NFL divisional matchups: NFC previews

With both games in the NFC being rematches from the regular season and featuring all four teams with 11 or more wins, the entertainment value in the divisional playoff games should be high.

[ AFC DIVISIONAL MATCHUPS ]

SATURDAY, 4:35 ET, FOX

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-5-1) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (11-5)      

Four years ago, the Atlanta Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks in divisional playoffs in the Georgia Dome. However, since then, the Seahawks have gone on to win a Super Bowl and play in another.

The Seahawks have done it with a winning combination of strong defense, a quarterback who has gotten better as he has gotten healthier and more mobile this season and a good-enough running game. Russell Wilson has led the offensive charge with 64 wins, including the playoffs, the most by a quarterback in his first five seasons. His accuracy and strong decision-making led to 4,219 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a respectable 92.6 rating in the regular season. That’s about on par with his 11 playoff games, in which he has gone 8-3.

With a running game that has struggled much of the season, Wilson has relied on Doug Baldwin (94 catches, 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns) in the passing game, along with Jimmy Graham, who averaged 14.2 yards on 65 catches.

But the Seahawks are still mostly about defense, ranked fifth in the league overall, seventh against the rush and eighth against the pass with DEs Cliff Avril (11½ sacks) and Michael Bennett, CB Richard Sherman (four interceptions) and LB Bobby Wagner (NFL-leading 167 tackles) selected to the Pro Bowl.

The Falcons, meanwhile, are known for their offense, for good reason. They rank second overall, fifth in rushing and third in passing, powered by QB Matt Ryan and an elite assortment of playmakers surrounding him.

Ryan led the NFL with a 117.1 passer rating, which is the fifth-best mark in NFL history. He finished second in yards (4,944), second in touchdowns (38) and had only seven interceptions. WR Julio Jones ranked second in the league with 1,409 receiving yards and averages 101.7 yards in three playoff games. Ryan and Jones were selected to the Pro Bowl, as was RB Devonta Freeman.

Freeman had 1,079 yards rushing but has a very capable backup punch in Tevin Coleman, who had 520 yards, eight touchdowns and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

Defensively, the Falcons will count on LB Vic Beasley to apply the pressure on Wilson and few did it better than Beasley, who led the NFL with 15½ sacks and made the Pro Bowl.

  SEAHAWKS FALCONS
LEADER 10-6  
STREAKS Past 2  
COACHES VS. OPP. Pete Carroll: 2-4 Dan Quinn: 0-1
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Pete Carroll: 10-6 Dan Quinn: 0-0
VS. COMMON OPP. Atl: 9-2 (Az 1-0; Car 2-0; GB 1-0; LA 1-0; NO 2-0; Phi 0-1; SF 1-0; TB 1-1)
Sea: 5-5-1 (Az 0-1-1; Car 1-0; GB 0-1; LA 1-1, NO 0-1; Phi 1-0; SF 2-0; TB 0-1)
PLAYOFF RECORD 16-14 7-12
LAST WEEK W 26-6 vs. Detroit Bye (Wk. 17: W 38-32 vs. New Orleans)
LAST GAME 10/16/16: Falcons 24 at Seahawks 26. Seattle RB Christine Michael rushes for 64 yards & 2 TDs. Seahawks K Steven Hauschka has 44-yard FG with 1:57 remaining.
LAST GAME AT SITE 11/10/13: Seahawks 33, Falcons 10. Seattle QB Russell Wilson passes for 287 yards & 2 TDs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch rushes for 145 yards & TD.
LAST PLAYOFF 1/13/13: Seahawks 28 at Falcons 30. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan passes for 250 yards & 3 TDs. Falcons K Matt Bryant has 49-yard FG with 8 seconds remaining.
REFEREE Gene Steratore
BROADCAST FOX (4:35 PM ET): Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver, Peter Schrager (Field reporters). WW1: Kevin Kugler, James Lofton, Derek Rackley (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (Sea), 82 (Atl). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (Sea), 82 (Atl).
REGULAR-SEASON STAT LEADERS
PASSING Russell Wilson: 353-546-4219-21-11-92.6 Matt Ryan: 373-534-4944 (2L)-38 (2L)-7-117.1 (1L)
RUSHING Thomas Rawls: 109-349-3.2-3 Devonta Freeman: 227-1079-4.8-11
RECEIVING Doug Baldwin: 94-1128-12.0-7 Julio Jones: 83-1409 (2L)-17.0-6
OFFENSE 357.2 415.8 (2L)
TAKE/GIVE 1 11
DEFENSE 318.7 371.2
SACKS Cliff Avril: 11.5 Vic Beasley Jr.: 15.5 (1L)
INTs Richard Sherman: 4 Deion Jones (R): 3
PR Devin Hester (Bal.): 7.2 Eric Weems: 11.4
KR Devin Hester (Bal.): 24.5 Eric Weems: 23.0
PUNTING Jon Ryan: 44.0 Matt Bosher: 46.8
KICKING Steven Hauschka: 128 (29/35 PAT; 33/37 FG) Matt Bryant: 158 (1L) (56/57 PAT; 34/37 FG)


TEAMS MEET for 2nd time in postseason. Falcons won 1st playoff meeting 30-28 (1/13/13, Div.). Seahawks lead all-time series 10-6 (incl. postseason). Sea. defeated Atl. 26-24 in Week 6. 

