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NFL Wild Card Game of the Week: Falcons at Giants
The opening round of the NFL playoffs is here, and Sunday's NFC Wild Card game offers two of the more adroit aerial attacks in the league. The 10-6 Atlanta Falcons travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the NFC East champion New York Giants, doubling as the WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
The Dirty Birds punched their postseason ticket despite a 2-3 start to the season. Worse, the Falcons experienced some internal riffs, with the putrid play and curious attitude of wideout Roddy White threatening to derail Atlanta's 2011 campaign.
Yet Falcons field general Matt Ryan submitted his finest season to date in his young career, throwing for 4,177 yards and 29 touchdowns. White was able to get back on track in the second half of the season and finished the regular-season slate with 100 receptions for 1,296 yards and eight scores.
Helping White in this endeavor was talented first-round pick Julio Jones, who, despite dealing with various ailments, managed to haul in 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.
Maybe most surprising was the performance from venerable tight end Tony Gonzalez. The perennial Pro Bowler was thought to be nearing the end of his road after his 656 yards in 2010 was his lowest output since 1998. Gonzo apparently has a little left in the tank, posting 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
Lost in all their airborne excitement has been the quiet and consistent work of Michael Turner, who turned in over 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns in the ground game. The passing game may be the preferred weapon of choice for the Atlanta offense, but it's Turner's dependability in the fourth quarter that keeps the defense off the field and allows the Falcons to manage the clock.
Unfortunately, the Giants cannot second this sentiment, as New York enters with the worst rushing offense in the NFL at 89.2 yards per game. Certainly, the backfield was riddled with injuries (with Ahmad Bradshaw's health the most central to this issue), but the once-proud pounding the G-Men would inflict on their opponents has been nonexistent.
Eli Manning has helped fill this void, tossing for a career-high 4,933 yards with a healthy 8.38 yards per attempt. The former first overall selection was able to cut down on his penchant for turnovers, throwing nine less interceptions compared to 2010, and his 29 touchdowns were two scores off his career-best.
This display holds that much more merit when factoring in the departures of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, two of Manning's security blankets in the past few seasons. Stepping up in this absence was Victor Cruz, who grabbed 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. Hakeem Nicks was no slouch himself, finishing with 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven trips to the end zone.
So who wins this early-round clash of pigskin powerhouses? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Falcons come out on top 53.5 percent of the time by an average margin of 24-23. For the rest of this week's predictions, check below:
|NFL Wild Card|
|@ New Orleans Saints||61.9||29||Simulate Game|
|@ Houston Texans||58.0||21||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Giants||46.5||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Denver Broncos||25.3||16||Simulate Game|