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Falcons to face big brothers in Seahawks

1/10/2017 3:07:00 PM
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn served two stints in Seattle and was their defensive coordinator from 2013-2015.

The Falcons are set to face the Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

Over the bye week, Quinn wanted the Falcons to focus on self-improvement. Also, the Falcons couldn't fixate on the Seahawks because they also could have faced the Packers or Giants in the NFC's divisional round.

But while answering a question about the return of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor from injury, Quinn offered his view of a rematch of their Oct. 16 loss at Seattle.

"He's a factor," Quinn said. "It's the physicality that he plays with. But, like I said, all teams are a little different now and I'd say we're a better version of ourselves then when we played them."

Now the Falcons will get the chance to prove it and they'll be relatively healthy as Quinn said he anticipates that all of his players will be healthy enough to participate in the team's practice on Tuesday, its first full-speed session in preparation for Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Seahawks.

That would mean the return of two starters, tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and cornerback Robert Alford (knee), as well as No. 3 wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot). Gabriel and Hooper did not play in the regular-season finale against the Saints.

Alford suffered his injury during the Saints game and last week worked on the side with trainers when the Falcons practiced during the bye. Quinn said Alford "looked good" while participating in Monday's walk-through practice.

"To see him move and have his intent right, we were encouraged," Quinn said.

Quinn said it's possible some players would be limited for Tuesday's practice. Four players played against the Saints after appearing on the injury report: wide receiver Julio Jones (toe), guard Andy Levitre (hip), safety Keanu Neal (ankle) and tight end Joshua Perkins (neck).

The Falcons beat the visiting Seahawks in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl the following season and then lost to the Patriots in the next year's Super Bowl when quarterback Russell Wilson threw a late interception near New England's goal line. Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator during both of those seasons.

The Seahawks have not been as formidable this season as they were during those runs. A Football Outsiders metric that measures weekly variance in performance rated the Seahawks as the fourth-most inconsistent team in the NFL from game to game.

The Seahawks believe they rediscovered their identity in the 26-6 victory over the Lions. The Seahawks punished the Lions with their running game, Wilson made some key throws and the defense kept the Lions out of the end zone.

Cornerback Richard Sherman was the Falcons' antagonist in their 26-24 loss in Seattle. The Falcons were furious that he wasn't called for pass interference after pulling down star wide receiver Julio Jones on their final play. A penalty would have set up the Falcons for a potential game-winning field goal in the last minute.

The Seahawks improved to 4-1 with that victory, but went 6-4-1 the rest of the regular season. The defeat at Seattle dropped the Falcons to 4-2 and they were 7-3 after that.

Seattle's defense remains one of the top units in the league, especially against the run. The Seahawks ranked first in the league in rushing yards allowed per play this season and also were third in points allowed. But the Seahawks have been vulnerable against the pass, especially since safety Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending leg injury five weeks ago.

Seattle allowed 33 passing plays of 25 yards or more during the season, tied for fifth-most in the league. In October, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed four passes of 24 yards or longer against the Seahawks, including touchdown passes of 46 yards to Levine Toilolo and 36 yards to Jones.

To advance to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four years, the Seahawks will have to do so on the road and slow the NFL's top-ranked offense.

"(The Falcons) are an incredible team and I love the job that Dan has done," Carroll said. "They are loaded on offense. They've got an aggressive group. Really good on (special) teams. Tons of playmakers."

--Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal has an autographed Kam Chancellor Seahawks jersey hanging up in his locker stall. The Falcons play the Seahawks on Saturday in an NFC divisional playoff game but Neal said he has no plans to move the jersey out of sight this week.

"I don't see it as '(playing) against the Seahawks so I've got to hide it,'" Neal said. "It's Kam Chancellor. He's a brother to me."

Neal and Chancellor worked out together last summer after Chancellor reached out to him. Chancellor wrote a message on the autographed jersey wishing Neal success.

Neal said he and Chancellor stay in touch via text messaging.

"He's helped me out football-wise and off the field, as well," Neal said. "It's a brotherhood. He's huge on helping people. He's big on 'each one, teach one,' just being able to help everybody. And he's definitely helped me a lot."

The Falcons selected Neal with the No. 17 overall draft pick. The Falcons envision Neal growing into the enforcer role that Chancellor, also a safety, plays with the Seahawks. Falcons coach Dan Quinn worked with Chancellor as Seahawks defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014.

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