The New York Giants have all the momentum in their favor going into next Sunday playing the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium. Big Blue started 6-2 and then lost four straight starting on Nov. 13 against the San Francisco 49ers. But with the NFC East race staying tight once again this year, they fought for their playoff lives, beating their hometown rival New York Jets and division rival Dallas Cowboys twice. That second game against the Cowboys was more important as it gave the Giants the division crown and secured a home playoff game that can help them gain even more momentum.
The Atlanta Falcons on the other hand are coming into the playoffs having blown out their NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45-24 on Sunday. They do have momentum, but at the same time, they have won games they were supposed to during the stretch run, such as against the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay.
These two teams have never met in the postseason, so there is not much historical context to back anything up here. What can be said, though, is that these two teams took a step back from last season both in record and statistics. The Giants went 9-7 this year after going 10-6 last year, while the Falcons went 10-6 this year after going 13-3 last year and locking up the number one seed in the playoffs. Also this year, each team's staple, the running game, dipped, more for the Giants than the Falcons.
The Giants surprisingly became the worst rushing team in the league, one because Ahmad Bradshaw missed some time with a leg injury, and two because a new offensive line took some time to form. The Falcons didn't take too much of a dip, going from 12th in rushing last year to 17th this year. Michael Turner was still able to rush for over 1,300 yards in against formidable rush defenses.
The playoff game between the Giants and the Falcons will sure display ground-and-pound, but both teams also have weapons galore in the passing game. For the Giants, Eli Manning has come through in the clutch by engineering touchdowns that kept the Giants in the playoff hunt, especially during the games where the Giants ran the ball extremely inefficiently. Victor Cruz has become Eli's new favorite target, emerging from the unknown to ending the season with 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Add Hakeem Nicks, who had almost 1,200 yards of his own, to the mix, and the Giants should scare the 20th ranked Falcons secondary.
The Falcons conspicuously ranked 8th in passing yards per game by season's end. That means the Giants secondary, known to give up big plays itself, shouldn't go to sleep on Matt Ryan either. Roddy White now has two straight seasons with at least 100 receptions and will be both Ryan's and the Giants' secondary's favorite target. However, focusing on White will leave the door open for rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, who got off to a slow start, but has filled in his shoes as of late.
Both the Giants and Falcons defensive lines are physical enough to make plays when they need to. They key will be which offensive line can give its quarterback time to move the chains down field.
The Giants have more momentum and have more importantly re-established their two-man running identity with Bradshaw and Jacobs. Those two reasons plus the fact they will be playing at home puts them in the driver seat to win the game. It will be close, though, 31-27.