Falcons vs. Giants: Who Has the Edge in Their Wild Card Matchup?
Somehow, the New York Giants are in the playoffs and will play host to the Atlanta Falcons (10-6) in the Wild Card Round this Sunday at 1 p.m. at the New Meadowlands. It’s a positive result for a Giants team that had its fair share of ups and downs throughout the season.
Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Eli Manning and second-year superstars Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants won three of their last four games and earned their first playoff berth and NFC East title since 2008.
Now the Giants prepare for a showdown with the Falcons whom followed a similar path to the playoffs, winning three of their last four, including racking up 45 points in a Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The playoff run, led by improved play from quarterback Matt Ryan, catapulted Atlanta to their second consecutive playoff berth and third in Matt Ryan’s four seasons in the NFL. However, Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ struggles on the road are well-documented—going 2-3 on the road in games played outdoors—and could be a major factor at the New Meadowlands.
The Wild Card matchup pits two of the most evenly-matched teams and should not disappoint as a must-watch performance from both teams. With so much on the line and so much to watch for, let’s take a look at how the Giants and Falcons match up in their Wild Card Round meeting.
Giants Passing Game vs. Falcons Pass Defense
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The New York Giants have struggled in every facet of the football game, except for when they’re passing the ball. Eli Manning had a career year, proving that he is elite with 4,933 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and a passer rating of 92.9. Breakout second-year receiver Victor Cruz and third-year stud Hakeem Nicks combined to be the toughest receiver duo to account for by opposing defenses and accounted for 2,728 receiving yards and 16 of Manning’s 29 touchdown passes.
The Giants are the most prolific fourth quarter offense in the history of the NFL. Manning set a record with 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and led the Giants from behind in six of their nine victories this season. Cruz, meanwhile, led the NFL with six touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Add in the return of popular targets tight end Jake Ballard, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and fullback Henry Hynoski, and the Giants passing offense should pose a serious threat to the Atlanta Falcons and their 20th-ranked pass defense.
The Falcons do rank 10th in interceptions, however, and could pose a threat should they be able to force Manning into some foolish passes. Two of Manning’s worst performances this season came against the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, ranked second and fourth in interceptions respectively.
Giants Rushing Attack vs. Falcons Run Defense
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The New York Giants finished the season ranked as the worst rushing team in the NFL, but it’s worth noting they averaged 112.8 yards per game for their final four games of the season—the Giants were 3-1 in that span.
In two of those four games, the Giants posted over 100 yards on the ground against the Dallas Cowboys’ seventh-ranked run defense.
Since Ahmad Bradshaw’s return from injury, the Giants rushing attack has found the success it starved for all season. The one-two punch of Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has lifted some of the pressure off of Eli Manning’s shoulders, accounting for six touchdowns in the Giants’ last four games.
Unfortunately, the Giants rushing attack, though flourishing of late, is scheduled to go against their toughest task to date in the Atlanta Falcons’ sixth-ranked run defense. The Falcons surrender just 97 yards per game on the ground to opposing offenses and have surrendered 100-yard games to just two running backs this season.
The Falcons withheld 100-yard rushing days from some of the best backs in the NFL—including LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson—which could make for a difficult afternoon for a Giants rushing attack that averaged only 89.2 yards rushing over the course of this season.
Falcons Passing Game vs. Giants Pass Defense
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The New York Giants’ secondary is not very good, that’s no secret. They have been beaten by the best quarterbacks, and they have been beaten by the worst—see Vince Young and Rex Grossman.
Anyone outside of Corey Webster is a liability in coverage, and even then, you never know what you’re going to get from him.
The Falcons boast one of the best young receiving corps in the league and are a deep threat on every play. Will Webster, Aaron Ross and company be able to blanket the speedy Rodd White and Julio Jones all game? The Giants have had trouble covering opposing tight ends; that will likely be the case once again with the Falcons future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Matt Ryan’s struggles on the road are telling but not enough to hand the Giants the game. With two 300-yard passing games in the Falcons’ final four games of the season, Ryan is on a hot streak and could make a joke of the Giants secondary.