SEAHAWKS

Advanced to playoffs for 5th consecutive season. Have won 10+ games in each of past 5 seasons. Aim for 3rd Super Bowl appearance in past 4 seasons. Have won 7 of past 9 postseason games & have playoff win in each of past 5 postseasons. Head coach PETE CARROLL is 9-4 (.692) in playoffs with Sea…Seahawks had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: DE CLIFF AVRIL (1st), DE MICHAEL BENNETT (2nd), CB RICHARD SHERMAN (4th) & LB BOBBY WAGNER (3rd)…QB RUSSELL WILSON is 8-3 (.727) in 11 career postseason starts with 18 pass TDs vs. 9 INTs for 95.9 rating. Has 64 wins (incl. playoffs), most by starting QB in 1st 5 seasons in NFL history. Has 28 games with multiple TD passes & 0 INTs, most by player in 1st 5 seasons. In 2 career meetings, has 557 pass yards (278.5 per game), 2 TDs & 0 INT for 107.7 rating…RB THOMAS RAWLS rushed for franchise postseason-record 161 yards & TD last week…WR DOUG BALDWIN had 11 catches for 104 yards & TD last week. Has 50 postseason catches, most in franchise history. Has 5 rec. TDs in past 7 playoff games. Since 2015 (incl. playoffs), ties for NFC lead with 23 TD catches. WR JERMAINE KEARSE has 6 rec. TDs in past 8 postseason games. Had TD catch in last game at Atl. WR PAUL RICHARDSON had rec. TD last week, 1st career postseason TD. TE JIMMY GRAHAM has 8 TD catches in past 10 meetings. Since 2011, leads NFL TEs with 5,924 rec. yards & ranks 2nd with 54 TD catches…DE Avril had 2 sacks last week, 1st career multi-sack postseason game. Ranked 4th in NFC with 11.5 sacks. Has 4 sacks & FF in past 4 meetings. DE Bennett has sack & FF in past 2 postseason games. Had sack in last game at Atl. LB Wagner led NFL & set franchise single-season record with 167 tackles. Has 100+ tackles in all 5 seasons. Has 10+ tackles in 6 of past 8 playoff games. LB K.J. WRIGHT had career-high 126 tackles. Since 2011, CB Sherman leads NFL with 30 INTs. Has 10 PD in past 10 postseason games. S KAM CHANCELLOR has 3 career postseason INTs, incl. 90-yard INT-TD on 1/10/15 (vs. Car.).          

FALCONS

Won NFC South & advanced to postseason for 1st time since 2012. Are 4-3 at home in playoffs in franchise history. Ranked 1st in NFL in total points (540) & 2nd in total offense (415.8 yards per game). Head coach DAN QUINN makes postseason debut in 2nd season with Atl. Spent 4 season with Sea. (2009-10, 2013-14) & was team’s defensive coordinator in 2013-14…Falcons led NFC with 6 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: LB VIC BEASLEY JR. (1st), K MATT BRYANT (1st), RB DEVONTA FREEMAN (2nd), WR JULIO JONES (4th), C ALEX MACK (4th) & QB MATT RYAN (4th)…QB Ryan set franchise record and ranked 2nd in NFL with 4,944 passing yards. Has 6 consecutive 4,000+ yard seasons, tied for 2nd longest streak in NFL history. Led league with 117.1 rating, 5th highest single-season rating in NFL history. In past 2 postseason games, has 646 pass yards (323 per game) with 6 TDs & 3 INTs for 105.2 rating…RB Freeman had 1,079 rush yards, 2nd consecutive 1,000-yard season. Has 235 rush yards (117.5 per game) with 4 TDs in past 2 at home…WR Jones ranked 2nd in NFL with 1,409 rec. yards, 4th season with 1,000+ rec. yards. Has 24 receptions for 305 yards (101.7 per game) & 2 TDs in 3 career playoff games. In 3 career meetings (incl. postseason), has 24 receptions for 325 yards (108.3 per game) & TD. WR MOHAMED SANU had TD catch in last meeting. WR TAYLOR GABRIEL has 5 rec. TDs in past 6…DE DWIGHT FREENEY has 10 career postseason sacks, tied for 3rd most among active players. LB Beasley led NFL with 15.5 sacks. Has 6 sacks & 2 FFs in past 6 at home. LB DEION JONES (106) & S KEANU NEAL (105) led NFL rookies in tackles. Neal had career-high 11 tackles & FF in last meeting. Tied for 3rd in league with 5 FFs. CB ROBERT ALFORD tied for 5th in NFL with 19 PD.

