In case you intentionally blocked last year’s thorough demoralizer out of your mind, let’s recap, shall we? Atlanta was 11-2, riding a seven game win streak. That’s called momentum. A win would clinch the playoffs and give them an opportunity for home field advantage. That’s called motivation. The Seahawks opening drive was great; Hass completed short throws, the running game picked up chunks of yardage, and it ended with a Lynch TD. Hawks take a quick lead, 7-0. Atlanta responded with short throws, positive gains on the ground, and finished with a Turner TD; nearly the same game plan, with the same result, and almost identical time of possession. Then it got ugly. The first half ended with failed drives and unanswered scores. The second half was highlighted by a Hasselbeck fumble in the end zone and Atlanta TD, interceptions on the next two series, and his consequential replacement by Charlie Whitehurst. That’s called an EPIC breakdown.
This year, nobody in the media will give the Hawks a chance. Even some fans will dismiss this game as an automatic loss. They’ll be wrong, and here’s why:
Schedule/ Momentum/ Morale:
The Falcons start their season visiting Soldier Field, fighting Philadelphia’s dream team at home, and taking on the young Bucs in Tampa. That’s not an easy stretch of games. They play the Hawks next, obviously, and the Packers the week after. If there’s one game the Falcons won’t be focused on, it’s the one at the CLink. Not saying they won’t prepare, but I get the feeling that a lot of the players will be looking forward to knocking off the defending Super Bowl champs, and be less focused on playing hard for an ‘easy win’. They won’t have the same motivation or momentum they did last year.
The Hawks, on the other hand, will probably never expect a win. They’ll fight for everything (or they’ll be in Carroll’s doghouse). The Seahawks schedule sees a road game against the 49ers and a home game against the Cardinals, both winnable games. I fully expect the Seahawks to beat the Cards in their home opener and I subsequently expect them to ride that ‘high’ against the Falcons, with a can-win attitude and a fiercely upbeat morale. If they can translate that to points, and keep the trend throughout the game, it won’t be as lopsided as the national media will expect.
Bend, don’t break. It’s a cliché, but true. The Atlanta Falcons have an extremely potent offense; they’ll put up a ton of yards against both the best and worst defenses. The Seahawks, as you very well know have a young unit, with new starters at every positional group. The secondary will have a new starting cornerback in Brandon Browner, opposite a Marcus Trufant we haven’t seen dominate since 2007. A young, inexperienced Kam Chancellor will be the security blanket with Earl Thomas against Roddy White and Julio Jones. Luckily, our D Line is stout against the run. We were tops in the league in run D before big Red got hurt, and that starting group remains mostly intact. As long as the line is healthy, I can see Matt Ryan having to throw a lot (given, the game remains close). If that’s the case, as I said earlier, they’ll pile up yardage, but the key is keeping them out of the end zone. If the Hawks D can hold the Falcons drives to 3 points instead of 7, they’ll stay in the game and give the offense a better opportunity to take a lead.
Thanks to the lockout, young teams like the Hawks will be hurting without the added reps. Thankfully, our first game is against the 49ers who also would have benefited from greater continuity (that first game is going to be MESSY, btw). The Falcons are much better off in this category, as they’re returning nearly all of their key starters. After three games against real competition, the Hawks as a whole should (I hope to God) be better off than we’ve seen in the first three preseason games. The offensive line will have three real games under its belt, and barring injuries, should be a bit more comfortable together. T Jac should have developed a better report with Rice, BMW, and Miller, and we should also have a better understanding of which RB will be carrying the ball in specific situations. Concisely put, the experience should provide better stability for the entire team than we’ve seen in the preseason. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ but not out of the question.
Home Field Advantage:
DO NOT EVER UNDERESTIMATE THE 12TH MAN. Ask Drew Brees how that worked out. Ask Tracy Porter how it feels to know the fans started an earthquake as he was being thrown backwards and onto ground. I don’t care how good a team is, any given Sunday the best can lose to the worst. When the underdog plays in a stadium like CLink (that’s the third time I’ve ever typed that, and it’s still foreign), it’s an even bigger advantage. Even if the Hawks lose the home opener, the faithful blue crew will still be at full volume against the Falcons. We won’t have forgotten the embarrassment at home last year. We’ll be giving that team hell.
Keep in mind, the score prediction of 27-23 reflects how I expect the teams to score, i.e. 3 field goals for the Falcons, a few touchdowns for the Seahawks. I don’t expect that to be accurate, though if it is, forget this last paragraph. Go Hawks! Expect an upset! What say you?