The NFC wild card matchups pit the surging New York Giants against the Atlanta Falcons, and on Sunday Eli Manning will look to continue the performances he put in the previous two weekends. As Mark Maske wrote:
Sunday, 1 p.m., MetLife Stadium, FOX (WTTG-5)
How the Falcons can win… The Falcons are a relatively balanced team, at least by the standards of some of this year’s top playoff contenders. They ranked 10th in the league in total offense and 12th in total defense during the regular season. The Atlanta defense ranked sixth against the run, and seems likely to shut down a Giants’ running game, which struggled all year. The Falcons rediscovered RB Michael Turner when he ran for 172 yards Sunday, and QB Matt Ryan has the receivers — in WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez — to exploit the Giants’ 29th-ranked pass defense.
How the Giants can win… The Giants enter the playoffs feeling good about themselves after beating the Jets and Cowboys on the final two weekends of the regular season to win the NFC East. They get to play at MetLife Stadium again, and they’re talking about re-creating the magic of their postseason run to a Super Bowl title after the 2007 season. QB Eli Manning has been one of the league’s most dependable players all season, leading the Giants to five victories with fourth-quarter comebacks. The defense played well against the Cowboys, sacking QB Tony Romo six times. DE Jason Pierre-Paul has become the most disruptive of the Giants’ pass rushers; he had 16-1/2 sacks during the regular season.
Giants DE Justin Tuck took a shot at the Falcons this week, calling their offensive linemen ‘dirtbags,’ a comment that should certainly liven up the trench battle on Sunday. As Matt Brooks explained:
The NFL playoffs don’t truly begin until the trash talking commences.
“We know they have that quote-unquote reputation,” Tuck said. “But in a way it is kind of exciting. Most people, you would call them dirtbags. But it is what it is.”
There was a time when the Falcons embraced the nickname “Dirty Birds,” but “Dirtbags” has a slightly different connotation.
Tuck stressed the word “most” in his comments when asked about the remarks on ESPN’s “NFL32” on Tuesday night — even invoking the third-person.
In the other NFC matchup, the New Orleans Saints host the Detroit Lions in the Superdone, where the Saints are unbeaten this year. As Mark Maske wrote:
Saturday, 8 p.m., Superdome, NBC (WRC-4)
How the Lions can win… Detroit has a chance because of its offensive firepower with QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson. Stafford joined the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Patriots’ Tom Brady in topping 5,000 passing yards during the regular season, getting there with a 520-yard performance in Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Johnson led the league in receiving yards. The Lions will be familiar with the environment, having lost at New Orleans in early December. But they certainly need their defense to play better than it did Sunday at Lambeau Field when the Lions lost to the Packers, 45-41. Detroit had no answers for Green Bay’s backup QB Matt Flynn, who threw for 480 yards and six TDs. The Lions will need a few stops against Brees and the Saints.