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Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks to battle for respect

In addition to giving Robert Griffin III some much-needed time off his feet, the Seattle Seahawks' 24-14 road win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday sets up an excellent divisional-round matchup against the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.

This game will have no shortage of intriguing subplots, all of which we'll dig into over the next week at Around The League. In the meantime, here are five storylines to watch.

Put up or shut up for Falcons

The Falcons might be the most disrespected 13-3 team in NFL history. Three one-and-dones in four years has put the NFL world in "show me" mode. This is a huge legacy game for Matt Ryan. He played at an MVP-level this season, but he'll cement a damning reputation as a quarterback who shrinks when the moment grows if he falls to 0-4 in the playoffs.

Coping without Clemons

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported the Seahawks fear defensive end Chris Clemons tore his ACL on the sloppy turf at FedEx Field in Sunday's win. This is a big blow for Pete Carroll's defense, which counts Clemons as its best pass-rusher. Ryan has taken some abuse in the pocket this season, and the Falcons were going to have their hands full with Clemons and Bruce Irvin firing off the edges. The Seahawks remain a formidable defense, but Clemons' loss hurts.

Respect the "Beast"

We all need to start showing Marshawn Lynch some love. Comeback Player of the Century Adrian Peterson deservedly has been praised for his 2,000-yard season, but Lynch has very quietly put up a monster season of his own. He ran for 132 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins, the fifth-straight game -- and 11th time overall -- he's busted over the century mark. Russell Wilson has been a revelation in Seattle, but the Seahawks' offense operates on Beast Mode.

Clash of the stars

If you like watching the game within the game -- I know you "All-22" fans are out there -- pay special attention to the war in the secondary when the Falcons have the ball. Julio Jones and Roddy White on one side. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner on the other. Watch four great players go at it, then see which one tries to slap Sherman in the face when it's all over.

Seahawks swag factor

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Watch the NFL long enough, and you can sense when a team is building toward ... something. The Seahawks are giving off those vibes right now. Sure, facing a seriously limited RG3 was a stroke of luck, but good fortune is part of any Super Bowl run (lest we forget the Giants were done last year if Miles Austin doesn't lose that ball in the lights in Week 14).

The Seahawks are on a six-game winning streak and have lost just once in the past two months. If the Falcons are finally going to get the playoff monkey off their back, they'll have to earn it against a team that must believe victory is a preordained right at this point.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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