If last week was a swell of Seahawk hype, this week has been a tsunami.
After last week's comeback win over the Washington Redskins, something clicked into place. I think it was the sound of the nation's heads turning towards the Pacific Northwest, because the "click" they all heard was the same thing we've all been saying up here since Week 8: "This team is for real."
The difference now is everyone else is starting to believe us. For once.
While we're being honest here, allow me to make a confession: Last week's start to the Redskins game probably scratched six months off my lifespan. The defense looked outmatched. Alfred Morris was running like Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson was getting sacked. The score quickly ran up to 14-0 before I could throw my head back and say "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO SOMETHING!"
Fortunately, it never came to that.
The Seahawks did what they've been doing all throughout the 2012 season — not panic, figure out what to do, and execute. The 14-0 deficit was the largest they had suffered during the entire season, and it never amounted to any more than that.
With the victory, the Seahawks had to have gained more confidence. There's absolutely no way anybody can say this team doesn't have a swagger that's as large as Richard Sherman's mouth. They talk, they back it up. And in some cases, they become your worst nightmare.
The true test is still to come though, and that's why I've been obsessively going over stats, doing research, watching endless hours of NFL Network analysis, and basically wanting to jump around my house waving a whiskey bottle in nerve-jangled anticipation for this weekend's Divisional Round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons.
There are several intriguing matchups between these two teams in Angry Bird Bowl 2013, but a few are especially worth noting:
1. Marshawn Lynch vs. Falcons' Run Defense
Lynch has had five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances going into this game. The Falcons finished the regular season ranked 21st in run defense, allowing an average of 123 rushing yards. This is an area you know Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell are going to attack all day. Lynch should get upwards of 25 carries if the Seahawks are going to have a shot at winning this game.
2. Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. Bradon Browner and Richard Sherman
ESPN 710's Brock & Salk love to play the sound byte of Pete Carroll saying "This is REALLY fun." There's no better quote I can think of to describe this matchup. Seriously, Roddy White is one of the bigger-bodied receivers in the league, and has no fear of making acrobatic plays for balls thrown overhead. This is where the physical play of both starting CBs is going to be crucial in breaking up passes. Fortunately, Sherman had 24 of those this season. He and White will be going at it all day, as will Browner and Jones (if that's the way the matchups play out, but I'm sure some rotation will be taking place.)
3. Matt Ryan vs. the Legion of Boom
The Seahawks had 18 interceptions this year; 14 of which belong to the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas in particular has had two exceptionally spectacular picks in the past two games, so the deep ball Matt Ryan loves to throw to his guys downfield is going to be under attack. That air raid will be under siege from the Legion of Boom.
4. The Falcons' Defense vs. the Read Option
If the offensive staff was smart in Renton, they'd be playing footage of the Carolina-Atlanta game in the film room all week. Cam Newton and the Chudzinski read option had 120 yards and a touchdown on 20 runs against the Falcons in Week 4. Despite having skilled defenders in Sean Witherspoon and Dunta Robinson, they're obviously vulnerable against the read option. Nobody left standing in the playoffs does that better than the Seahawks.
5. Bruce Irvin vs. Matt Ryan
With Chris Clemons out, Bruce Irvin is in. Even before Clemons went down with an ACL injury last week in DC, Irvin had already increased his snap count from 35 percent to 57 percent. His role is expanding as he continues to get comfortable in this defense, and with good reason – he was the 15th pick in the draft. This is what he's supposed to do – rush the hell out of the passer and make life miserable for the offensive line. Irvin led all rookies in sacks this year with 8.5. His bell-rattling performance against RG3 was a promising showing, no matter if RG3 was hobbled. He still got around the 'Skins offensive line with his combination of speed and raw strength. If the Seahawks can generate a solid pass rush and force Matt Ryan into errant throws, the secondary will take care of the rest.
The thought of this game — what's at stake, who's under pressure, and what would come next — is driving me nuts. I've never been such a crazed combination of nervous and excitement. This feels different than any Seahawks team I can remember, surpassing even the storybook 2005 season. The swagger and physical style of play this team brings on each and every down is infectious, and that's why the entire city is losing its mind whenever anyone so much as mentions the Seahawks lately.
It's a very exciting time to be a Seahawk fan. And win or lose, this should be one hell of a football game.