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Matt Ryan and the Falcons come into the playoffs with some momentum after knocking the Lions out of the 5 seed.
When: January 8, 2012, 1:05 PM EST
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Line: Giants by 3
Falcons Offense vs. Giants Defense
The Falcons have lived up to their word, letting quarterback Matt Ryan off his leash. After some early struggles, Ryan has lived up to expectations, improving his yards per attempt by nearly a full yard while maintaining a very good TD-INT ratio and a solid completion percentage.
Ryan has been aided by the addition of Julio Jones to an already deadly arsenal of Roddy White and the ageless Tony Gonzalez. This team has done a complete 180 from its 2008 incarnation, when Michael Turner led the NFL in rushing attempts. Turner still gets a healthy workload, but the passing game is unquestionably the bread and butter of the 2011 Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan's transformation would not have been possible without a good offensive line. Like most quarterbacks, he does not like to get hit. His slow start was, in my opinion, heavily attributable to being sacked 13 times in the Falcons' first three games. Compare this to 23 sacks in the entire 2010 season. Once the pass protection improved, so did Ryan. The Giants' front four is not the stuff of legends that it once was, but Jason Pierre-Paul is a force, and Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck can still wreak havoc if healthy and given the chance.
This is not a great offensive matchup for the Falcons. The Giants struggle to contain running backs who can catch the ball, which, unless Jason Snelling sees significant playing time, the Falcons will not have. New York also has a very tough time against additional wide receivers, but Atlanta is weak in this department. There is a sharp drop-off in talent behind White and Jones on the depth chart. It will be up to those two and Gonzalez to do the damage that the Falcons need in order to win this game.
Falcons Defense vs. Giants Offense
Like the Falcons, the Giants have become a team that relies on its aerial attack to get things done. Eli Manning may still dish out bizarre interceptions from time to time, but you can't really argue with 8.4 yards per attempt, 29 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards. He's behind a solid offensive line that is facing a mediocre pass rush, so he'll have time to locate his weapons.
Victor Cruz, in particular, is primed to have a monster game. The Falcons match up with other targets quite well, but opponents' top receivers typically dismantle them. The combination of Manning having all the time in the world and Cruz consistently getting open is going to spell disaster for the Falcons unless they find a way to solve one of these problems.
These teams may be nearly equal in terms of talent, but several matchups (and home field) are in the Giants' favor. I see them taking a close one, 27-24.