Week 11 in the NFL concludes with a “Monday Night Football” pairing of teams that are at a crossroads due to a combination of key injuries and a Super Bowl hangover as the Seattle Seahawks (6-3) host the Atlanta Falcons (5-4) at CenturyLink Field. Seattle got back on track last week, beating Arizona 22-16 on the road on Thursday night in a brutally physical game. Atlanta is coming off one of its better performances of the seasons after routing Dallas 27-7 at home. The Falcons aren’t out of the NFC South race just yet, but can’t afford to fall any further behind the Saints (8-2) or Panthers (7-3).
For Seahawks, now more than ever they are going to have to rely on the “next man up” theory as last week’s win came at a heavy price. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is out for the season with a torn Achilles and four-time Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor is likely done as well with a neck injury. The totality of the injuries on the defensive side of the ball is becoming very problematic and the unit’s depth is going to be tested the rest of the season. Consequently, it is going to be up to Russell Wilson and the offense to pick up the slack and carry this team as Seattle can tie Los Angeles for first in the NFC West with a win tonight.
The last time these two teams met was in the Divisional Round of last season’s playoffs. Atlanta won 36-20 behind 338 passing yards and three touchdowns from Matt Ryan. Now the 2016 MVP gets another shot at the Seahawks and won’t have to worry about dealing with Sherman or Chancellor.
Atlanta at Seattle
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Seattle -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seattle offense vs. Atlanta defense
As has already been mentioned, the Seahawks’ offense will need to pick up the slack as the defense has been ravaged by injuries. Unfortunately, for Russell Wilson (above, right) and company, they could be getting Atlanta at an inopportune time. The Falcons held Dallas to just seven points and 233 total yards, while sacking Dak Prescott eight times and forcing two turnovers. After that performance it will be interesting to see how Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell decides to attack Atlanta. The Seahawks really need to find a way to run the ball more effectively, if anything to keep the Falcons’ pass rush at bay. You could see Seattle try to mix in some no huddle or add some tempo to try and wear down Atlanta’s defensive line. Also, look for plenty of zone read plays that give Wilson the option to run considering Cam Newton finished with 86 rushing yards against the Falcons in the Panthers’ 20-17 win a couple of weeks ago. One person Wilson definitely needs to keep a close eye on is Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn, who exploded for six of the Falcons’ eight sacks last Sunday. That performance by Clayborn was the second-highest sack total for an individual player in the NFL since Derrick Thomas back in 1990.
2. Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game
Everything sets up on paper for Ryan to build off last week’s very efficient performance (22-for-29, 215 yds., 2 TDs, INT) against the Cowboys. The Legion of Boom right is a shell of itself with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor both out and Earl Thomas also battling his own injuries. Rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin is going to have to grow up quickly as Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel will look to take advantage of Seattle’s depleted secondary. Atlanta may even be more inclined to throw the ball rather than try to run it with leading rusher Devonta Freeman sidelined because of a concussion. It will be interesting to see the game plan that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian comes up with. Again, Ryan had considerable success in his last game against the Seahawks in the playoffs, and that was with Seattle’s defense much more intact.
3. Seattle front seven
Linebacker Bobby Wagner is arguably playing the best football of his career and he is going to have to step up along with the rest of the Seahawks’ front seven moving forward. This Seattle defense is not going to be able to rely upon the secondary being able to provide lock-down pass coverage so expect for defensive coordinator Kris Richard to come up with different ways to put pressure on the quarterback. With Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, and Frank Clark playing well along the defensive line the Seahawks have the personnel to be more aggressive with blitzes but there is a risk to this strategy. If you don’t get to the quarterback, you could give up big plays, especially going against an All-Pro-caliber passer like Ryan and his collection of pass catchers.
Normally, a “Monday Night Football” game in Seattle would present the real possibility of a blowout where fans nationwide tune out early. However, this game should be one that goes down the wire as long as both teams take care of the football. Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan should each have plenty of opportunities to produce enough big plays through the air that this game could feature plenty of scoring. Despite all of the injuries on defense, look for the Seahawks to sneak away with another very close win at home thanks to some late-game heroics from Doug Baldwin or Jimmy Graham as Seattle ties Los Angeles for first place in the NFC West while Atlanta falls to .500.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Falcons 24
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.