By Jim McBride Globe staff Seahawks on offense: Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is a great athlete with exceptional leadership skills. He is vertically challenged at 5 feet 11 inches, but his ability to get out of the pocket and fire spirals downfield is how he compensates. Wilson has good foot speed and can shake and bake in the open field, but he has learned to get down and avoid big hits. Sidney Rice (he’s tall, fast, and competitive) and Golden Tate (he has strong hands and high energy) are solid, steady receivers. Tight end Zach Miller is very reliable and rugged. He’ll move the chains. Tailback Marshawn Lynch will move ’em, too. The beastly tailback runs with great power and quickness. He has the speed to run around you and the strength to run over you. Nobody in the NFL breaks more tackles.
Falcons on defense: John Abraham (10 sacks; 122 for his 13-year career) continues to play at a high level (how happy is he that he escaped New York?). He’ll make things uncomfortable for Wilson. Linebackers Stephen Nicholas (97 tackles) and Sean Witherspoon (96) are a pretty good 1-2 physical punch. The veteran secondary has some real ballhawks in Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud, and Dunta Robinson.
Falcons on offense: Matty “Ice” Ryan has turned himself into an elite QB with a superb combination of hard work, smarts, and a big arm — and we all knew him when. Ryan is extremely confident when he breaks the huddle, scans the defenses for mismatches, and then tears the opponent apart. He is also 33-6 at home. He has a bevy of options in the passing game. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez (93 catches) has soft hands and good speed. Receivers Roddy White (he’s thick and strong) and Julio Jones (he’s explosive and physical) are an excellent tandem. Jacquizz Rodgers is excellent on screens and dump-offs. Michael Turner takes care of the ground attack. He runs low and with great vision and power but has taken a lot of abuse the last few seasons.
Seahawks on defense: Chris Clemons’s knee injury last week is a big hit. He led Seattle’s pass rush with 11½ sacks. It’ll be up to DE Bruce Irvin (he’s a star-in-waiting) to put the heat on Ryan. Irvin will stun defenders with quickness and power. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright tackle everything. Corners Richard Sherman (for the love of mike, stop yapping) and Brandon Browner are the best duo in the NFL.
Special teams: Rodgers returns kickoffs for the Falcons and he’s awfully good at it, averaging 25.7 yards on 23 attempts, including a 77-yarder. As for punts, Dominique Franks has returned 21 for a 7.8-yard average. Eleven-year veteran Matt Bryant (it only seems like he’s been around for 111 years) hit 33 of 38 field goals, with a long of 55 yards. Matt Bosher averaged 47.1 yards per punt with only three touchbacks. Seattle’s Leon Washington is a monster in the return game. He averages 29 yards per kickoff and 8.7 on punts. He returned one of each for a score. The Seahawks signed veteran Ryan Longwell to kick after Steven Hauschka (calf) was placed on IR Wednesday. Jon Ryan averages 45.6 on punts.
Miscellany: Atlanta has made the playoffs in four of Mike Smith’s five seasons, but the coach has yet to break into the win column . . . Seattle’s Pete Carroll is 3-3 in postseason . . . Seattle enters riding a six-game winning streak . . . Ryan’s 56 career wins are most by a QB in first five seasons . . . Seattle DE Bruce Irvin leads all rookies with eight sacks . . . Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez was named to his 13th Pro Bowl, a record for tight ends.