2012 NFC Wildcard Round
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
New York Giants (9-7)
Eli Manning will try to lead New York to their first playoff win since Super Bowl XLII
Here’s all you need to know about the insanity of the 2011 season. Eli Manning threw for 4,933 passing yards this season. That’s good enough for sixth best of all time, but it doesn’t even get him top 3 in 2011. Manning had a great year as he and his receivers had to carry the offense due to the Giants’ remarkable ineffectiveness at running the ball. As a team, they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, worst in the NFL. Atlanta also has the advantage on defense, in my opinion, so a lot of weight rests on Eli’s shoulders.
Mitchell: Ray Edwards
The Falcons gave Ray Edwards a five-year contract this offseason to come in and make an impact in the pass rush. In his first season in Atlanta, he has been a colossal bust. He finished the season with 3.5 sacks, his lowest sack total since his rookie season in Minnesota. The Falcons secondary has struggled this season, and part of that can be contributed to not being able to get a consistent pass rush. They need Ray Edwards to play like the player they signed him to be during the offseason, and put some pressure on Eli Manning to keep him from having all day to find receivers such as Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks open.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE: Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Will Svitek
Ford: In 2011, Jason Pierre-Paul established himself as one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league. Pierre-Paul tallied 16.5 sacks and was named first team All-Pro. As a unit, the Falcons offensive line did well in protecting Matt Ryan, allowing just 26 sacks, 6th lowest in the league. The last time Svitek faced a pass-rusher of Pierre-Paul’s caliber was in week 12, when he held Minnesota’s Jared Allen sackless. Shutting out Pierre-Paul would really improve Atlanta’s chances of winning at the Meadowlands.
X-FACTOR: The Falcons Offensive Line
Mitchell: This game is going to come down to how the Atlanta offensive line plays. The Giants have one of the top pass rushes in the NFL, ranking 3rd in the NFL with 48 sacks led by Jason Pierre-Paul’s 16.5. Atlanta’s offensive line ranks 6th in the NFL in sacks allowed, only allowing 26 on the season. Part of that can be attributed to the Falcons playing an up-tempo offense at times as Matt Ryan has been hit 84 times, which is 7th worst in the NFL. If Ryan is given a steady pocket, then he should be able to find his big play wide receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones. If not, then it’s going to be a long day at the Meadowlands for the Falcons.
Can Matt Ryan finally lead the Falcons to a playoff win?
Ford: While I think Atlanta has an advantage in most areas, the Giants are at home and have an advantage at the most important position, quarterback. While Matt Ryan was impressive this year, he’s still much better at home than he is on the road, where he becomes just an average quarterback. It’s also worth noting than in his two career playoff starts, both losses, he has thrown four total interceptions. I trust Eli to win a close game at home. PICK: Giants 27, Falcons 24
Mitchell: The Falcons remember the sour taste left in their mouths from last season’s divisional round blowout loss to the Packers, and they are looking forward to another opportunity at getting a playoff win. If the Atlanta offensive line can hold up against New York’s ferocious pass rush, then Matt Ryan should be able to pick apart the 29th ranked pass defense in the NFL. The Giants are better against the run, but still rank only 19th in the NFL, and should have their hands full stopping Michael Turner. It should be close, but I like the Falcons to get the win on the road. PICK: Falcons 30, Giants 24