FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons know what it takes to win in the regular season.
When it comes to the playoffs, that’s another story.
Perhaps no team faced a greater burden going into this postseason than the Falcons (13-3), the NFC’s top-seeded squad for the second time in three years. They’ve yet to win a playoff game under the current trio of quarterback Matt Ryan, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff -- one-and-done in all three appearances going back to the 2008 season, the last two not even close.
Not surprisingly, the players keep insisting the previous years don’t matter; they’re only looking forward to Sunday’s divisional game with the streaking Seattle Seahawks (12-5).
But the senior member of the team, center Todd McClure, concedes there will probably be some additional pressure when the Falcons take the field at the Georgia Dome.
That makes a quick start crucial to Atlanta’s hopes.
"We’ve been disappointed a few times," said McClure, who’s been with the Falcons for 13 years. "I think we’ve got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump."
The Falcons have gone 56-24 in the regular season since Dimitroff and Smith took over in 2008 and drafted Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick -- more wins than any team during that span except New England (60-20). But the significance of five straight winning seasons, two division titles and, now, a fourth trip to the playoffs has been undermined by the lack of success in January.
It wasn’t that big a deal when Atlanta, after surprisingly making the playoffs as a wild card one year after the Michael Vick debacle, lost to Arizona in the desert 30-24.
But the loss two years ago was a stunner, the No. 1-seeded Falcons -- who, like this team, went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye -- getting blown out at home in the divisional round by sixth-seeded Green Bay 48-21.
Then came last year, when Atlanta went 10-6 but was viewed as an underachieving squad, a perception that proved factual in the playoffs when the Falcons’ high-powered but inconsistent offense was completely shut down by the New York Giants, who romped to a 24-2 victory on their way to capturing the Super Bowl title.
Carrying around all that baggage, the Falcons can’t help but be a little skittish about facing a team that might be hotter than anyone in the league. The Seahawks have won six straight games, including last week’s 24-14 victory over Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins in the opening round of the playoffs.
"We can’t get too tight," McClure said Wednesday.