The Giants are three-point favorites to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in their playoff opener on Jan. 8 (1 p.m., FOX) at MetLife Stadium, but Big Blue isn’t taking anything for granted in their matchup with the Wild Card winner from the NFC South.
“Atlanta’s a great team,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle told Mark Hale of the New York Post. “They’re a hard-working team and they’re a fighting team. The coaches do a good job as far as their play calling and they do a good job of playing together and rallying as a team. We’re definitely going to have our hands full but nothing that we’re not up to.”
Indeed, the Giants survived a tough end-of-season schedule and a midyear four-game losing streak to earn the NFC East crown, with critical wins against the Jets and Cowboys the last two weeks to end the regular campaign with a 9-7 record.
The Falcons were 10-6 and are “one of the most balanced teams in the league,” according to SB Nation Editor Joel Thorman.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has had an impressive season. He has accumulated 4,071 passing yards and thrown 27 TD passes. His three main targets — Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and rookie Julio Jones — have totaled 96, 79 and 50 receptions, respectively.
“The toughest part for us is going to be making sure we’re in the right spots,” Mathias Kiwanuka, Ryan’s teammate at Boston College, told the Post, “because that ball comes out hot and quick.”
The Falcons’ ground game is led by running back Michael Turner, who has amassed 1,168 yards on the ground.
SB Nation Atlanta points out that the Giants’ defense ranks 19th in the league, but that doesn’t take into account the injuries that plagued them much of the season. Most of the key pieces — captain Justin Tuck, defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Kiwanuka, to name a few — were together again for the 31-14 victory over the Cowboys in the finale.
Meanwhile, the Giants’ Eli Manning — which SB Nation called a “capable-if-flaky” quarterback — passed for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, with Victor Cruz his main target, with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and lots of clutch plays. Hakeem Nicks, with 76 catches for 1,192 yards, is another key weapon.
They will be facing a Falcon defense ranked 12th in the NFL, surrendering 21.9 points per game.
“We’ve got to break ’em down on film,” Nicks told the Post. “We haven’t seen ’em this year.”
The Falcons will be making their third playoff appearance in the last four years, while the Giants — who won the Super Bowl after the 2007 season — reached the post season for the first time in three years.
“The last couple of weeks, it’s basically been win or go home,’’ Giants general manager Jerry Reese told Brian Lewis of the Post. “You can call it the playoffs if you want to. Now it’s the real playoffs. We’re raring to go.’’
— JOE GREENE, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM