By Paul Dottino
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Revenge? Are you kidding me?
San Francisco and Green Bay were supposed to be riding that wave after the Giants eliminated them from the playoffs last season, but somehow their emotions did not help them this year — the Giants hammered both teams. So are we expected to believe that the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants’ remaining victim from the 2012 NFC playoffs, are going to turn the tables where the others have failed?
Of course not, at least not because of any revenge factor — if Atlanta wins it will be because they played sound, fundamental football and the Giants got sloppy.
The Falcons changed both of their coordinators during the off-season — they’ve become more pass-oriented, although a bit more patient on offense — and they have the advantage of playing at home this time: They are 32-6 at the Georgia Dome since QB Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, including their current 10-game home winning streak (6-0 this season).
Atlanta (11-2) has clinched the NFC South and have a magic number of two to clinch the top seed in the conference, something that would greatly enhance their postseason potential.
Another dramatic stat: the Falcons also are built to play with a lead under coach Mike Smith — they are 42-2 when leading at the half and 12-21 when trailing at the break.
The Giants (8-5) have won two of their last three but still only hold a one-game lead over Washington and Dallas in the NFC East.
Let’s get to this week’s three key matchups:
1. Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Giants CBs Corey Webster and Jayron Hosley. Starting CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring) hasn’t practiced this week, leaving Hosley to start. It’s logical for the Giants to plaster Webster on the taller Julio Jones and Hosley on Roddy White (knee) – that would leave either S Antrel Rolle or S Will Hill or LB Jacquian Williams to take on ageless TE Tony Gonzalez.
The trouble is Ryan’s so accurate that blanket coverage doesn’t always prevent a completion. Ryan’s hit on 68 percent of this throws (third in the NFL) for 3,932 yards (third) with 24 TDs (seventh) and 14 interceptions (tied for sixth). He’s very patient and doesn’t play favorites – the Falcons lead the league with 12 100-yard receiving games (six for White, four for Jones, two for Gonzalez).
The Giants would be advised to force Ryan to play from behind so that he’s got to drop back behind a bit of a shaky offensive line more than he’d like (24 sacks). Ryan has thrown at least three TD passes in five games this season – do not allow him to get into a rhythm.
2. Giants RB David Wilson vs. Falcons LOLB Stephen Nicholas and ROLB Sean Weatherspoon. RB Ahmad Bradshaw’s sore knee and foot likely will prompt coach Tom Coughlin to give the bulk of the carries to Wilson.
The rookie is coming off a spectacular performance against the Saints and will have to find room around Nicholas’ side, where opponents are running for nearly 6 yards per carry in contract to the 2 yards per carry gained when running around Weatherspoon.
Atlanta is ranked 23rd against the run (127 avg.), so the Giants can take some of the pressure off themselves by controlling the clock.
3. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Falcons CBs Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. These veterans have seen their better days, but they still can burn you because they love to gamble in order to make a big play.
Manning must make good decisions and be accurate with the ball. Samuel (battling a shoulder injury) likely will draw WR Hakeem Nicks and Robinson gets Victor Cruz. Ryan is good enough, despite throwing only four TD passes and seven INTs over his last four games, that he can outgun Manning, especially if given extra possessions. A negative turnover ratio almost certainly would result in a loss due to the Falcons’ efficiency in their building.
Prediction: Giants 31, Falcons 27
Prediction vs. the spread: 5-7-1
What’s your prediction for Giants-Falcons? Sound off in the comments!