 

SUNDAY, 4:40 ET, FOX

GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-6) at DALLAS COWBOYS (13-3)    

The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers are familiar playoff foes, at least historically, having played each other eight times in the postseason, and the Cowboys and Packers are tied with the New York Giants with 32 seasons as playoff teams, the most in league history.  But, with this matchup specifically, Dallas won the last regular-season meeting, 30-16, in October at Lambeau Field.

While the Cowboys, as the NFC’s No. 1, had last weekend off, Aaron Rodgers continued on his torrid pace, throwing for 362 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-13 win against the New York Giants. Rodgers has a 100.3 career playoff rating, one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to have a rating of 100 or more with at least 150 attempts. His performance last weekend made it seven of the last eight games that his passer rating exceeded 100. During that stretch, Rodgers is 8-0 with 2,380 passing yards (297.5 per game), 22 TDs no interceptions for a 120.7 rating.

His challenge this weekend could be different, however. Leading receiver Jordy Nelson (97 catches for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns) is in doubt after suffering a rib injury. His availability isn’t expected to be known until Saturday, which is the first day he would practice this week after being knocked out of the wild-card matchup. Still, Rodgers has a habit of elevating the play of his receivers, and the combination of Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and TE Jared Cook leaves him with plenty of talented targets.

Dallas has made headlines all season long with the performances of their rookie players, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. They are the first rookie teammates to pass for 20 touchdowns (Prescott has 23) and rush for 15 touchdowns (Elliott has 15) in the same season. Prescott’s 13 wins are tied for the most by a rookie starting quarterback in league history and his 104.9 passer rating is the best ever by a rookie in the NFL.

With arguably the NFL’s best offensive line – tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick are all Pro Bowlers – Prescott has been protected well (25 sacks) and Elliott led the league with 1,631 yards rushing, the third-most by a rookie in league history. His 15 rushing touchdowns were third-most in the NFL in 2016, but he’s also a solid receiver and pass protector.

In this matchup, Dallas has the advantage in the running game while the Packers are ranked higher in the passing game. Conversely, the Dallas defense is ranked first against the run but only 26th against the pass while the Packers are ranked eighth against the run by 31st against the pass.

That could mean plenty of passing in this divisional matchup where the No. 1 seeds for the NFC teams are 22-4 in the divisional round since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990.

  PACKERS COWBOYS
LEADER Series tied: 17-17  
STREAKS 5 of past 6  
COACHES VS. OPP. Mike McCarthy: 5-3 Jason Garrett: 1-4
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Mike McCarthy: 9-7 Jason Garrett: 1-1
VS. COMMON OPP. Dal: 6-3 (Chi 1-0; Det 1-0; Min 1-0; NYG 0-2; Phi 1-1; Was 2-0)
GB: 8-2 (Chi 2-0; Det 2-0; Min 1-1; NYG 2-0; Phi 1-0; Was 0-1)
PLAYOFF RECORD 33-21 34-26
LAST WEEK W 38-13 vs. New York Giants Bye (Wk. 17: L 27-13 at Philadelphia)
LAST GAME 10/16/16: Cowboys 30 at Packers 16. Dallas QB Dak Prescott passes for 247 yards & 3 TDs. Cowboys DE David Irving has 3 FFs, FR & sack.
LAST GAME AT SITE 12/15/13: Packers 37, Cowboys 36. Green Bay QB Matt Flynn passes for 299 yards & 4 TDs. Packers RB Eddie Lacy has 1-yard TD with 1:31 remaining.
LAST PLAYOFF 1/11/15: Cowboys 21 at Packers 26. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers passes for 316 yards & 3 TDs. Packers WR Davante Adams has 7 catches for 117 yards & TD.
REFEREE Tony Corrente
BROADCAST FOX (4:40 PM ET): Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers (Field reporters). WW1: Tom McCarthy, Tony Boselli, Scott Kaplan (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (GB), 82 (Dal). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (GB), 82 (GB).
REGULAR-SEASON STAT LEADERS
PASSING Aaron Rodgers: 401-610-4428-40 (1L)-7-104.2 Dak Prescott (R): 311-459-3667-23-4-104.9 (3L)
RUSHING Ty Montgomery: 77-457-5.9-3 Ezekiel Elliott (R): 322-1631 (1L)-5.1-15 (3L)
RECEIVING Jordy Nelson: 97-1257-13.0-14 (1L) Cole Beasley: 75-833-11.1-5
OFFENSE 368.8 376.7
TAKE/GIVE 8 5
DEFENSE 363.9 343.9
SACKS Nick Perry: 11 Benson Mayowa: 6
INTs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: 5 Barry Church: 2
PR Micah Hyde: 5.8 Lucky Whitehead: 7.8
KR Ty Montgomery: 20.3 Lucky Whitehead: 23.2
PUNTING Jacob Schum: 43.2 Chris Jones: 45.9
KICKING Mason Crosby: 122 (44/47 PAT; 26/30 FG) Dan Bailey: 127 (46/46 PAT; 27/32 FG)


TEAMS MEET for 8th time in postseason. Dal. leads playoff series 4-3 & all-time series is tied 17-17 (incl. postseason). Cowboys defeated GB 30-16 in Week 6. ?

