To him, it didn’t matter if the Falcons faced Seattle, Minnesota or Washington in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
But given their recent playoff history, Clabo and his teammates will stare across the line at the hottest team in the league … again.
The Seahawks, winners of six straight, advanced to face the Falcons, who are hoping to end a four-game playoff losing streak that dates back to the Jim Mora era.
Last season, the Falcons played the streaking New York Giants. After the 2010 season, they played the transformed Green Bay Packers. Back in 2008, it was the Arizona Cardinals, who rallied late in the season on their way to the Super Bowl.
So when the divisional playoff opponents were clarified Sunday night, Clabo figured that the Falcons would get the toughest possible draw: the Seahawks.
“It just kind of works out that way,” Clabo said. “But winning streaks don’t have anything to do with what is going to happen out there on Sunday. It’s all about how we perform on that day, how they perform on that day. The past isn’t anything to concern yourself with.”
The Falcons may catch a break. Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons suffered a knee injury against Washington on Sunday and may not play. Clemons, a former Georgia standout from Griffin, has 33.5 sacks since 2010, which is tied for sixth best in the league.
He is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl after amassing a career-high 11.5 sacks this season.
“He’s obviously a very disruptive player,” Clabo said. “But they have guys on their team that can rush the passer other than him. He’s obviously very talented.”
Atlanta’s defense enjoyed some success against elite quarterbacks this season. That was critical, because the Falcons have previously been knocked out of the playoffs by Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning.
In victories this season over Denver, New Orleans and the New York Giants during the regular season, the defense intercepted 10 passes off Peyton Manning (three), Drew Brees (five) and Eli Manning (two).
In their only matchup against one of the league’s splendid rookie quarterbacks, the Falcons defeated Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins 24-17 on Oct. 7.
The Falcons will face another outstanding rookie QB in Seattle’s Russell Wilson, a third-round pick who started his college career at N.C. State before finishing up at Wisconsin.
“When you watch him scramble around there, he looks like Fran Tarkenton,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He can extend some plays. He’s got a very strong arm. He can throw the ball 55, 60 yards down the field. That’s the thing that impresses me.”
In addition to the three playoffs defeats under Smith, the Falcons lost the NFC championship game to Philadelphia 27-10 on Jan. 23, 2005, under Mora. The franchise’s last postseason victory was a 47-17 rout of the St. Louis Rams at the Georgia Dome on Jan. 15, 2005.
That playoff history has become a standard criticism of the franchise, which is seeking a breakthrough for the Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era.
“Our mindset is that we want to win,” Clabo said. “We need to remain focused. We need to convert on third downs and we need to protect the football. Offensively, I think that if we do those things, we’ll like the outcome.”
Clabo said there was no griping among the team during last week’s four practices.
In 2010, Smith felt the team needed rest and didn’t practice as much. Upon the Falcons’ return, an ice storm threw off the practice regimen and the team went scrambling into their showdown with Rodgers and the Packers, where they were routed 48-21
Last week’s extra work was welcomed.
“We needed to work on some things,” Clabo said. “We’re not perfect. As a player and as a team, you are always striving to find things that you can improve on. We did a little self-scout. We even took some unusual looks from each potential opponent and went over those and watched some film. It was good. It was quick.”
The players came in for a meeting on Monday to discuss Seattle for the first time as a team. They didn’t practice, but will start their preparation on Wednesday.
“I think everybody is on board with doing whatever it takes to win this football game,” Clabo said.
Atlanta Falcons: Q&A with head coach Mike Smith
OTHER RECENT STORIES