NFL Playoffs 2012: New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview

Sam HymanContributor IJanuary 7, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:  Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants reacts while playing against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The NFL regular season came to a close last Sunday night, as the New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an all-or-nothing showdown at MetLife Stadium.

Coughlin's Giants captured the NFC East title, giving them the fourth seed in the Conference going into Wild-Card weekend.

The Giants have now prevailed in back-to-back, must-win games and are getting hot at the right time. Their late-season heroics have earned them a home playoff game at MetLife Stadium against the fifth-seed Atlanta Falcons, who finished 10-6.

Both the Giants and the Falcons have been inconsistent all season. 

The Giants dug themselves into a hole after losing four in a row and then bounced back to win three of their last four. In games where the 'backfield combine for over 100 yards, they are an undefeated 7-0. In addition, If the Giants can protect the football, they will be in good shape. They have recorded less than two turnovers in eight games this season. In those games they are an impressive 7-1. 

The Falcons had tremendous success at home this year but have displayed a great deal of mediocrity on the road, finishing 4-4 away from the Georgia Dome. Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan will be looking for the first playoff win of his three-year career. 

Here are some notes on the game, headlined by what to watch for, keys to success, and ultimately, my final prediction. 

What to Watch For When the New York Giants Take on the Atlanta Falcons

1. Can a stout Falcons' offensive line protect Matt Ryan from a fierce Giants pass rush

The New York Giants have one of the leagues' most prolific pass rushes, led by second-year sensation Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The defense is reliant on their ability to apply pressure and disrupt the passer to make up for their weaknesses at linebacker and in the secondary. 

Their ability to get to the quarterback has been on display as of late. The Giants have an uncanny 11 sacks over the past two games and will be more motivated than ever in front of their home crowd. 

When the Giants record four or more sacks, they are 4-2. When they don't, they are an even 5-5. 

Atlanta's offensive line has only allowed 26 sacks this season—the fourth lowest total in the NFL. The Falcons' offensive line were categorized as a bunch of "dirt bags" by Giants' DE Justin Tuck. This could potentially inspire them to play with a lot more motivation to slow down a surging Giants' front four. RT Tyson Clabo and LT Will Svitek have a tough task at hand, but how will they respond? 

If the Giants can get to Matt Ryan, the Falcons will be in for a long day. This matchup could potentially decide the game for both teams. 

2. Will the Falcons' secondary be able to contain Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks? 

The recent success of Giants' leading wide receiver Victor Cruz will make any defense nervous. His 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine TDs speak for themselves. He's an incredible route runner, has good hands and will provide any defense with problems out of the slot. 

This has left an undervalued Hakeem Nicks ready to explode. Nicks now has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and has proven to be a consistent No. 1 option at the NFL level. Nicks posseses a much-needed deep ball threat and has a ton of big-play ability. 

A depleted Falcons' secondary finished the season ranked 20th against the pass. CB Brent Grimes was sidelined last week with a knee injury but has practiced all week and is scheduled to start. It goes without saying that he will have a tough time guarding either Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz because of his 5'10" stature.

CB Dunta Robinson, who plays opposite Grimes, also has a huge task at hand due to his inconsistently with regard to coverage deep down the field. It also doesn't help their case that the Giants will be playing with a healthy Mario Manningham, for the first time since Week 15. 

Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks could both be in for big games.

3. Can an inconsistent Giants' run defense control the line of scrimmage and limit Michael Turner? 

Falcons RB Michael turner is the foundation for their explosive offense. In games where Turner has 17-plus touches, the Falcons are 10-1. The Giants' run defense, however, is much improved, giving up only 3.9 yards per carry on average in the last four weeks. Nevertheless, if Turner can get going early, it will be a long day for a Giants. He should see a ton of carries, as the Falcons want to keep the ball out of Eli Manning's hands. 

The last thing they want to see is Matty Ice sitting on the bench with his helmet in his hands, while Manning is driving the Giants down the field. 

4. Will Matt Ryan overcome his woes on the road against what will be a packed house at MetLife? 

Matt Ryan has been virtually unbeatable within the confines of the Georgia Dome posting a 26-4 record. 

Let's just say he's not too excited about the trip down to East Rutherford, New Jersey. His 17-15 career record on the road suggests that climate plays a big factor for the Falcons. They have a .500 winning percentage this season in outdoor games. 

So how big of an affect will playing a road playoff game have on Matt Ryan? 

We will find out come Sunday when the Falcons travel to MetLife to face the Giants

Final Prediction: Giants win 28-24

Eli Manning has had unarguably his best season as an NFL quarterback. In his eighth season as a pro, Manning recorded 4,933 yards passing with 29 touchdowns and a QB rating of 92.9. 

Eli Manning will be the difference maker in this one and will ultimately be too much to handle for the depleted Falcons' secondary. The Giants are red hot, and you can bet that they want another shot at Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers

The New York Giants escape the Wild-Card Round in what will turn out to be a shootout. Tom Coughlin and his team advance after a 28-24 victory against the Falcons. 


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