The Seahawks like to play the role of underdog, and they truly will be one Saturday at Atlanta.
Having been favored in all but 11 of their last 83 games since the mid-point of the 2012 season — or, essentially, the minute it became apparent Russell Wilson was for real — the Seahawks have had to get creative the last few years to assume the underdog role in which they say they thrive.
“People wrote us off and said that we wouldn’t have a chance,’’ said Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett after the Seahawks’ 26-6 wildcard playoff win over Detroit Saturday, a game in which Seattle was an 8.5-point favorite and the pick of just about every football expert anywhere to win.
But as the Seahawks head to Atlanta for a divisional playoff game against the Falcons Saturday at 1:35 p.m., they won’t have to invent evidence of doubt about their prospects.
Within minutes after the final gun Saturday, Las Vegas oddsmakers established Atlanta as a 4-point favorite, a number that at some places increased to 4.5 by Sunday afternoon.
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That may not seem like much, but it’s the biggest spread against the Seahawks in a post-season game since a 2011 divisional playoff contest at Chicago — when Seattle was a 10-point underdog. And it’s only the fourth time in the 12 playoff games of the Wilson era that Seattle has been an underdog.
Speaking further to Seattle’s dominance the last few years, the 4-point spread is the third-largest against the Seahawks since the seventh game of Wilson’s rookie season in 2012.
The good news?
Seattle emerged victorious each of the times it was an underdog by more, winning at New England this season 31-24 as a 7.5-point underdog, and at Arizona 36-6 last season as a 6-point underdog.
The bad news?
It’s the fourth time under Carroll that Seattle has been an underdog in a divisional playoff game on the road and Seattle has lost each of the first three — the Bears game in 2011, at Atlanta in 2013 (30-28 when the Falcons were favored by three) and at Carolina in 2016 (31-24 when the Panthers were favored by 2.5).
The relevance of either stat?
Probably nothing other than interesting fodder to chew over until kickoff, though a few Seahawks acknowledged after the win over the Lions that they know they’ll truly be in an underdog role this week.
“We’re going to have to go out there and it’s going to be a tough atmosphere on the road,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “But I feel like we’re built for that and we’re looking forward to the challenge.’’
And while no two games in a season are ever alike, the Seahawks also head to Atlanta having already beaten the Falcons once this season, a wild 26-24 win at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 16.
That game was notable for some amazing changes in mood and momentum as Seattle took a 17-3 lead at halftime, saw Atlanta score 21 straight in the third quarter — when Richard Sherman went into a tirade on the sideline after the first touchdown, which some defensive players later said contributed to the ease with which the Falcons scored the next two — then rallied to win it 26-24.
The game ended in controversy as Sherman tangled with Atlanta star receiver Julio Jones on a deep pass on fourth down. Many observers (mostly, those outside Seattle) thought Sherman could have been called for pass interference.
“I think we feel like we gave them a couple in the game we played them previously,’’ Sherman said Saturday. “Mental errors, miscommunications, etc., in the third quarter.’’
Seattle also could point out that it was without some key players in that game, notably strong safety Kam Chancellor, defensive lineman Frank Clark and running backs Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise, who may all be healthy this time. That was also the game in which Michael Bennett hurt his knee midway through the third quarter.
Conversely, Seattle is now without free safety Earl Thomas as it goes against one of the best passing offenses in the NFL — the Falcons ranked third in yards per game at 295 with 38 touchdowns, which was second in the NFL.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has been particularly efficient of late, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a four-game winning streak to end the regular season as the Falcons won seven of their last nine to finish 11-5 and get the No. 2 seed — and the right to host the Seahawks Saturday — by a half-game.
“All teams are a little different now,’’ Atlanta coach Dan Quinn — who was Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014 — told reporters last week. “And I’d say we’re a better version of ourselves then when we played them.”
The Seahawks, emboldened by a win over Detroit that felt a little more like their old selves, undoubtedly feel they are, too.
“They’ll come out with some different things and they’ll try to throw you off,’’ Wagner said. “We just have to be on it because it’s been awhile since we played them and I’m pretty sure they’ve grown from there and we have, too.’’