The Atlanta Falcons are headed into their second straight postseason. They have been in the playoffs three out of the four years that Mike Smith has been the coach but have yet to win a game in postseason play.
The Falcons have all of the necessary tools to win in the playoffs. Atlanta has a talented offense filled with weapons, a defense more than capable of stopping opposing offenses, and a special teams that plays well week in and week out.
However, they have not been able to put it all together on a consistent basis in 2011. That needs to change in this new season. At this point, every team has a 0-0 record. The playing field is level, and any team has the chance to win.
The Falcons will travel to New York to play the Giants on Sunday. Atlanta can definitely beat the Giants, but they will need to play very well to do so.
Let's look at three things that the Falcons must do to win their first playoff game under head coach Mike Smith.
Manning may have just had his best season as a pro and receiver Victor Cruz put up 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 catches. Receiver Hakeem Nicks also went over the 1,000 yard mark this year, and tight end Jake Ballard is a threat in the passing game.
This Giants attack can do damage to any NFL defense and puts up more points than most teams in the league. This is why it is so important for the Falcons to slow down Manning and the Giants' offense.
The Giants are not very good at running the ball, but they can throw it very well. The Falcons are great at stopping the run, but have been suspect against the pass in 2011. They have a talented secondary, but they have not performed well at times this season.
The Falcons can match up against the Giant receivers, and it helps that the Falcons have an explosive offense of their own, but the defense has to at least slow down the Giants.
I am not expecting the Falcons to shut out New York, or even limit them to 10 points. That would be nice, but it is unrealistic. If Atlanta's defense can force some mistakes from the Giants and put pressure on Manning, then the Falcons have a good chance at winning this game.
The Atlanta defense is definitely talented enough to limit the Giant's success, but it remains to be seen if they will on Sunday.
It is imperative for the Falcons to get the running game going on Sunday.
The Falcons have the ability to be one of the best running teams in the NFL, but they seem to want to be an air-it-out type of team instead. That is simply not want Matt Ryan and the Falcons are best at.
Atlanta may have played its most complete game this past Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Michael Turner was able to rush for 172 yards and two touchdowns, while the Falcons as a team where able to get over 250 rushing yards.
They put up their most dominating performance all year and it was behind the legs of Turner, Jason Snelling, and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Running the ball well will also limit the amount of time that Eli Manning and the Giants offense are able to be on the field. Time of possession will play a huge part in the outcome of this game, and if the Falcons can use their running backs to keep the ball away from New York, then that will only increase their chances of winning this game.
If the Falcons want to go into New York and beat the Giants, then it starts and ends with their ability to run the football.
Another important part of this game is the turnover battle.
If the Falcons want to win against the Giants, then they have to force Eli Manning and the other Giants players into mistakes. They need to give Matt Ryan and the offense extra chances with the ball, and the offense needs to limit its mistakes.
Atlanta has done a good job of not turning the ball over in 2011. They only have 17 turnovers all year, and that kind of play needs to continue in the playoffs. The Falcons have also forced 29 turnovers on defense, which bodes well for their playoff hopes.
Manning has thrown 16 interceptions this season and the Falcons may be able to force him into a bad decision during the game. If Atlanta can get two bad throws out of Manning turned into picks, then that will greatly increase their chances of winning in the Wild Card Round.
Atlanta will also need to make sure to keep Ryan out of positions where he can make mistakes, and the running backs have been good about holding onto the ball all year.
The Falcons have a good chance of beating the Giants, but the turnover ratio will likely tell who wins this game.