The NFL Playoffs are officially underway after the Houston Texans' 27-14 victory over the Derek Carr-less Oakland Raiders, and there are eight teams still vying for a Super Bowl berth. The Atlanta Falcons enter the NFC Playoffs with a first-round bye, which despite the obvious advantage of rest, can be a double-edged sword, as the lack of game time can cool even the hottest fires of momentum entering the Divisional game. Atlanta will face Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks in what could be potentially the final game at the Georgia Dome in what will be an exciting duel between the NFL's best offense led by Matt Ryan, DeVonta Freeman, and Julio Jones and one of the league's best defenses in Seattle. Led by the secondary known as the "Legion of Boom", the Seahawks' vaunted defensive back tandem of Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and Kam Chancellor threatens to shut down the electric passing attack that has carried Atlanta to an 11-win regular season and playoff appearance. Additionally, the Falcons will rely on a weak defense to stop Russell Wilson and running back Thomas Rawls, who led Seattle to a dominant 20-point win over the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field. It will be a tough ask, but Atlanta will be seeking to avenge their two-point defeat at the hands of the Seahawks in October and advance to the NFC Title Game for the first time since 2012.
If the Falcons can find a way past the notoriously-solid Seahawks, they will face either the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, or New York Giants. The Cowboys have arguably been the best team in the NFL this season en route to the NFC's number one seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Rookie Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot has blazed his trail into the NFL MVP conversation with his 1600 yard rushing season along with 16 touchdowns, and has all but locked up the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, fellow rookie teammate quarterback Dak Prescott could be his biggest competition for the award, as his 3600-yard, 23 touchdown campaign has given Dallas their quarterback of the future. Although it would be a difficult matchup for Atlanta's defense, the lack of playoff experience from much of Dallas' core gives the edge to the seasoned Matt Ryan, who has appeared in an NFC Championship Game and is an MVP candidate himself after his fantastic 2016 campaign. The Packers and Giants have both heated up toward the end of the season, and both pose different challenges should the winner of their Wild Card Round game upset the Cowboys in Big D. Should the Giants advance, the Falcons would face a similar challenge to that of the Seahawks, as New York's elite defense would challenge Atlanta's potent passing attack while boasting another playoff-tested quarterback in Eli Manning, who has won two Super Bowl titles and has a playoff victory over Matt Ryan in his career. Green Bay boasts a more talented offense led by former MVP and Super Bowl Champ Aaron Rodgers. However, should Dallas lose, the road to the Super Bowl runs through Atlanta for the remainder of the NFC Playoffs, and the Falcons match up well with every team they would face in the NFC Title Game. Regardless of what happens, this postseason promises incredible excitement and action, and the 2016 iteration of the Falcons are a legitimate offensive juggernaut, and, in my opinion, the favorite to win the NFC due to their matchup advantages and Dallas' lack of playoff experience.