clear advantage to the Atlanta Falcons who, after having an entire bye week to rest and rehab their injured players, come into this game with one of the shortest injury reports and fewest players on injured reserve of any playoff team. All of the players dealing with injury on the Falcons’ team participated fully in practice to start the week, so there’s no reason to believe Atlanta will be missing anyone.

On the other hand, the Seattle Seahawks are short-handed at a number of position groups, most notably the offensive line, the running back position, and the defensive secondary.

It’s important to remember that when you consider the import of a team’s injury situation, it’s not so much about whether or not the team has players available (such as running back Thomas Rawls, who had a big game against the Lions), or if they have competent backups (such as the secondary group that has shuffled around in the absence of Earl Thomas).

The more important thing to note about having the regular starters available to play is that it limits mistakes, and allows the coaching staff the maximum amount of flexibility in the types of packages and personnel groupings they are able to throw at the opposing team.

Think about it like this: Teams will always be able to put the maximum number of chess pieces on the field: They’re never going to put out fewer than 11 men on the field. However, when backup players are in the game, it’s like substituting a queen for a rook or a bishop for a pawn – you’re just not nearly as dynamic in the types of things you can do.

Taking these two factors together of home field advantage and the injury situation, we do believe that Atlanta will be able to maintain the will to win throughout the game, and will play with more heart down the stretch than the Seattle Seahawks. We believe that the X-factor is the absence of Earl Thomas, and the subsequent dearth of defensive leadership on the Seahawks, which we believe has led to some fracturing in the locker room and some name-calling between the offense and the defensive personnel.

Against a woeful Lions team, (at home), Seattle was able to overcome this obstacle and coast to a victory. But the Falcons can smell blood, and they will be much hungrier and more able to capitalize on the mistakes made by the Seattle defense than was Detroit. We like the home team to surge for the victory, earn some revenge from the 2012 postseason loss against the Seahawks, and keep the hopes alive for one more game at the Georgia Dome.

Pick: Falcons to win

Spread

  • Seahawks +5 (-110)
  • Falcons -5 (-110)

So now we have established our pick that we believe the Atlanta Falcons will win this home matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Now it’s time to turn our attention to whether or not we believe that the Atlanta Falcons will win the game by more than 5 points, or whether the Seattle Seahawks will be able to keep the game close enough to merit hedging our moneyline bet with an opposite and complementary bet against the spread on the Seattle Seahawks.

Importantly, we based our assessment of which team will win the game on a very fine-grain view of which team will make more mistakes, and why. But with a spread as high as 5 points, we now need to take a slightly broader view of the game and try to determine whether or not we believe that the game will end up being close.

In order to make this assessment, our approach is to look at the offenses involved. We believe that teams with great quarterbacks and potent offenses which are healthy and firing on all cylinders will either be able to a) keep the game close, in the event that their team is trailing, or b) help their team pull away to a large victory margin, in the event that their team is ahead.

For this game, we believe that in order to make this assessment what is primarily required is to take a good look at Russell Wilson, because it seems apparent to us that Matt Ryan definitely has what it takes to pile on points against the Seattle Seahawks in this matchup.

The argument for Matt Ryan is pretty clear: It’s the same argument why he is currently the prohibitive MVP favorite (Ryan is -300 on the Bovada Sportsbook, with the next closest candidate Aaron Rodgers getting 4-to-1) and why he has already earned the honor of getting selected to the First Team All Pro.

Over the course of the regular season Matt Ryan became the first player to throw touchdowns to 13 different players in the history of the NFL, supporting the idea that he continued to lead his team to victories even with star receiver Julio Jones missing some time. The Falcons never dipped below the average of 30 points scored per game, even while going 3–4 during the middle of the season, and Ryan’s yards per attempt is the highest in league history while still having an average passer rating above 115.

So with Atlanta’s offense playing at home, fully healthy, and coming off of a season which has clearly been the best of Matt Ryan’s career, we’re pretty confident that the 31-year-old veteran has what it takes to put up points on the tough but short-handed Seattle defense.

So if we believe that Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense will be able to score a lot of points in this matchup, then in order to determine whether or not to take the Falcons against the spread we are left only with the question of whether or not Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense can go toe-to-toe with the Falcons and match their firepower.

The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Russell Wilson was a rookie playing in only his second postseason game, but experience shouldn’t be an issue this time around. In fact, Russell Wilson is only the third QB in NFL history to make it to the postseason in each of his first 5 seasons, and he’s now played in two Super Bowls and led his team to victory in one of them.

