Seahawks vs. Falcons: Key Matchups to Punching Ticket to NFC Championship

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2013

Defenses couldn't find a way to stop Marshawn Lynch in 2012.
Defenses couldn't find a way to stop Marshawn Lynch in 2012.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In the battle of the birds, there'll be no lack of star power Sunday as the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons try to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship. 

From Julio Jones to Marshawn Lynch to Matt Ryan and even Russell Wilson, the number of high-profile players promises for some intense one-on-one battles in Atlanta. 

Seattle will try to stop the Falcons' high-flying passing attack with the best overall defense, which includes a lights-out secondary. 

Offensively, the Seahawks pound the ball with Lynch and have taken advantage of Wilson's incredible athleticism and intelligence throughout the year. 

Let's take a look at the key matchups that will determine which team will soar into the next round of the playoffs. 



Julio Jones (WR) & Roddy White (WR) vs. Richard Sherman (CB) & Brandon Browner (CB)

Every NFL team would love to have a No. 1 wideout. 

The Falcons have two. 

Between the freakishly explosive Jones and the steady White, Atlanta has two premier outside threats for Matt Ryan to target in the passing game. 

Jones measures in at 6'3", 220 pounds and uses that frame to box out defenders and shake off would-be tacklers on screen passes. White doesn't have Jones' unique strength, but is a savvy route-runner who has terrific chemistry with Ryan. 

Combating the Falcons' dynamic duo is the gigantic cornerback pair of Sherman and Browner. 

While most corners lack the size and strength to compete with Atlanta's fantastic receiver duo, Sherman and Browner are the exception to the norm. Sherman—who might just be the NFL's best corner this season—goes 6'3", 195 pounds and loves to talk trash to the opponent. The 6'4", 221-pound Browner was limited to 12 games due to injury this season, but is just a year removed from picking off six passes as a rookie. 

If Sherman and Browner can consistently jam Jones and White at the line of scrimmage, it'll disrupt the timing of Atlanta's stellar passing game. If not, it could be a long day for the Seattle secondary. 



Sam Baker (LT) vs. Bruce Irvin (DE) 

Many remember Matt Ryan as the franchise savior from the 2008 NFL Draft, but Sam Baker was actually the Falcons' second first-round choice that year. 

The former Southern California star has been Ryan's blindside protector for most of his career, although the 6'5", 301-pounder is probably just an above-average player rather than a franchise left tackle. 

Baker lacks great athleticism and can get pushed around some because of his lack of girth. However, his ability to anchor or get a push in the run game won't be his downfall in this game. In facing Seahawks first-rounder Bruce Irvin, we'll see just how quick Baker's feet can move. 

Irvin was considered a freakish talent that lacked the polish to be a first-round pick, but Pete Carroll shunned the experts and took the former West Virginia star with the 15th overall pick back in April.

Although he hasn't been a full-time player, Irvin still racked up eight sacks in the regular season, forming a great pass-rushing duo with veteran Chris Clemons. 

The 6'3", 248-pounder will be without his running mate; in fact, he'll be replacing him in the starting lineup as Clemons is done for the year after tearing his ACL and MCL. Irvin will be counted on to harass Ryan, but not if Baker has anything to say about it.



Sean Weatherspoon (LB) vs. Marshawn Lynch (RB)

Only Adrian Peterson and rookie revelation Alfred Morris ran for more yards this season than Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who set career highs in carries (315), yards (1,590), first downs (68) and yards per carry (5.0). 

Seattle's workhorse failed to top 85 rushing yards in just two games, and ran for at least 120 in five, including last week's first-round win against Washington. 

Beast Mode is one of the NFL's most physical backs, often bouncing off the first hit and gaining extra yards after contact. After a few down seasons in Buffalo, he's clearly reestablished himself as a Pro Bowl back. 

Combating the bruising Lynch will be former first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon.

The athletic third-year linebacker missed three games this season, but still finished just two tackles shy of team leader Stephen Nicholas. 

Weatherspoon uses his excellent range and big-hitting skills to punish ball carriers, so look for him to fly to the football and try and stop Lynch before Beast Mode breaks off another playoff highlight.