NFL playoffs: Giants face tough test vs. Falcons' experienced team
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants are only four years removed from their last Super Bowl victory, and they have nothing on the Atlanta Falcons in terms of postseason experience.
The Giants (9-7) will be the novices today when they host the Falcons (10-6) in an NFC wild-card game at MetLife Stadium.
New York is returning to the postseason after a two-year absence that put coach Tom Coughlin's job in jeopardy, while the Falcons will be appearing in the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four seasons.
The Falcons' experience may not mean much, considering quarterback Matt Ryan has failed to lead the team to a win. The Falcons were the conference's No. 1 seed for the playoffs last year, and were blown out by the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers in the NFC semifinals.
"Yeah, it's about time we won," Falcons receiver Roddy White said. "This is our third time in the playoffs in four years. It's about time we get a 'W.' We've been lacking in that case and everyone wants to win really, really bad. We want to get that first win out of the way and after that you just take them one by one."
Eli Manning and the Giants enter the playoffs with momentum after an inconsistent season. They have won three of four, beating Dallas on the final weekend of the regular season to win the NFC East title.
The late run has many making comparisons to the 2007 title sprint. New York gained confidence late by pushing then-undefeated New England in the last game of the season and rode it to four straight playoff road wins, capped by the upset of Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl.
The other similarity is the Giants' pass rush has gone to another level, recording 11 sacks in the last two games.
Manning, who was the Super Bowl MVP, agrees some of the core group is left from the franchise's third championship team.
"That's probably all we want to get into at that point," said Manning, who threw for a career-best 4,933 yards this season. "We have a lot of guys that weren't there. We have a lot of guys on this team that haven't been in the playoffs before. It's a new year. We have different players. It's a new team. It's a new environment. We know what's ahead of us and we can't start looking too far up there. We have Atlanta this week. We're just getting ready to play this game and go out there and have a great game plan and play our best."
The defensive key for the Giants will be slowing running back Michael Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards. If the Falcons can run the ball, that will neutralize All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of New York's fierce pass rush and allow Ryan to attack a secondary that has given up 4,082 yards passing.
White is Ryan's top target, catching an NFC-leading 100 passes for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns. Rookie Julio Jones is the deep threat with eight TDs, while Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez had another outstanding season with 80 catches.
"I think we match up pretty well," White said. "They've given up 71 explosive plays, so we've got to go up there and get some. That's what we're looking to do and exploit those guys in different aspects with mismatches."
While ranked last in the NFL rushing, the Giants' running game has shown progress the past month, posting 100-yard games in their three wins.
If Atlanta and its speedy defense can shut down running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, it will be up to Manning to make things happen. He likely will look to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, who combined for 16 TD receptions. Cruz had a team-record 1,536 yards receiving, while Nicks had 1,192.
Tight end Jake Ballard also is expected back in the lineup after missing two games with a knee injury.
Defensive end John Abraham said the Falcons need to get pressure on Manning.
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