This weekend's meeting between the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons is supposedly going to be a three-point affair, according to the betting gurus in Las Vegas, but they are surprisingly favoring the home team.
For a franchise that has not won a home playoff game with their current head coach and quarterback combination, nor won one in general in 10 years, that line is surprising.
Can Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning pull off their first home victory in the postseason? If they hope to, several players will need to step up.
The Giants defense will be facing one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the NFL in Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The pass rush better not make the Giants' corners cover too long, but if that should happen, Perry Fewell will hope that his corners are up to the task. Otherwise, it could be a very long day full of big plays.
Another weapon the Giants will have to handle is Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. The future Hall of Famer and best tight end to ever play the game is still searching for that first ring.
He will be motivated and looking to hammer a Giants defense that has been susceptible to the tight end this season.
Michael Boley will have to be on his game, as the responsibilities over the middle are primarily his.
Now that Osi Umenyiora is back, he will have to take some of the pressure off Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul on pass-rushing situations.
If the Giants are going to slow down anyone in the playoffs, it starts up front.
One problem the Giants had early on in the season is that they could not stop anyone from running the football down their throats.
That has subsided since the New England game, but the Falcons are one of the top running teams in the league and would love nothing more than to punch the Giants in the mouths.
Chris Canty will be a huge key to stopping the run—as he has been all second half. He and fellow DT Linval Joseph will have to have big games.
While the Giants have not been outstanding running the football these past five weeks, they have certainly been much better.
Getting Ahmad Bradshaw back was a huge deal; he and Brandon Jacobs seem to do better when they have each other to compliment.
The Giants have shown they can win without running the ball for over 100 yards, but they have to at least prove a threat to run it.
Bradshaw and Jacobs running hard will be a major factor in the outcome.
Everyone seems to agree that the Giants' offensive line has seen a resurgence over the last five weeks of the season.
While that is true, there is more to it than that. David Baas missed the first three games of this resurgence, in which the Giants averaged 4.4 yards per carry—way above their season average.
Baas returned to the lineup in the final two games, which I could not understand why, and the Giants averaged just 3.9 yards per rush.
Clearly, the combination of Kevin Boothe at center and Mitch Petrus at left guard was working, but I actually believe it was addition of Petrus that helped rather than Boothe. Boothe had started at center in the beginning of the season when Baas missed some time, and the running game did not improve at all. It seems to me that the best thing would be to start Petrus at left guard and see what the O-line can do.
Nothing I will say is going to change anything, so with the Giants set at this current lineup (Boothe at LG and Baas at C), Baas will have to play better than he has.
The running game is not a huge part of the offense, but the threat of it being there keeps teams off-balance.
This is not an indictment on Eli Manning at all, more like something that has to happen every game for the Giants to be competitive.
Eli has carried this team on his back all year, so why should the playoffs be any different?
If the Giants are going to get their first home playoff win in 10 years and the first under Tom Coughlin, Eli will have to continue to play at an elite level like he has all season.