It’s a mismatch on paper. It should be a mismatch on the field. But this is the NFL, and this will be just another given Sunday, and we all know what that means.
The Falcons’ biggest remaining regular-season game isn’t the ballyhooed one against the Saints here two nights after Christmas. The biggest remaining game comes Sunday in Seattle. Provided the Falcons beat the Seahawks, they would have only to handle Carolina, which is the NFL’s worst team and has won on only one given Sunday, here on Jan. 2 to claim both the NFC South title and the conference’s No. 1 seed.
The Falcons can lose to the Saints and still finish No. 1 in their division and the NFC. (It would come down to the common-opponent tiebreaker, which the Saints would lose because they lost to the Browns, whom the Falcons beat on the strength of Kroy Biermann’s bat-and-grab.) The Falcons cannot lose to both the Seahawks and the Saints and be assured of even a first-round bye.
The Seahawks, working in Year 1 under Pete Carroll, aren’t very good. They’re 6-7 and enter Sunday’s game as a six-point home underdog. Since winning at Chicago on Oct. 13, Seattle has beaten only Arizona (twice) and Carolina. This team shouldn’t beat the Falcons anywhere anytime, but the Falcons have, as we know, become the kings of cutting it close.
Unlike the Panthers, with whom the Falcons toyed last Sunday, the Seahawks actually have reason to play. They can still win the NFC West, which tells us everything we need to know about the NFC West, but never mind. They’re past due to beat somebody.
Even the process of getting to Seattle can throw a team off its stride. The Falcons are leaving Friday, as opposed to the customary Saturday road-game-departure. They’ll be playing in a stadium that can be raucous. And they’ll be playing a team they should beat at a time when this city is beginning to buzz over the Saints game.
“That’ll be a tough ticket,” the former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle told me this week, and even in this sweet season the Falcons haven’t had many tough-ticket dates. But first things first: Win in Seattle, then worry about the Saints. Or don’t worry about the Saints, because a win in Seattle makes that game more for show than for dough.
By Mark Bradley