Though the Giants certainly took an unconventional route to post-season play, yet again Eli Manning has his inconsistent G-Men playing football into the New Year. Disappointing losses to the Redskins, and Seahawks were thought to have derailed New York’s season at times, but a late push in the final month has rescued the Giants and vaulted them into a wild-card tilt against the red-hot Atlanta Falcons.
Eli Manning quietly put on quite the impressive season for New York, escaping the harsh waves of criticism which always seem to accompany the quarterback. At the moment, he is on fire connecting with his receivers, and their passing game will need to continue to be in-form in order to set up a coveted date with the Green Bay Packers in the next round. For Atlanta, since struggling in the early portion of this season, their squad has heated up when necessary, entering the post-season at a 3-1 pace, with their only slip-up being to the Saints in the Superdome.
Both teams enter the playoffs relatively unscathed in terms of major injuries, as it seems the Giants and Falcons got healthy at the right time. However, one question mark is key cornerback for Atlanta, Brent Grimes, who has been hampered by a knee injury and has missed four of the past five contests. Grimes is officially listed as questionable and should be good to go for Sunday afternoon, but his absence would mean huge trouble for a vulnerable Falcons’ secondary forced to deal with the skill of the Giants’ receivers.
Falcons at Giants Spread, Line, and Betting Odds:
Atlanta Falcons +3 (-115)
@ New York Giants -3 (-105)
Over 47.5 (-110)
Under 47.5 (-110)
Falcons at Giants Pick:
While I do contend that Atlanta is the better side on a neutral field, this is a Falcons squad that has struggled mightily at times when on the road when forced into hostile situations. Led by their emerging quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have been abysmal on away from home, only going 2-3 in their outdoor contests away from the Georgia Dome. In fact, over Ryan’s career the former Boston College product boasts a mediocre 17-15 record, with 46 touchdowns and 29 picks. Contrast those figures with his home numbers, and you see quite the disparity as Ryan is 26-4 overall with a 49-17 touchdown to interception ratio. Add in the fact that this is just the second time the Falcons have played outside since Week 4 of the NFL season, and their man behind center could be awfully uncomfortable Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Moreover, Ryan’s struggles should be compounded by the fact that he is one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league at escaping trouble in the pocket. Going up against a relentless and ferocious pass rush such as the one the Giants employ could be a disaster for Atlanta. Currently led by Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and the now healthy Osi Umenyiora, the Giants have been lethal at getting to the quarterback, making offensive linemen look foolish in their recent match-ups. This New York unit boasts 11 sacks and a forced fumble over their past two games, and against a horrible Falcons’ offensive line will hurry Ryan before he can have the opportunity to exploit the Giants’ porous secondary.
Look for the Giants defense to feed off a noisy crowd Sunday at the Meadowlands. The hostile atmosphere should be one that makes the young Ryan uncomfortable, and the rush of New York won’t give him much time to hit his key targets Julio Jones and Roddy White. Conversely, look for Manning to continue his fine form and utilize arguably the game’s top receiver at the moment in Victor Cruz. Cruz has been simply dominant of late, currently standing to shatter all sorts of receiving records. If Grimes does in fact sit out for Atlanta, their fading pass defense could be in for a long day with the return of Jake Ballard to help the likes of Cruz, Nicks, and Manningham.
Though the Falcons come into this contest looking like the superior team, they will not be able to employ their game-plan in the unfriendly environment that awaits them in the Meadowlands. Ryan will be pressured, and knocked down all game long, likely resulting in a few turnovers going the other way. Expect Manning to hurt Atlanta through the air, prompting another round of Victor Cruz salsa dancing all the way to Lambeau Field next week to take on the Packers.