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2012 Wild Card Preview: Atlanta vs New York

This is the third of four posts this week examining the Wild Card matchups in the NFL Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for the final preview:

Sunday’s Wild Card games get going when the Atlanta Falcons head up to New York to take on the Giants at 1 pm ET on FOX. The Giants ended the year with a huge win-or-go-home victory over the Dallas Cowboys to the NFC East and earn a playoff spot while the Falcons have won five of their past seven, with their only losses coming at New Orleans and at Houston. However, they haven’t beaten anyone that good in that stretch either. The teams did not face each other during the regular season so both will be preparing using lots of video team instead of analyzing a previous meeting. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Offense: Eli Manning has had a much better season than experts have given him credit for. He threw for just under 5000 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The interceptions number is a bit high, but he’s had one of his best years this season and has come through in pressure situations. The emergence of star wide receiver Victor Cruz has helped Manning tremendously as well. Neither Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs were particularly adept at running the ball this year (the Giants as a team were dead last in the NFL in yards per carry) so the onus will on Eli Sunday to lead his team to victory.

For Atlanta, quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner offer the Falcons a two-headed offense that can beat both through the air and on the ground. Ryan through for over 4000 yards and 29 touchdowns and threw just 12 picks while Turner rushed for 1340 yards and 11 touchdowns himself. The Falcons will show the Giants a couple of different looks and have the luxury of attacking New York’s secondary or trying to wear down its defensive through a hard-nosed running game.

Defense: Defensively, the Falcons are better than the Giants both in the air and on the ground, giving up fewer yards per carry/pass attempt than New York does. The teams forced a similar number of turnovers this year with New York having a slight advantage, 31-29. However, the Giants have pressured opposing quarterbacks much better than Atlanta has this year, registering 48 sacks on the year while the Falcons have just 33. If New York can put Ryan under pressure throughout the game, it will force him into off-balance throws where he has struggled.

Special Teams: The Giants and Falcons have similar special teams when it comes to returning kickoffs and punts – both are mediocre at each with the Falcons holding a slight advantage in kick off returns. However, the real difference in special teams comes in the field goals units where Atlanta is tops in the NFL, having made 93.1% of their field goal attempts including five of seven from between 40 and 49 yards and two for two from 50 yards or more. The Giants, on the other hand, made just 79.2% of their field goal attempts and were just three of five from 40 to 49 yards and one of three from 50+ yards.

Overall: The Falcons won more games this year than the Giants did and played in a tougher division, but due to the Wild Card rules, New York has the home field advantage. Manning is a slightly better quarterback than Ryan but Atlanta’s running game is far better than the Giants’ and their defense is better as well. Nevertheless, the Giants’ momentum from last week’s big win and the home field advantage should keep this game close. It could easily come down to a field goal and that gives the Falcons the advantage:

Atlanta 27, New York 24

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