Dave Choate: That Seattle offensive line looks abysmal, outside of center. How much of an impact is that going to have on your offensive success this season, and how well can Russell Wilson escape that pressure?
Kenneth Arthur: I wouldn't say it's quite that bad as of right now. First round pick Germain Ifedi made his NFL debut against the Jets in Week 4, replacing J'Marcus Webb, and the offensive line had it's best game of the season against a New York front-seven that includes three of the best d-lineman in the league. Left guard Mark Glowinski is in his second year and performing quite well. So up the middle, things are about as good as you could ask for given that those three had one combined start at their current positions (center Justin Britt was a tackle, then a guard) going into this season. That being said, left tackle Bradley Sowell and right tackle Garry Gilliam are among the worst at their positions right now. Gilliam was good a year ago but something's clearly off this season and his job might be in jeopardy. Wilson is getting rid of the ball quicker and has had success doing so. He's running a lot less because of two leg injuries, but Pete Carroll said on Wednesday that he looks great and should be running more soon. That should help his escapability and scrambling efforts in the coming weeks, but still "only" getting sacked nine times is pretty good given where he was a year ago. I'm no more concerned about the offensive line today than I was a month ago and I'm encouraged by the play of Ifedi.
Dave Choate: Christine Michael is a media and fantasy owner darling--I've got him on my team!--but how has he looked so far, and what kind of backfield split can the Falcons expect to see?
Kenneth Arthur: Michael is the best example of "getting skinny through the gap" that I can think of. It doesn't look like there's any space to run in certain areas but somehow you see Michael going into a pile and emerge from the other end unscathed, almost like he's found the entrance to Narnia. He's playing at a level much higher than he did in his first three seasons -- he always had the ability but he lacked the effort and focus. That seems to be there now after nearly being out of the NFL last season. I don't think that he's ultimately moved ahead of Thomas Rawls on the depth chart, but with Rawls out several more weeks, Michael will continue to be the guy. Newly-signed C.J. Spiller may pick up some snaps on third down, while rookie Alex Collins might spell Michael for 2-3 carries. I don't know if rookie C.J. Prosise will play or not (hand) but if he does, I don't think he'll steal any carries from Michael. He'll be the lead back and get the vast majority of carries.
Dave Choate:Julio Jones has been held in check a few times this year, but that has proven costly with terrific production from other receivers, tight ends, and running backs for Atlanta. How is Seattle going to try to shut everything down and still take care of Julio?
Kenneth Arthur: Last season, the Seahawks were first in the NFL against number one receivers by DVOA. They were also fifth against number twos, 10th against all other receivers, and fifth against running backs catching the ball. Their biggest weakness was against tight ends (26th) but they've done much better so far this year. They haven't faced an offense like Atlanta's yet though. Through four games this season, Seattle is first in DVOA on defense, fourth against number ones, 14th against number twos, third against all other receivers, 12th against tight ends, and 25th against running backs. That could obviously mean another big day for Tevin Coleman. I expect them to do well with Richard Sherman on Julio Jones and number two corner Deshawn Shead has had a very good season with the exception of a bad day against the Rams' Kenny Britt. Slot corner Jeremy Lane is among the best slot corners in the game. We all know what Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor can do, though Thomas has had some uncharacteristic struggles this season.
When I look at the matchups, I think the Falcons have to exploit their advantage with Coleman there and get as much as they can out of the faceoff between Jones and Sherman. I have the utmost faith in Sherman vs any receiver, but Brandon Marshall won some battles against him in Week 4. I like Mohamed Sanu, maybe he wins a few and grabs a couple balls, and Jacob Tamme could find an opening or two, but I really think that the Seahawks will do good against Atlanta's number one passing offense; I think last week's game against the Broncos is a great preview show. Matt Ryan was really good but fairly contained given his first four games. Same with Julio Jones. The Falcons need to win with Devonta Freeman, Coleman, and playing their best defense of the season, to have their best chance to win in Seattle.
Dave Choate: Atlanta's been stout along the offensive line all year, but there's a possibility left guard Andy Levitre will be out of this one. How can Seattle attack guard, the Falcons' greatest weakness, in this one?
Kenneth Arthur: The Seahawks have a rookie defensive tackle by the name of Jarran Reed (second round out of Alabama) who some graded as a top-15 pick. He missed the last game with a hip injury but is expected to return this weekend. He's great against the run and getting him back should help take the pressure off of his defensive linemates. That being said, Seattle has been much better at getting to the QB this season with Michael Bennett (three sacks), Frank Clark (three), and Cliff Avril (two) leading the way over four games. Bennett and Clark can both slide inside and take advantage of that weakness if it's there without Levitre, but Ahtyba Rubin and Tony McDaniel are also pretty good defensive tackles in their own right. The Seahawks don't have a pass-rushing defensive tackle in the mold of Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald or anything like that, but Reed, Rubin, McDaniel, Bennett, and Clark can be highly effective playing inside. Outside linebacker K.J. Wright surprisingly has two sacks in four games this season and we'll also find out if that's a trend or a fluke.
Dave Choate: What are your expectations for the 2016 season, and for this game?
Kenneth Arthur: I'm sure that non-Seahawks fans are tired of hearing it, but my expectations for this season are roughly the same as they were headed into the year: I picked them to go to the Super Bowl (my AFC pick was the Steelers) and I see no reason to change that. They've been the best team in the NFC West (by far, despite losing to the Rams) and the only team that's clearly been better than them (the Vikings) is so far getting a career year from quarterback Sam Bradford. I'm not quite ready to believe that Bradford is going to play this well all season -- maybe he is, but I want a little more proof than four games. Russell Wilson has proven way more as a quarterback, so I have a little more faith that Seattle has an offense than Minnesota has an offense, especially since the Vikings have the worst rushing game in the league. I expect Minnesota to come back to Earth and I expect the NFC playoffs to consist of some combination of them, Seattle, Atlanta, Green Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Arizona. Then what's the key after that? Homefield advantage. The Seahawks have a 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals in the NFC West already and I don't believe the Rams can keep up with Case Keenum and Jared Goff, so I think there's a high probability that Seattle will win their division. The Cowboys and Eagles will duke it out, but also don't count out the Redskins or Giants just yet -- it's the NFC East after all. I don't think a bye week is coming out of that division, too competitive. The Vikings have to prove themselves against the Packers and now Green Bay has the number one run defense to go with Aaron Rodgers. The bye weeks are going to either Minnesota, Green Bay, Atlanta, or Seattle. So it's possible that this Sunday's game between the Seahawks and Falcons ends up being for a bye week and a home game to host the other in the divisional round of the playoffs. Thinking too far ahead? Maybe. But it could be true. It's a very important game.
If the Seahawks win, I think it gives them a much better chance at a top-two seed because of their advantage over the Falcons in the head-to-head and giving them a loss. Same if Atlanta wins. If you get to host a divisional round game, I think there's a very good chance you're going to the conference championship. At that point the odds are maybe 55/45 at best. So I think it's hard to predict much past that, but if Seattle gets a win over Atlanta, I would really like their odds to make the NFC Championship game. If they lose, then the Falcons sit at 5-1 and a tiebreaker over the Seahawks, so then I'd probably wager more like a number three or four seed for Seattle.
This was a very thorough answer.
My prediction for this game is a 24-23 win for the Seahawks.