QB JIM KELLY:
He is playing at his peak, having completed 69 percent of his passes for 639 yards and five touchdowns in two playoff games. Over his last five starts, Kelly has used the Bills' no-huddle offense to complete 66 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and an average of 270 yards per game. He can throw long, but his ability to find secondary receivers was a main reason Buffalo was the NFL's highest-scoring team (26.8 points per game).
RB THURMAN THOMAS:
Perhaps the top all-purpose back in football, he has helped Bills burn defenses that concentrate on taking away Buffalo's long-pass offense. He averaged 114 yards per game with a total of 1,297 yards rushing (4.8 per carry) and 532 receiving on 49 catches. The Giants did a good job on Thomas in Buffalo's 17-13 win on Dec. 15 (60 yards on 21 carries).
WR JAMES LOFTON:
Andre Reed (71 catches, eight TDs) has drawn so much attention lately (only six postseason catches) that Lofton, 34, has become one of Buffalo's chief weapons. In the regular season, he caught 35 passes. In two playoff games, he has caught 12 (22.8 yards per catch).
RDE BRUCE SMITH:
The NFL defensive player of the year (19 sacks) gets the ultimate forum to prove his claim that he's the league's dominant player on defense. The Bills will be intent on shaking up Giants QB Jeff Hostetler, and if Smith can get through early, it could provide the rattle Buffalo seeks. But he will have to beat New York's 6-foot-6, 305-pound LT John Elliott in what should be one of the game's most fearsome matchups.
ROLB DARRYL TALLEY:
If the Giants need extra help to stop the pass rush of Smith, Talley could charge from the outside and apply pressure. But with Hostetler's running ability, Talley must first beware of his contain assignment, not allowing the quarterback to go around the end.
ST STEVE TASKER:
The sixth-year WR will be going to the Pro Bowl for second time as result of his relentless efforts on special teams. Since Marv Levy became coach, the Bills have consistently been among the NFL leaders in kickoff and punt coverage because he believes in keeping players like Tasker for their special teams play. Buffalo blocked three field-goal attempts and three punts (two by Tasker), and a big special teams play today could be the difference in a close game.
QB JEFF HOSTETLER:
Filling in for Phil Simms, he is 4-0 as a starter this season and has scrambled for 190 yards. But what the Giants need from Hostetler is another mistake-free outing (he has not been intercepted on his last 106 passes). He has shown the ability to run for yards when given the opportunity and has demonstrated a strong arm under pressure.
RB DAVE MEGGETT:
The Giants often talk about his many talents, but then rarely use them to full advantage. In the playoffs, he has rushed only 12 times (4.5 yards per carry) and caught only two passes. Today they may have to go to him more often because Ottis Anderson may have trouble running inside against Buffalo's strong middle.
RT DOUG RIESENBERG:
The Giants have allowed three sacks in each of their first two playoff games. In trying to protect Hostetler today, Riesenberg must do a good job on LOLB Cornelius Bennett. Although Bennett had only four sacks in the regular season, he did lead Bills with 18 quarterback pressures and also knocked down seven passes. With Smith and Talley causing problems from the other side, New York does not want Bennett to become a factor.
ROLB LAWRENCE TAYLOR:
If the Giants cannot pressure Kelly, it will be hard to stop Buffalo's offense. That is the lesson learned by the Dolphins and Raiders in their playoff losses. Neither team managed to sack Kelly as the Bills averaged 498 yards of offense. New York will look to its 10-time Pro Bowler to give Buffalo's LT Will Wolford a difficult time. By creating havoc on that side, Taylor could also open lanes for veteran RDE Leonard Marshall.
LOLB CARL BANKS:
The Giants will hope for a mismatch between their swift pass rusher and 6-6, 325-pound RT Howard Ballard. Although he has played well against quick pass rushers, Ballard will be tested by Banks, who was slow coming into form after midseason broken wrist but has played well recently.
LCB MARK COLLINS:
New York's most consistent pass defender, he and the rest of the secondary may get help if the Giants decide to use nickel packages in more than just long-yardage passing situations. He did a splendid job on San Francisco's Jerry Rice twice this season, bumping the receiver at the line and recovering quickly to stay with coverage. Giants hope Collins can do the same to Reed today.