PACKERS

Have won 13 NFL championships, most all-time. Team’s .611 postseason winning pct. (33-21) is best in NFL history among teams with 50+ games played. This is team’s 32nd playoff appearance, tied for most in NFL history. MIKE MC CARTHY has led team to playoffs in 9 of his 11 seasons as head coach & is 9-7…Packers had 3 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: S HA HA CLINTON-DIX (1st), G T.J. LANG (1st) & QB AARON RODGERS (6th)…In past 8 (incl. playoffs), QB Rodgers is 8-0 with 2,380 pass yards (297.5 per game), 22 TDs & 0 INTs for 120.7 rating. Has 100.3 postseason passer rating, 4th best in NFL history. In only career postseason meeting (1/11/15), passed for 316 yards, 3 TDs & 0 INTs for 125.4 rating…RB TY MONTGOMERY has 206 rush yards (103 per game) & 2 TDs in past 2 on road. FB AARON RIPKOWSKI had rush TD last week in 1st career playoff game…WR JORDY NELSON led NFL with 14 rec. TDs & ranked 6th with 1,257 rec. yards. Since 2011 (incl. postseason), ranks 3rd in league with 58 TD catches. WR RANDALL COBB had 116 rec. yards & 3 TDs last week, tied for most TD catches in single game in postseason history. Had 8 catches for 116 yards in last playoff meeting. WR DAVANTE ADAMS has 3 TD catches in 4 career playoff games. Had 7 receptions for 117 yards & TD in 2015 Div. meeting…LB CLAY MATTHEWS had sack & FF last week. Has 11 career postseason sacks, tied for 5th most since 1982. LB JULIUS PEPPERS has 143.5 career sacks, 5th most since 1982. In past 5 postseason games, has 4.5 sacks, 2 FFs & 2 PD. Is only player in NFL history with 100+ sacks & 10+ INTs (11). LB NICK PERRY led team with career-high 11 sacks. CB DAMARIOUS RANDALL aims for 3rd playoff game in row with INT. S Clinton-Dix led team with 5 INTs

COWBOYS

Won NFC East for 2nd time in past 3 seasons. This is team’s 32nd playoff appearance, tied for most in NFL history. Have 34 postseason victories, 2nd most in NFL history. Ranked 1st in NFL in rush defense (83.5 yards per game). JASON GARRETT is 1-1 (.500) as head coach in postseason…Cowboys had 5 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (1st), C TRAVIS FREDERICK (3rd), G ZACK MARTIN (3rd), QB DAK PRESCOTT (1st) & T TYRON SMITH (4th)…Rookie QB Prescott won 13 games as starter, tied for most by rookie QB in NFL history. Passed for 23 TDs vs. 4 INTs. Had 0.9 INT pct. (4 INTs, 459 att.), lowest by rookie QB in NFL history. Had 104.9 rating, highest rating by rookie all-time…Rookie RB Elliott led NFL with 1,631 rush yards, 3rd highest single-season total by rookie in NFL history. Became 5th rookie since 1970 to lead league in rushing. Ranked 2nd in NFL in scrimmage yards (1,994) & 3rd in rush TDs (15)…WR DEZ BRYANT has 67 career TD catches, 2nd most in franchise history. Since 2012, leads NFL with 52 rec. TDs. In 2 career playoff games, WR TERRANCE WILLIAMS has 3 TD catches. WR COLE BEASLEY set career-highs in receptions (75) & rec. yards (833). TE JASON WITTEN ranks 2nd all-time among TEs with 1,089 receptions & 11,888 rec. yards…DE BENSON MAYOWA led team with 6 sacks. Has 4 sacks in past 6 at home. DE DAVID IRVING has 3 sacks, 2 FRs, FF & 2 PD in past 3. DE DEMARCUS LAWRENCE has 2 sacks & FF in 2 career postseason games. LB SEAN LEE led team & tied for 3rd in NFL with 145 tackles. Since 2015, ranks 2nd in NFL with 273 tackles. CB ORLANDO SCANDRICK has 2 FFs & INT in past 4. S BARRY CHURCH led team with 2 INTs.    ?


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