Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants reacts after a sack in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
The race for greatness has begun. Every yard gained, every nick and bruise, every pass defended has come to this. It's a perpetual win or go home situation for every team involved in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. The Giants know this all too well, having had to win their final two games of the season to land themselves a seed in the Wild Card race.
One could make the argument that what a team did last week, or the entire regular season for that matter, has no bearing on what they do in the playoffs. This is true to an extent. However, it was all of those things that each team did that brought them to this point of the season. These things will ultimately make or break them. The time for talk is over. The time to win is now. Welcome to the postseason.
Who are the Atlanta Falcons?
They are a 10-6 team who have succumbed to the Giants the last three times that they played them. Seven of their ten wins come from some of the worst teams in the NFL, including the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have only two notable wins, Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans. Have the Falcons backed their way into the playoffs via an easy schedule? Or do they have what it takes to move on to the Divisional Game?
Who are the New York Giants?
There are teams who get hot and there are teams who get hot at the right time. The Giants seem to be the latter. They put together strings of wins throughout the season, in between strings of losses. Injuries have played a factor in some of the problematic areas this season. Some of the key injured have slowly been making their way back into the active lineup. Tom Coughlin, Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell have found a way to plug up the holes in the lineup, just enough, to get them where they are, the NFC Wildcard Game. With the home field advantage and an "all in" attitude, will the Giants be able to continue to dominate, on both sides of the ball, as they have over the last few weeks?
Matt Ryan is one of ten quarterbacks in the league to have thrown for over 4,000 yards this season. This is his fourth and best season to date. Of the top ten passers in the NFL, Ryan has thrown the third least amount of interceptions. This season, he has proved that he will be one of the top competitors in this league for years to come.
ATT - 566
Comp - 347
YDS - 4,177
Comp % - 61.3
Yds/CMP - 7.4
TDs - 29
INT - 12
Sack - 26
QB Rating - 92.2
Matt Ryan is ranked No. 8 in the league.
The big news this year has been Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino's single season passing record, which has stood for twenty-seven years. 5,084 was the number to beat. Eli Mannning was sixty-seven yards shy of the 5,000 mark and just 151-yards away from the "Marino Mark." It was a personal best for Eli, this year. Starting the season out with an "elite" controversy, Manning slowly and methodically proved that he is easily one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL…and the Giants will need him to continue to prove it throughout the playoffs.
ATT - 589
Comp - 359
YDS - 4,933
Comp % - 61.3
Yds/CMP - 8.4
TDs - 29
INT - 16
Sack - 28
QB Rating - 92.9
Eli Manning is ranked No. 4 in the league.
This is the where the Falcons excel the most. Michael Turner is the third-ranked running back throughout the NFL. He has run for 100+ yards six different games this year. The Falcons won five of those six games. Aside from last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he ran for an astounding 172-yards, his running game has seen a serious decline In the five-weeks before the final game of the season, he averaged 3.3 yards per carry, with only one rushing touchdown. Perhaps he is still suffering from a groin injury. But it is clear that he can be contained.
Atlanta is ranked 17th in rushing.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been running with a bit more fire over the past few weeks. But they still haven't done much to turn any heads in the league. They certainly haven't helped move the team out of the basement in rushing and remain at the bottom of the barrel. But you still have to love Jacobs for his colorful postgame rhetoric about Rex Ryan.
New York is STILL ranked 32nd in rushing.
Another explosive area for the Birds. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez make up this marquis ensemble. White is ranked eighth in the league in receiving yards. Tony Gonzalez, now in his 15th season, broke the NFL record for most catches by a tight end this year. Jones is a first-round draft pick that was just forty-one yards shy of the 1,000 yard reception mark. These guys are a secondary's nightmare.
The Falcons are ranked 8th in receiving.
Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks - what more needs to be said? Well, Jake Ballard averages the most yards per catch of all the tights ends in the NFL with ten or more receptions. Travis Beckum, who has five receptions, averages the fourth most. Ballard, is set to practice this week and might make it into the Wild card game this coming Sunday. The Giants have a wealth of talent in their receiving corps, including Mario Manningham. While the opposition focuses on the main receiving threats, Eli Manning has been able to find those that they overlook. Look for big numbers this Sunday.
The Giants are ranked 5th in receiving.
Atlanta's O-line are a solid bunch. There is a good mix of veteran and young player on this line. Even though they stand up well and make holes for the running game, they give up far too many hits on Matt Ryan, sixth most in the NFL to be exact. They are strongest on their right side.
Atlanta's Offensive Line is ranked 6th in the league.
