New York Giants Playoff Predictions: 6 Stats That Guarantee Victory
It's that simple for an inscrutable bunch that, when playing well, can dictate terms to their opponents and play with anyone in the NFC.
With the pass rush humming, Eli Manning gunning and the MetLife crowd roaring, the Giants should overpower Atlanta.
From the sterile confines of Wednesday afternoon it all seems so simple, but will it come to pass?
Less Than Two Turnovers
It is an axiom as true for the Giants as it is for the other 31 NFL teams: If you protect the ball, you win the game.
The Giants committed two or more turnovers in eight of their 16 games this year, and posted a woeful 2-6 record in those contests.
Simple addition tells us they were 7-1 in the remaining eight games.
That stark dichotomy was on full display during the Giants' November slide, when the offense committed two turnovers in each game of a four-game skid.
Much of the onus falls on Eli Manning, who's been better with ball security this season but still has gunslinger games, like the meltdown against Washington in Week 15.
Four or More Sacks
Far and away the most encouraging sign in the Giants' Week 17 win over the Dallas Cowboys was the re-emergence of the pass rush.
Justin Tuck awoke from the dead, joining Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul in a 60-minute pummeling of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
As a defense, the Giants are disproportionately reliant on their defensive line to create pressure and account for weaknesses at linebacker and in the secondary. When they notch more than four sacks, the team is 4-2.
When they don't, they're a .500 ball club.
Good news is Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan likes to stay in the pocket and should be easier to wrangle than Romo. Bad news is Ryan will look for quicker passes to offset the rush, and is less likely than Romo to extend the play and allow hustle sacks.
The Giants will need to force Ryan into long-yardage situations where he must stand tall in the pocket. That's when their defense is most effective.
Hold Tony Gonzalez Under Six Catches, 70 Yards
The Giants defense—with the secondary and linebacking corps being what it is—has struggled to stop opposing tight ends all year.
Even in wins over the Jets and Cowboys, Dustin Keller and Jason Witten ate up big chunks yardage. Earlier in the year, Jermichael Finley and Jimmy Graham killed the G-Men during their four-game losing streak.
At 35, Tony Gonzalez is still one of the league's most complete tight ends and a favorite safety valve for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Leave him open and the Falcons will be able to dink and dunk their way down the field. Bottle him up and the Giants defense can take Atlanta off their game.
Over 100 Yards Rushing as a Team
When the Giants eclipse 100 yards on the ground, they haven't lost this year, going 7-0.*
Giants fans like those odds.
Some of that is cause-and-effect confusion, seeing as teams run more when they're ahead. But even that can't explain the dramatic difference in fortunes when this team finds a way to move the ball on the ground.
When Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs can move the chains with their feet, Eli Manning gets more time to throw the ball and set up downfield connections with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
It figures to show early whether the Giants offensive line can open up enough holes in the Atlanta defense to keep the running game viable. If not, look forward to a long afternoon of tightrope-walking with Eli.
*The Giants did lose a game in which they gained exactly 100 yards on the ground against the Packers. Seeing as the team played well in that loss, the logic holds.
Hold Matt Ryan Under 60 Percent Completion Rate
The Atlanta Falcons offense relies on an efficient and balanced attack to keep the chains moving.
Without leaning too hard on any one player or play, Atlanta mixes run and pass as well as any team in football. They ranked 10th in passing, 17th in running and 10th in overall offense. No real outliers there.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is the maestro of it all and thrives on an accurate arm that keeps opposing defenses on their heels.
When Ryan completes more than 60 percent of his passes, the Falcons are 7-2. Otherwise they're a pedestrian 3-4.
Disrupt their timing and Atlanta doesn't have the home-run threat to counter with, as evidenced by the fact that they ranked average to below average in yards per pass attempt and yards per carry.
Weather Under 45 Degrees
Admittedly the Giants have no control over the weather, but as Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post notes, they might wish they did.
The Falcons were just 2-2 in games played outdoors this year, and both of those wins were near-escapes against under-.500 teams.
For his career, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is just 17-15 beyond the climate-controlled environs of the Georgia Dome. A Sunday forecast calling for a high of 43 degrees with possible rain and/or snow figures to increase his discomfort.
In addition to the standard home-field boost, New York should benefit from the Falcons' poor precedent in adverse weather conditions.