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NFL Football Prediction: Atlanta Falcons Visit Surging NY Giants

by Aengus Moorehead

NFL Football Prediction: Atlanta Falcons Visit Surging NY Giants

Analysis:
If the New York Giants are to make a run at football supremacy, they should take a refresher course from 2007 when they shocked the world and the then undefeited New England Patriots en route to an improbable Super Bowl victory.That's the mindset the Giants should focus on as they prepare to host the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild card matchup on Sunday.

The Giants have rebounded from a four-game losing streak to win three of their last four, including impressive victories over the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys in the last two weeks to secure the NFC East title. Conversely, the Falcons are looking to purge the memory of last season, when they entered the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed and were promptly shelled by eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay in their postseason opener.

The Giants needed the final regular season game to decide their playoff fate, but earned the conference's fourth seed after handing the division-rival Dallas Cowboys a 31-14 whooping at MetLife Stadium this past Sunday.

New York will face another outstanding team on Sunday, though running back Brandon Jacobs said he "would not want to face the New York Giants in the playoffs right now." Jacobs may be right, since the Giants have been playing lights-out defense and their offense is averaging 28 points per game over the last five weeks.

The Giants also closed out the regular season strong in 2007 before putting together a big run as the NFC's No. 5 seed en route to the franchise's third Super Bowl title.

The Falcons didn't have quite the year they had intended, finishing second in the NFC South with a 10-6 record just one season removed from capturing a division title and earning the NFC's top seed. Atlanta's home-field advantage in the 2010 playoffs was short-lived, however, after it lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers by a 48-21 score in the Divisional Round.

Atlanta sealed up the fifth seed in this year's playoffs with last Sunday's 45-24 win over Tampa Bay, but just couldn't keep up with the New Orleans Saints in its attempt to seize a second NFC South championship in as many years. Streaky play from the defense and ground game nearly prevented Atlanta from capturing a third postseason berth in four years as well, but the ship was finally righted in the past few weeks.

The Falcons notched a playoff spot in back-to-back campaigns for the first time in franchise history, but have yet to win a postseason matchup under the current regime. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have enjoyed four straight winning seasons, and the only thing left is that elusive win in the "second season."

Atlanta, which won eight of its final 11 games to punch its playoff ticket, poses as a tough opponent in this year's postseason and is looking to move on in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the NFC Championship Game back in 2004 under Jim Mora, Jr.

This will be the first-ever postseason encounter between the Falcons and Giants, with the teams having split 20 previous head-to-head bouts in regular- season play. New York has won the last three meetings in the series, the most recent of which was a 34-31 overtime triumph at Giants Stadium in 2009 behind a 384-yard, three-touchdown performance by Eli Manning. The standout quarterback also led New York to road decisions over Atlanta during both the 2006 (27-14) and 2007 (31-10) campaigns, with the Falcons' last victory over the Giants coming via a 14-10 result at the Meadowlands on Nov. 21, 2004. Atlanta is 5-1 in its last six games as the visitor in this set, however.

Tom Coughlin owns a 5-2 career record against the Falcons, having gone 3-1 during his tenure with New York and 2-1 while at the helm of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Smith lost his only lifetime matchup against both the Giants and Coughlin as a head coach with his team's 2009 defeat in New Jersey.

Coughlin is 8-7 overall in postseason games and 4-3 with the Giants in such situations, though New York has lost both of its two playoff tests at home under his direction. The Falcons are winless in two postseason tilts under Smith.

Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, January 8, 2012. MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

Last Week's results:
- Atlanta Falcons (-12) beats visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45-24.
- NY Giants (-3) beats visiting Dallas Cowboys 31-14.

Last week's ATS:
- Favourite Atlanta Falcons (10-6) wins and covers
- Favourite NY Giants (9-7) wins and covers.

NFL Football Odds: Giants -3, O/U 47.5

Team records:
- Atlanta Falcons: 10-6 SU, 7-7-2 ATS
- New York Giants: 9-7 SU, 8-7-1 ATS

Atlanta may not possess the firepower of Green Bay or New Orleans, but it certainly is not lacking for weapons for quarterback Matt Ryan. Roddy White (100 receptions) and rookie Julio Jones (8 TDs) are a dangerous WR tandem and veteran TE Tony Gonzalez had 80 catches on the season. The key for the Falcons, though, will be RB Michael Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns and can play a huge part in slowing New York’s pass rush. Ryan threw for 4,177 yards and 29 touchdowns – both career highs – and was picked off only 12 times. In his last four games, Ryan threw 10 TD passes and zero interceptions.

