Game Preview: Falcons at Seahawks

If the Hawks beat the Falcons, they win the NFC West. If they lose they need the Rams to lose to the Jets. Otherwise, they head to Green Bay to face Brett Favre and the Packers. It all comes down to Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field.

What: Final game of the regular season
When: Sunday, January 2nd, 1:05 pm (PST)
Where: Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington


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Falcons Key Players:

QB Michael Vick: You can't begin any list of the most exciting players in the NFL without leading it off with Vick. Vick is an amazing talent, possessing a rocket arm, a muscular frame and speed that makes wideouts and running backs jealous. His running is deadly and if he breaks containment he has the moves and cutting ability to take it the distance. He still is developing as a quarterback, passing for 2,278 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He ranks second on the team with 889 yards rushing and three touchdowns. His 55.7% completion percentage is low for a west coast quarterback, but he is still learning offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's complex system, so that stat should jump up next season.

RB Warrick Dunn: Dunn is slight of build, but he doesn't lack toughness. He is on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards for the first time in four seasons and his nine touchdowns are the best of his career. He is a threat out of the backfield as a receiver, but the Falcons do not use him in that capacity much. When the Falcons' passing-game is going well, Dunn can pick his spots and keep the chains moving.

TE Alge Crumpler: If you are looking for the prototype tight end for this era of athletes at the position, don't look at Crumpler. What he lacks in ideal height and weight he makes up for with speed and hands. He isn't tall, only 6'2", but his 265-pound frame allows him to out-muscle safeties and his 4.65 speed allows him to outrun linebackers. His 48 receptions, 774 yards and six touchdowns lead the team. He is valuable in the deep-seam and Crumpler's hands give Vick the confidence to throw to him when he gets in trouble.

DE Patrick Kerney: Kerney ranks third in the NFL in sacks with 12, but he is equally adept at stuffing the run. Kerney plays with abandon, runs down plays on the opposite side of the field and has a motor that keeps on going. He rarely gets drawn out of position, but he struggles against the bigger, more-athletic offensive tackles. Most teams run at Kerney, but he has improved at the point of attack to where teams are now running away from him and cutting him on the backside.

LB Keith Brooking: Brooking sets the tempo for the stellar Falcons defense. From his weakside position he makes plays all over the field. His 98 tackles lead the team and his three interceptions are second. He runs down plays all over the field and he is the emotional leader for the unit. He is the prototypical weakside linebacker in the league and he is essential to the Falcons if they plan to go deep in the playoffs.

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Key Matchups:

Kerney vs. Seahawks LT Walter Jones or Sean Locklear: Locklear played well in relief of Jones last week and as of this writing it was still unclear whether Jones would be ready to play on Sunday or not. If Locklear gets the start, the Hawks will use backs and tight ends to chip Kerney. If Jones plays, Kerney should be somewhat neutralized and allow the Hawks to send five receivers into the pattern.

Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander vs. Brooking: As stated above, Brooking is a playmaker. Alexander's 1,616 yards lead the entire league and the Hawks will be out to establish the run early. QB Matt Hasselbeck's arm is still recovering from an elbow injury suffered in New York two weeks ago so it is paramount that Alexander be able to run with consistency. Brooking leads the league's ninth best run defense, yielding 106.5 yards per game. This is where the game will be won or lost.

Vick vs. Seahawks LBs Chad Brown and Tracy White: If White misses the game, while still recovering from a hamstring injury, this could be a long day. White is the fastest linebacker the Seahawks have and his absence from the lineup will allow Vick to roam freely. Brown, the Seahawks' best pass-rusher, must create pressure from Vick's blindside and not allow Vick to escape. Vick could break 1,000 yards rushing against the Hawks if they are unable to contain him.

Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren vs. Falcons head coach Jim Mora Jr.: Holmgren and Mora faced several times when Mora was the defensive coordinator of the 49ers. Holmgren's offense was generally effective against Mora's defenses and Holmgren will need to have a great day calling plays to offset Mora's skilled and athletic defense.

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News and Notes: Vick needs 80 rushing yards to break the NFL season record for a quarterback set by Bobby Douglass in 1972; Falcons rank No. 21 on offense (1st rushing, 30 passing) and No. 15 on defense (9th rushing, 21st passing); The Seahawks are headed for the postseason in consecutive seasons for the third time (1983-84, 1987-88) in their history; Seahawks lead 6-2, including a 30-24 overtime win at the Georgia Dome in 2002.

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Injuries:

FALCONS:
PROBABLE: QB Michael Vick (shoulder); TE Alge Crumpler (knee); RB T.J. Duckett (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jason Webster (groin)


SEAHAWKS:
PROBABLE: QB Matt Hasselbeck (elbow); WR Darrell Jackson (hamstring); S Michael Bouldware (foot); FB Mack Strong (Thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Bobby Taylor (knee); T Walter Jones (ankle)
OUT: DE Grant Wistrom (knee)


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Prediction: Seahawks 24 – Falcons 21

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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