Just like two seasons ago, the Falcons finished 13-3 in the regular season. Once again, they have the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
In 2010, they lost to the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers 48-21.
This time, they vow they’re mature enough to make the most of the opportunity.
The Falcons will try to end their recent trend of first-game postseason exits Sunday when they play the streaking Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs. The Falcons had a first-round bye last week while rookie quarterback Russell Wilson led Seattle to a 24-14 comeback win at the Washington Redskins.
The Seahawks (12-5) bring a six-game winning streak to Atlanta.
Atlanta is 0-3 in the playoffs under coach Mike Smith, quarterback Matt Ryan and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
In addition to the 2010 loss to Green Bay, the Smith-era Falcons lost in the playoffs 30-24 to Arizona in 2008 and 24-2 to the New York Giants in 2011.
“We’ve been here in the past before and now we’re more mature,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “We know what we can and cannot do.
“It’s a sense of pride, more of an internal sense of pressure rather than anything external. As professional athletes we all want to go out there and perform well and get this monkey off our backs, so to speak.”
Center Todd McClure, in his 13th season, is the only holdover from the last Atlanta team to win a playoff game, in 2004.
“I feel like this is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” McClure said.
Last week in Washington, the Seahawks’ Wilson completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards and ran for 67 yards. Seattle overcame a 14-0 deficit to beat the Redskins.
Wilson, a third-round pick out of Wisconsin, has outlasted Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the playoffs.
Seattle suffered a blow when it lost sacks leader Chris Clemons to a knee injury last week. Rookie Bruce Irvin will start for Clemons, who had 11½ sacks, at defensive end.
Losing Clemons is big for a defense that allowed only 203 yards – 99 passing and 104 rushing – against the Redskins.
“I think it’s a matter of who can execute their system better than the other team at a higher level,” Seattle tight end Zach Miller said.
“It’s going to come down to who is more on their game. We’re similar type teams in that we don’t turn the ball over. We don’t make many mistakes.”
Wilson said the playoffs are “time to do something special.”
“Obviously we’ve got a tough seed in front of us,” Wilson said. “We’re going to Atlanta. It’s going to be a hostile crowd. … We just need to enjoy what it is and see what happens.”