Manning threw for 29 TD passes and a career-high 4,933 yards. He has uncovered a gem in big-play WR Victor Cruz, who hauled in nine scoring passes for a team-record 1,536 yards. Cruz capped the season by putting up 164 and 178 yards in the last two games, including TD receptions of 99 and 74 yards. The running game continues to struggle, ranking last in the league at 89.2 yards per game, but the defense is hitting its stride. DE Osi Umenyiora returned from a four-game absence to register two of New York’s six sacks against Dallas. The Giants have 11 sacks in the last two games and finished the season with 48.

Some may argue that special teams is not part of the three phases of football, but those doubters and non-believers need only to witness players such as Mel Gray, Brian Mitchell and Devin Hester to realize its importance. Giants reserve wideout Devin Thomas is expected to handle the team's kickoff returns and averaged 24.3 yards per runback on 25 chances his season. Ware can also do the job, but it will be Thomas trying to set up New York's offense in great field position. Cornerback Aaron Ross is the Giants' main punt returner and averaged just 7.1 yards on 14 returns during the regular season.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes made 19-of-24 field goal tries in the regular season and was perfect on all 43 PAT attempts. His longest field goal of the season was a 61-yarder. Punter Steve Weatherford boomed 82 punts for 3,745 yards for an average of 45.7 yards per kick. He recorded just six touchbacks and landed 25 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Atlanta will try to penetrate New York's coverage units on kickoffs with speedster Eric Weems, who averaged 23.5 yards on 24 returns this season. He also handled punt return duties and racked up 315 yards on 32 tries for an average of 9.8 yards per return. Weems had a 102-yard kickoff return for a score against Green Bay in last year's Divisional Round of the playoffs as well. He did not produce any touchdowns this season, but set Ryan and the offense up in healthy field position several times.

Falcons kicker Matt Bryant has one of the strongest legs in the league, though he should be cautious of the winds at the Meadowlands. He made 27-of-29 field goal attempts and his longest of the season was a 51-yard boot. Bryant was also perfect on all 45 of his PAT tries. Rookie Matt Bosher averaged 42.7 yards per punt on 70 attempts in his NFL debut.

Manning set a league record with 15 fourth-quarter TD passes this season.

The Giants have won the last three meetings with the Falcons, including a 34-31 OT victory in 2009.

Atlanta's only losses since Week 3 have come to four division winners: Green Bay, Houston and New Orleans (twice).

NY Giants are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 games when playing at home against Atlanta
NY Giants are 2-4 ATS in their last 6 games when playing Atlanta
NY Giants are 2-4-1 ATS in their last 7 games at home
Atlanta is 5-1 SU in their last 6 games when playing on the road against NY Giants
The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Atlanta's last 7 games when playing NY Giants
The total has gone UNDER in 8 of Atlanta's last 12 games

The Giants and Falcons have never met in the postseason, so this showdown at the Meadowlands should be an interesting one. Atlanta has been playing much better across the offensive line since a slow start and hopes that trend will continue in a do-or-die situation this weekend. Limiting turnovers will be key for both teams, as could New York's success against Atlanta under Coughlin.

It will be nothing new for the Giants to face both a top quarterback and running back on the same day, and the coaching staff is usually prepared for such matters. Coughlin just tied Bill Parcells with his fifth postseason appearance as head coach of the Giants, and Parcells guided the franchise to two Super Bowl titles during his reign while Coughlin begins his quest to match the former by earning another ring. Atlanta should have no trouble moving the football, but stopping the Giants' offense will be an issue. In the end, Manning will show why he was named to the Pro Bowl and his leadership ability will prove to be the deciding factor.

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NFL Football Pick: Take Giants.

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aaron ross - atlanta falcons - brandon jacobs - dallas cowboys - devin hester - devin thomas - eli manning - eric weems - julio jones - lawrence tynes

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