So Wilson certainly has the experience, the talent, and the football IQ necessary to perform well in this game, plus it also helps a lot that he’s healthy and able to make plays with his legs. But Wilson can’t do it alone, and there’s no doubt that the aggregate offensive numbers for the Seattle Seahawks are not nearly as impressive as those of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Seahawks were a middling 18th in the league in terms of scoring offense this season, and a closer look reveals that it was very much feast or famine for Seattle. Five times throughout the season the Seahawks were held to twelve points or less, and in every other game they put up at least 24 points, with no in-between.

The primary reason for this, in our view, is that the Seattle offense has been limited throughout the year by a kaleidoscope of different injuries as well as consistently inadequate offensive line play, yielding an offense that is often very one-dimensional. With Russell Wilson having limited mobility earlier in the season as well as rotating injuries to the running back group, there’s been little run game to speak of.

In fact, the Seahawks have had 18 different people carry the ball this season, which is good for the most of any team since 1970. After the retirement of Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, the Seahawks have quite simply not found an adequate replacement. Seattle was 25th in the league in rushing this season, their lowest total in the last five years.

If stud rookie C. J. Prosise is able to return from his fractured scapula for this week’s game (the team is optimistic but it is unclear as of yet whether he will play), this could give the Seahawks some much-needed relief. Despite the fact that Thomas Rawls performed adequately against the Lions last week, the more competent rushers available the better.

More distressing for the Seahawks is the fact that they had to rely on the run so heavily last game in the first place. Of course you go with the hot hand, but the fact of the matter is that Seattle couldn’t throw the ball against the Lions despite the fact that their 72.7% opposing completion percentage this season is the worst in NFL history. This was the team against which Russell Wilson managed only 210 yards.

We want to believe that Wilson and the Seattle offense could have thrown the ball against the Lions last week if they had wanted to, and in a similar vein we want to believe that they would be able to throw the ball against the Falcons this week if the situation calls for it, but we just can’t get there.

We believe that the Atlanta Falcons will come out like gangbusters against Seattle and end up leading the game off of a strong push in the passing game. When this happens, we believe Russell Wilson will be forced to keep the Seahawks in the game by throwing the ball, and we think that the well will be dry.

In a hostile environment with a shaky offensive line, going up against one of the best pass rushers in the league, we believe that drives will stall and the Seahawks will punt the ball more often than they’d like. Ultimately, we like the Atlanta Falcons to win this game by more than one possession, covering the spread.

Pick: Falcons to win by more than 5

Total Score

  • Over 52 (-105)
  • Under 52 (-115)

So now that we have established our pick that the Falcons will win the game because they will make fewer mistakes, and they will further win the game by more than 5 points because of the weakness of the Seattle offense, it’s now time to turn our attention to the total score bet, and specifically to whether or not this game will go above 52 total points scored.

When we look at total score bets to determine whether a game will be generally high- or low-scoring, our approach is to consider the defenses involved, and to determine whether or not we believe the defenses match up well enough against the opposing offense to prevent them from converting drives into points and to limit the opposing offense to few points.

In short, for our assessment of this game we believe that both defenses are suspect, and that both defenses could potentially give up major points in this game.

The argument against the Falcons defense is pretty straightforward. The Falcons have gotten incredible production out of Vic Beasley this season, who ended up with 15 and a half sacks, 32 solo tackles, and six forced fumbles (also tied for the league lead), earning him both a Pro Bowl selection as well as the honor of being on the First Team All Pro.

But despite having the NFL’s sack leader on the team, Atlanta still managed to give up an average of 25.4 points per game over the course of the regular season, good for 5th-worst in the league. Like the Dallas Cowboys, the Falcons are one of the ultimate examples of the philosophy that “the best defense is a good offense,” relying on their league-leading 33.8 points per game to bail out the defense.

But it’s important to keep in mind that the statistics for the Atlanta Falcons’ defense this season are undoubtedly skewed by the fact that there were a lot of garbage time points scored against them.

Take for instance their game against the Los Angeles Rams, in Week 14. The Falcons were up 42–0 at the end of the 3rd quarter – the game was over. So naturally the 14 points and nearly 100 yards that the Rams put up in the fourth should be recognized for what they are – absolutely meaningless.

Similarly, if you take a closer look at the Falcons’ defense you notice that there’s a big difference in how teams approach playing them. Consider the number of times the opposing team either runs the ball or passes it against Atlanta: The Falcons had the 5th-lowest number of rushing attempts against them, but were the highest in the league in the number of opposing passing attempts.

