Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants-Falcons Playoff Preview
Well. It wasn't pretty, but after everything that was the New York Giants' 2011 season, they emerge NFC East Championships and will stand opposite the Atlanta Falcons in this weekend's opening of the NFL playoffs.
Sometimes, I really love the English language. I may think it's ridiculous that "through" is spelled with "gh", or that "colonel" has not a single "r", but with such a vast array of adjectives, there has never been a situation beyond explanation. And while it may have tested the bounds of my thesaurus, the language of Shakespeare came through again. Surprising, disappointing, encouraging, depressing, triumphant, infuriating, inconsistent, annoyingly consistent. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2011 New York Giants. While a few of you out there may be scratching your heads, I think each of those is a perfect explanation for this Giant team. Let's be honest, no one out there thought that the G-Men were going to win the NFC East after losing all of the pieces they did - stop lying, you picked the Eagles. That, combined with the emergence of guys like Victor Cruz, and big wins over the Patriots, Cowboys and Jets, mean that to me this season has been surprising, encouraging and triumphant. But in an additional, more humbling bit of honesty: This Giant team showed a lot more than a 9-7 record and a dogfight win in a down NFC East. At they're best, they're better than that. The problem is that the Giants are only at their best when they're playing the best. All other times, they're at a decent high school team's best, hence the disappointing losses to the Seahawks and Redskins, and the very much earned tags of disappointing, depressing, infuriating and inconsistent. As for annoyingly consistent? Well, the Giants do this crap so often I think we all saw those losses coming - hence annoyingly consistent.
And with all of that said, the Giants ended the regular season playing, unequivocally, their best football of the year. If there is something to be said for having momentum heading into the playoffs, we'll find out what, because the Giants have it. Perry Fewell's strategy of saving up an entire season's worth of defense for the last two games worked perfectly. The defensive line came alive against the Jets and Cowboys - finally showcasing their talent and finally being the force that they have to be for the Giants to win. Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and company continued to be the forces that they had been all season, and the Giants enter the playoffs winners of two straight and finally looking like a team that could get on a run and be dangerous, both to other teams - I wouldn't want to play this Giant team with an on-game pass rush, and to their fans - they've lifted our hopes just high enough that an early exit from the playoffs would lead to the dark, bitter winter we had all hoped to avoid.
They'll try and stave off such disappointment against the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons. Winners of a wildcard spot in these playoffs, the Falcons have been a bit of an enigma all season. Two twenty plus point wins over the Jaguars and the all-quit Bucs are their only really impressive wins, though home losses to those same Bucs and a T.J. Yates-led Texans squad are enough shake any man's confidence. They may be the only team to have 45 points scored on them, then score 45 the following week - back to back games with the Saints and Bucs. As such, the Falcons enter the playoffs an under-the radar team whom, despite starting an AARP member at tight end, boast the tenth best offense in the league, 8th in passing.
It's for that reason that any Giants win will, as always, have to start with a great pass rush. As became abundantly and oh-so dishearteningly clear as the season went on - and as I've said the past I don't know how many weeks, but if I drank what would certainly be more bottles of Jack then I'd care to admit ago - the Giants can't cover anyone. Sure, they can occasionally get confused with a scheme and end up in the right spot, but the secondary can not be relied on for consistent help. What they can do is give the defensive line enough time to put Falcon QB Matt Ryan on his back, or close enough to his back that any pass won't get within ten yards of a receiver. The Falcons can run the ball with Michael Turner, but I see them going at the Giants secondary early and often in this game. Offensively, the golden arm of Eli Manning will have to be Tom Coughlin's golden goose - you know, without the laying an egg part...which I guess is the whole reason you have a golden goose...I've gone 17 weeks people, I'm running out of metaphors. The Falcons have a tough run defense, but are in the bottom half of the league against the pass. Such statistics won't do a lot to move Kevin Gilbride away from the "I refuse to make defenses honor the run" pledge that he and Brian Shottenheimer took. This is Eli Manning's game to win.
As for the game: I've got to be honest, folks. I usually enter these games with a real and definite idea of what is going to happen. Sure, I may think that the Giants are going to beat the Saints 28-24 and then watch them get crushed 138-7 (that's how I remember it) but I truly believed going into the game that they'd win. This week, I haven't a clue. Sure, I could spend a few more paragraphs waxing poetic - as I'm so prone to do - on match ups, or statistics, but we're all busy here. I'll just say this: If the Giants play on Sunday like they played against the Jets and the Cowboys, I have a hard time seeing them getting beat. I call for a 27-20 Giants win.
Check back here following the game for my recap - hopefully not the season recap - and as always, Go Giants!