The Giants have maintained a steady ranking, considering the injuries that they have had to contend with. They do achieve their primary goal quite well for the most part. That, of course, is to protect Eli Manning. Manning is one of the least sacked and hit quarterbacks in the league. The many variations of this line, throughout the year, seem to be coming together more as the season progresses. This is the perfect time for them to gel in this manner.
New York's Offensive Line is ranked 7th in the league.
The Atlanta Falcons Offense is ranked NO. 10.
The New York Giants Offense is ranked NO. 8.
Curtis Lofton and Sean Witherspoon make this bunch of backs a dangerous group. Lofton is ranked fifth in tackling (147 combined). Their sack numbers won't send chills down your spine. Witherspoon is the team's leading sack man of these backs, four on the year. But they play the line well and have a knack for batting down passes.
The Giants have struggled in this area for the better part of the year. However, in the recent weeks, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley have been coming on strong. Jacquian Williams has also been showing signs of improvement. Mark Herzlich may be seeing action this week, after having been out the last five weeks with an ankle injury.
John Abraham, now in his twelfth-season, leads this defensive line. He is quite capable of getting to the quarterback. His 9.5 sacks are certainly a good indication of that. However, he is also quite adept at stripping the ball, four forced fumbles on the year. Ray Edwards locks things down on the other end of the field and is also a decent pass rusher. Together, they make a pretty solid wall against the run.
The Falcons have the 6th ranked rush defense.
You down wit' JPP? Who isn't? Jason Pierre-Paul has been explosive all year long. Filling in for an injured Osi Umenyiora, JPP has been more than just an adequate fill-in. He just might have earned himself the starting job next season. Add into the mix Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph and Chris Canty and you have one helluva defensive line. They haven't been particularly effective stopping the run, for most of the year. But they have been steadily moving up the stat ladder over the last few weeks.
The Giants have the 19th ranked rush defense (up from 23rd last week).
This is where the Falcons are lacking. They have given up the third-most 40+ yard and fifth-most 20+ yard plays in the league. Thomas DeCoud, the free-safety, leads the secondary in tackles. He has six pass deflections and four interceptions. William Moore, the short-safety, has fifty-four tackles, nine pass deflections, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a half sack. Their corners, Dominique Franks and Dunta Robinson also have a keen eye for the ball, with a combined fourteen deflected passes. Let's keep in mind who they have gone up against this year.
Atlanta's pass defense is ranked 20th.
This is, quite possibly, the weakest area of the Big Blue defense. Despite having a relatively good game last week, for this secondary, they find themselves down two notches in the stat sheet this week. With a pass heavy league and a playoff race full of high flying aerial attack teams, the Giants secondary are going to have to pull it together and quick. They will have their work cut out for them this week. If they can make it to the Divisional Game and beyond, they will have to go up against some familiar opponents who would like nothing more than to exploit this secondary for what it is.
New York's pass defense is ranked 29th (down from 27th last week).
Matt Bosher, the Falcons' punter, may not have the strongest leg in the league. But one thing he does well is get the ball inside the twenty. He ranked tenth in this area. Matt Bryant has a ninety-three percent average on his field goals. He is second to Shayne Graham, who only kicked two field goals this year, making both through the uprights. Eric Weems is their best return man, with a long of thirty-seven yards on kick returns and forty-two yards on punt returns. The Falcons are ranked 18th in kick returns.
Steve Weatherford has been making his way up the stat sheet, ranking thirteenth with puns inside the twenty yard line. Lawrence Tynes, a solid performer, has attempted the third-least amount of field goals where a kicker has attempted fifteen or more field goals. Special teams was a Greek tragedy last season. They have been able to put together some big plays, including a game winning blocked field goal by JPP. Their kick return game is ranked 20th in the league.
The Atlanta Falcons defense is ranked 12th.
The New York Giants defense is ranked 27th (up from 29th last week).
The Wild-Card Round is usually filled with a team or two that have no business in the playoffs. Last year, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks miraculously made their way in to the Wild-Card Round, ultimately losing to the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Game.
The Giants, who faced most of the teams who have a Bye-Week and are awaiting the winners of the Wild-Card rounds, could be considered this year's Seahawks. I would like to think that the Denver Broncos have that title this year. The Falcons, who have had one of the lighter schedules this year, leave room for questions as well. Would they still be here had they been stuck with the Giants schedule this year? We can speculate until we are Blue in the face. No matter who they are, no matter how they got here, each team is responsible for bringing their "A" game. It's win or go home. Who's "all in?"