Let's take a look at what we should expect from both teams tonight in the Atlanta.
New York has an identity right now as it looks to win its fourth straight game. The Falcons, meanwhile, have had more adversity than any team deserves -- from Michael Vick to the injuries to the offensive line to fining DeAngelo Hall $100,000. Some people feel first-year head coach Bobby Petrino is barely keeping the locker room together, but there's no reason to think Atlanta will not come out and give the kind of effort the Bills gave last week on MNF.
Joey Harrington has to make a few down-the-field plays and Warrick Dunn needs an old-time performance. Too much to ask? The Giants need to be sharp and aggressive from the start and that is not how they always come out and play.
If you like the Giants…
- The Giants defense shares the NFL lead with 17 sacks.
- The Giants have allowed 14.6 points per game during their current three-game winning streak.
- The Giants average 25 points a game this season and the Falcons average 14 a game.
- Running backs Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward have combined for 535 yards rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
- Atlanta has the worst red-zone offense in the NFL.
If you like the Falcons…
- The Falcons have a plus-2 turnover ratio, the Giants are minus-1.
1. Atlanta LT Renardo Foster vs. Giants DE Osi Umenyiora: Foster, a rookie, is getting his first start against one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The last time Umenyiora faced a rookie tackle was against the Eagles when he had six sacks. Harrington is a stationary target and the Falcons should throw it close to 33 times, which means lots of hits, hurries and sacks.
3. Atlanta DT Rod Coleman vs. Giants G Rich Seubert: Coleman looks to be back from an injury for the first time this season. The Falcons need his inside speed to disrupt the pocket and make Eli Manning move around. Coleman is a former double-digit sack guy and the Birds need to see some of that old firepower. Seubert is underrated and will battle Coleman, who may fatigue as this game heads into the second half. Don't be surprised to see the Giants run right at him early in the game with big Brandon Jacobs.
4. Atlanta CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Giants WR Plaxico Burress: Burress apparently doesn't need to practice to find the end zone. No one in the NFLC has more touchdown catches (7) than Burress. Only Randy Moss (8) has more, and that's in one more game. A poor tackle attempt at any time during the game will end up in six points for Burress. The other Giants receivers are good enough that Hall will go alone most of the time. I like Burress for six receptions and a TD in this game.
5. Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler vs. Giants S James Butler: Crumpler is picking up his play in recent weeks but still has four tight ends ahead of him in the NFC in receptions and yardage. Butler, a first-year starter, doesn't have to worry about Crumpler as a deep threat but he may get a few lessons in the underneath routes, as well as a push-off or two. With the kind of pressure the Giant defense can apply, Harrington will look to quickly dump the ball to Crumpler. The veteran TE will get his receptions but the yardage will be less than needed for a big night.
When the Giants have the ball
The Giants have a dual threat in the backfield to establish a solid running game against the 21st-ranked run defense. Jacobs is still a liability to hold onto the ball, but he can really pound it between the tackles. Middle linebacker Keith Brookings is ailing -- if he plays, he will be tested by the 260-pound runner. Ward is more of a Tiki Barber type who runs the ball outside well; he is also the second-leading receiver on the team. Ward averages 21 touches a game for 106 yards. He will make a big play before this game is over.
The Falcons outside pass rushers, John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson, will collapse the pocket and make Manning move around. A few early screens toward Abraham would be a good idea to slow down the speed rusher. Last week, Manning was two different quarterbacks. In the first half, he had a ZERO rating and looked like a guy who should be benched. He came out in the second half and looked like a guy bound for the Super Bowl. On paper the Falcons look like they play the pass fairly well, but Manning has so many weapons in the passing game and is only being sacked once every 31 passes. The Giants have scored 24 or more points in three of their five games this season and 27 points in this game is not out of the question.
When the Falcons have the ball
The Falcons benched Harrington last week but he returns to the starting lineup on Monday. There are a few at Flowery Branch who are starting to think it may be time to switch the touches for the top two running backs. Dunn is getting 18 touches while Jerious Norwood is averaging nine touches. A game like this should tip the scales to Norwood. The Giants are heavy into using the fire zone blitz package and, because of rookie CB Aaron Ross, some pure man looks. The Falcon tackles can't block the Giant ends without help and that leaves little or no answer for blocking Mathias Kiwanuka. The Giants will play to the short passing attack after the Falcons QBs combined for 115 yards through the air last week.
Roddy White can be a good vertical threat receiver and Atlanta needs to go up top a few times in the first quarter to loosen up the New York defense. Atlanta's third-down offense will be tested because the Giants are the fourth-ranked defense in yards per rush. With both starting tackles out for the Falcons there probably will be more third-and-long situations than third-and-shorts.
The NFC race for playoff spots is wide open and the Giants are starting to play like a real contender. When I look at matchups, the first question is, Which team has the best quarterback? The Giants win that point. Next, Which team has the better defense? Again, I'll take the Giants -- but it's close if Rod Coleman and Keith Brookings can go for the Birds. The third criteria is, Which team has the most playmakers? The Giants have the Falcons beat with Burress, Shockey, Ross, and the defensive line. It will be a close game, but I'll take the Giants by more than a field goal.