Jan 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NY, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws a pass during the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Falcons 24-2. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
A lot will be on the line when the Giants and the Falcons face-off in a rematch of the infamous playoff game that saw the Giants and Eli begin their Super Bowl run in ‘Super’ fashion by dominating the Dirty Birds on a national stage. The G-Men, with a one-game lead in the NFC East, would like to keep the Cowboys and the Redskins in their rearview mirror as they race towards the post-season. In order for them to accomplish that, they would have to win out the regular season, because both the Redskins and the Cowboys are gunning for their spot, and one more loss by the Giants could put them in danger of losing their position at the top of the NFC East. The Falcons, who sit atop the entire NFC, have a lot to lose and everything to gain. The top seed is theirs for the taking, but they’re setting out to do more than that.
“In recent history, the last two years, the teams that have won the Super Bowl were teams that got hot at the end of the season and that carried over into the postseason, ” said Mike Smith, less than 24-hours after the 20-30 loss to the Panthers. “I really can’t speak too much beyond the last two years in terms of that. I would imagine it’s the case. The team’s playing their best football at the end of the season are usually the teams that get to where they want to be in the last ballgame.”
The Falcons want to be at their best this game. Matt Ryan has already stated that they’re not looking to avenge their (embarrassing) playoff loss.
“We’re a different football team than we were last year,” said Matt Ryan during a post-practice interview Wednesday. “They’re (the Giants) are a different football team than they were in the playoffs last year. I think it’s (the game) important because of what’s in front of us.”
The NFL Playoffs will begin in few weeks. Playoff football is completely different from regular-season football. It requires a different mind-frame and playing with a different kind of intensity. A kind of intensity the Falcons haven’t played with in their last 3 post-season losses. The Giants may not be the ‘same’ team, but the key pieces are still intact, and they’re just as dangerous as they were during their Super Bowl run.
When Eli feels they’re in a must-win situation, they not only win, but they do it in convincing fashion (See Green Bay, Saints), and when his D-line backs him up, they’re just about impossible to beat. It will take nothing less than an A+ effort in all 3 phases from Atlanta if they want to send the Giants back home with a loss.
If the Falcons do that…If they play the best to their ability AND beat the Giants, a hot team that plays well with their backs against the wall. It will show fans and the city of Atlanta that Mike Smith and his team can take that ‘next step’ when they have to, at least until the playoffs start.
If Matt Ryan really believes they’re a different team than last year, he and the rest of Falcons better be ready to prove it this Sunday.
Matchups to Watch
Falcons offensive line vs. Giants defensive line- If veteran Todd McClure wants to prove to Mike Smith that the O-line can be trusted in crunch-time, he can show him this Sunday. The Giants Pro-Bowl-filled D-line is the most formidable in the NFL when motivated. One of the reasons the Giants were able to make their Super Bowl run was because JPP, Tuck, and Osi were making a run for QB’s. If Matt Ryan’s not protected, you can tally up another loss.
Giants Wide Receivers vs. Falcons Secondary- Victor Cruz showed that his 2011-12 season was no fluke. He’s slowly working his way towards all-pro recognition and a huge pay day. Hakeem Nicks has struggled to stay healthy this season, but has still proven to be effective, even with his lingering foot and knee injuries. A less-than 100% Nicks is better than no Nicks at all for the Giants. Ramses Barden is one of Eli’s go-to guys away from the Meadowlands, so the defense better be ready to keep an eye on him. Asante, Dunta, and McClain will have their hands full this Sunday, and hopefully Willy Mo and DeCoud will be ready to keep Eli from taking the top off the Dome.
Matt Ryan vs. Giants Secondary- Matt Ryan noted in a interview that the Giants are 2nd in the league in takeaways. Luckily for us, Matt knows this, so he’ll know not to turn into a gunslinger this Sunday. The Giants will try to force him into mistakes, so Matt needs to be decisive. He also needs to stay away from Stevie Brown (Who has the exact same B-day as I, wow). Stevie is the Giants interception leader with 7. Needless to say, he is always around the ball. Keep the ball away from this man Matty…
Mike Smith vs. Tom Coughlin- Tom definitely got the best of Smitty in the playoffs. I’m predicting a close game that will come down to the wire, which means it will come down to coaching. Mike Smith needs to be at his best. He needs to have his team focused and inspired to make sure what happened vs. the Panthers doesn’t happen for the rest of the season.
Players to Watch
Victor Cruz- Big-play receiver that runs like a cheetah…You play with this fire and you WILL get scorched. He has 9 TD’s so far and is in a contract year. He wants that big payday and I’m not talking about the candy bar…When a big play is needed, Eli looks to him. So, D-Block, when you think a big play is coming, keep all eyes on this man.
Tony Gonzalez- He’s having an excellent year to be considered ‘past his prime’. Matt Ryan has looked his way when a first-down is needed. He’s also the #1 option in the the red-zone. If the Falcons win, he will play a major part in their victory.
Dunta Robinson- Robinson isn’t the best cover CB in the league, but he will have to step his game up this Sunday. I’m sure Cruz will be lined up on his side. Dunta’s philosophy is “Nothing Deep, Nothing Cheap”, I hope he shows it on the field this weekend.
David Wilson- The explosive rookie from Virgina Tech emerged as a role-player last week. He amassed over 300 total yards against the Saints this past Sunday. He returned a kickoff the distance while also breaking a big run for a TD late in the game. Tom Coughlin will look to use him the same way this Sunday. Will he got back to his fumble-prone self? We’ll see…
The Falcons have stats very similar to Giants defensively. They give up a lot of yards, ranking 27th and 25th in pass and rush yards allowed. The important stat, though, is points allowed. They rank 8th in the aforementioned category, allowing about 21 points a game. On the offensive side of the ball, they’re very balanced. They rank top-10 in every category except rushing, and they’re in the top half of the NFL even in that category. The Giants have a total of 31 sacks while the Falcons have 28, neither are setting the league on fire in that category (surprising for the Giants). All of the Giants RB’s are averaging over 4.0 ypc. Victor Cruz has 16 rec. for 261 yards and 2 TD’s in his last 3 games. The Falcons have allowed four 100 receiving games, with three coming from inside the division. David Wilson ran for 100 yards and 2 TD’s against New Orleans. Matt Ryan is 32-4 in 36 career home games…
I don’t know what Giants team is going to show up in the Dome this Sunday…The one that man-handled the Packers and the 49ers, or the one that laid a couple of stinkers against the Redskins and Bengals. You can say the G-Men like to play up to the level of competition, because they’ve stomped some tough teams while losing what some would call ‘easy’ wins. The Falcons will step on their home-turf looking to put the Panthers loss behind them. If the Giants come in at their best, they better be ready to bounce back up if they get smacked in the mouth. The run game will be key for Atlanta here and in the playoffs. The Giants give up a good amount of rushing yards, and if we run well, the teams we meet in the playoffs will have to entertain the fact that the Falcons can put up yards on the ground when needed. Which, in turn, would open up the pass game. The Giants can only be beat with a balanced attack. With that being said, I think Mike Nolan will have a plan to slow Eli down. The Falcons haven’t loss back-to-back in a while, and they’re at home.
*Quotes courtesy of Atlanta Falcons.com. Stats courtesy of ESPN and NFL.com