Falcons Rushing Attack vs. Giants Run Defense
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In past seasons, the Atlanta Falcons and Michael Turner have been a superior threat on the ground. This season, that story was not so.
Struggling with injuries for much of the second half of the season, Turner averaged just 81.5 rushing yards per game for the Falcons’ last eight games—68.1 yards per game without his 172-yard performance in Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their 32nd-ranked run defense. Between Week 12 and Week 16, Turner did not average more than 3.6 yards per carry.
The Giants, meanwhile, have shown much improvement after hovering near the bottom of the NFL in run defense themselves for much of the season. They allowed just two 100-yard rushers in the second half of the season and finished the regular season ranked 19th in rushing yards allowed. While they rank as the seventh-worst defense in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed with 15, the Giants allowed just six in their final eight games—three of which came against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12.
Turner scored just four touchdowns in Atlanta’s final eight games.
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The Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants don’t have much to boast about on special teams. Neither team presents an explosive return game and while their punters are good, they’re nothing more than average.
What does separate these two teams is Falcons kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant is the most accurate kicker in the NFL, succeeding on 93 percent of his field-goal attempts. He also finished as the NFL’s seventh-leading scorer with 126 points for the Falcons.
The Giants' Scotland-born kicker Lawrence Tynes, however, is 19-of-24 on field-goal tries and has made just 50 percent of attempts longer than 40 yards.
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The best battle in this Wild Card matchup will likely be between the men wearing headsets on Sunday afternoon. Tom Coughlin and Mike Smith are two of the best head coaches in the NFL and have been highly successful in the current coaching tenures.
The last time these two teams met, Coughlin guided his team to an overtime victory at home, 34-31. Offensive coordinators Kevin Gibride of the Giants and Mike Mularkey of the Falcons had great success in their play-calling, lighting up the scoreboard up all afternoon. Gilbride and the passing game were especially successfully, posting a season-high 384 yards behind the arm of Eli Manning.
Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder did not have his best day as a coach, surrendering 456 yards of total offense to Manning and the offense. The Falcons’ defense has struggled a bit this season, but Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been able to do little to boost his defense as well.
In the end, it will be Coughlin’s experience in big spots such as this and his ability to motivate his team to play in recent weeks that lifts the Giants past Smith and the Falcons.
The Giants Will Win If...
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Somehow, the Giants have managed to win the NFC East and clinch a home playoff game despite playing without a defense—with the exception of Jason Pierre-Paul—for most of the season. As the saying goes, “Defense wins championships” and while the NFL appeared to be a much different league this season, it will still come down to defense when the Lombardi Trophy is raised in Indianapolis this February.
The Giants defense has potential. We have seen bits and pieces of it throughout the season. It must show up against the Falcons if the Giants wish to continue on their run towards the Super Bowl.
The Falcons Will Win If...
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The blueprint to beat the Giants seems simple: pummel the Giants pass defense into submission. Unfortunately, the Rams, Cowboys and Patriots can attest to the fact that beating the Giants is easier said than done.
If the Falcons wish to advance in the playoffs, they’ll have to stop Eli Manning and his plethora of offensive weapons. The Falcons played sub-par defense this season but have the tools to create pressure and force turnovers. It will take such a performance to defeat Manning and the Giants.
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With gorgeous weather set for this weekend, playing in MetLife Stadium shouldn’t be too much trouble for Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense. Still, the Giants defense has looked much improved in the past few weeks. This game could be a shootout or it could be a defensive onslaught; it all depends on which teams show up for the Giants and Falcons.
Eli Manning is better than he’s ever been. With the running game and defense finally coming to life, there may be nothing that can slow the Giants down going forward in the playoffs. The Falcons will give a fight early, but this game is not going to be as close as expected.
Giants 28, Falcons 17