So it’s clear that Atlanta’s defensive numbers this season were skewed by the fact that because the offense was so prolific, opposing teams would be forced to abandon the run very early on and throw the ball almost exclusively for the rest of the game.

But as we mentioned above, we believe that this will also be the case against the Seahawks: The Falcons will be leading, and Russell Wilson will need to try and bring the Seahawks back by making plays in the passing game. Despite the fact that we made the argument above that the Seattle offense will not be sharp enough to keep the game within 5 points, we do nonetheless believe that the Falcons will give up some big plays later in the game when they are leading, and will end up allowing a large point total.

The biggest argument against this high-scoring scenario is the argument that the Seattle defense is good enough to keep the Atlanta offense in check, and to hold them to a low point total.

But we’re not buying it. For many casual fans of the NFL, or for people that haven’t been watching the Seahawks closely enough over the past few months, the game last week against the Lions would have provided a clear and obvious argument that the Legion of Boom is as strong as ever, and that Seattle clearly has the same tough defense that they always do.

It’s also probably the case that these casual fans are precisely the ones who have come out to bet on the games during the playoffs after not wagering all season, pushing the action more on the side of the under. With the under currently at -115 at the Bovada sportsbook and the over sitting at -105, one could infer that the under is getting the action based on the results of last game.

But we saw a very different storyline emerge during the game against the Lions. We believe that the Lions’ offense was never the same after Stafford hurt his finger, and that the Lions’ offensive production dwindled at that point.

The statistics back this up: Matt Stafford played significantly worse since after he began needing to take great care with how he received his snaps and how he held the football with that damaged ligament in his throwing hand. Before his injury in the first quarter of Week 14, Stafford had a 68% completion rate. Afterwards, that went down to 59%, with 3 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.8.

So even though Seattle’s defense did look strong in this game, it was clearly against a struggling offense. The more accurate storyline in our minds has been the fact that the Seahawks have given up huge point totals against each of the good offenses they have played since losing irreplaceable team leader, free safety Earl Thomas.

After losing Thomas during their Week 13 game against the Panthers, the Seahawks went directly to Green Bay the following week and gave up 38 points. They cleaned up against the L.A. Rams the following week, but then gave up 34 points against the Arizona Cardinals – at home.

The fact of the matter is that the Seattle secondary is very vulnerable: Last game against the Lions backup safety Kelsey McCray had to come into the game after the backup to Earl Thomas (Steven Terrell) went down and had to be helped off the field. While Terrell did come back in and will play against the Falcons, the point is that the loss of such an integral part of the team as Earl Thomas is simply not something you can replace.

And for one final piece of information that serves as the icing on the cake that is our argument against the Seattle defense, consider the fact that Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive line coach of the Seahawks for two seasons in 2009 and then their defensive coordinator for another two seasons in 2013, giving him a huge degree of familiarity with their scheme and how they utilize players.

So in conclusion, after taking a fine-grain look at the two defenses involved in this matchup, we find nothing but support for the idea that the Falcons will jump out to an early lead in this game, will be able to score points throughout, and the Seahawks will certainly be able to tack on some points of their own, pushing the total score up above the 52-point mark posted by odds-makers.

Pick: Falcons 34, Seattle Seahawks 23

Prop Bets

Now that we’ve established our broad view of the game as a high-scoring shoot-out that ultimately puts the Falcons up early and keeps them ahead throughout the entire game, we’ll take a look and see if we can’t find any ways to capitalize on this storyline in prop betting.

Unfortunately, however, the short answer is that we can’t. For the Seahawks, it’s hard to say where their points will come from, and while Julio Jones is undoubtedly the best player on the Atlanta offense, the Seahawks do have enough defensive specialists to limit him if they so choose, even without Earl Thomas.

In short, the touchdowns will come in this game, but they could come from anywhere, making it very hard to predict where there will be any “sure things” in terms of offensive prop bets.

Summary: Best Bets

In summary, we believe that the Atlanta Falcons will win this game, providing them the opportunity to play one more home game in the Georgia Dome (if the Packers beat the Cowboys). We see the Falcons jumping out to an early lead, causing major stress on the volatile Seattle defense, and also forcing Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense to throw the ball. We see both teams trading touchdowns late in the game, but the Falcons never relinquishing their lead and taking this game by more than 5 points in front of the home crowd.

Here are our best bets:

  • Falcons moneyline (-185)
  • Falcons against the spread (-5, -110)
  • Total score over 52 (-105)

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