The New York Giants have been as up and down as can be in recent weeks, not the red-hot December team they were in their two Super Bowl championship seasons in the past five years.
The Atlanta Falcons are 11-2, unlike the 8-5 Giants, but fewer people likely consider them legitimate championship contenders because of their easy schedule thus far. A win against the Giants would go a long way to making people see the Falcons as worthy of the NFC's No. 1 seed.
The Falcons also seek revenge for the playoffs last year. The Giants obliterated the Dirty Birds, 24-2, as they began their romp to the Super Bowl. The sound beating, as well as the Falcons' flameout in the playoffs in 2011, has turned the public perception of the team from Super Bowl contenders-in-waiting to regular-season champions who don't know how to win big games.
The Giants have little to prove to anyone, except for one small detail — they still need to qualify for the playoffs. Their last loss, to the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in Week 13, allowed the 'Skins to climb back into position to potentially leapfrog the Giants in the NFC East standings. The Redskins and, shockingly, the Cowboys, are both 7-6, just a game back from the Giants. If the G-Men aren't careful, they might not even get the chance to make a classic January run.
Meet the Falcons
The Falcons are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 10-point setback to the 4-9 Carolina Panthers. The game culminated a string of too-close-for-comfort games against mediocre opponents. They've won games against the Arizona Cardinals by four points, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by one point, the Dallas Cowboys by six points and the Oakland Raiders by three points. These wins have sparked the debate that has defined the Falcons' season: are they just not that good, or do they simply find ways to win, no matter the opponent? It's hard to completely write off an 11-2 team as mediocre, but when was the last time an 11-2 team seemed this mediocre?
Going into Sunday's game, the Falcons are a little banged up, but not decimated by injuries. Asante Samuel is recovering from a shoulder injury, but he'll probably play. Roddy White and Harry Douglas are questionable, but it's hard to imagine White sitting out against the Giants unless something were seriously wrong. The Giants' secondary has for years been a weakness but this year has been adequate. If the Falcons' formidable passing game can exploit it, they should be in good position to win.
Meet the Giants
Much of the chatter around New York has circulated around the running back position. Starter Ahmad Bradshaw was declared out for the game, so rookie David Wilson, fresh off his breakout performance against the New Orleans Saints, should get the bulk of the attention. No one will let you forget that he was in head coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse early in the season because of fumbling issues, but he's stellar on kick returns and has been much better with the ball out of the backfield.
Of bigger concern for the Giants is how they can slow down another souped-up pass offense with cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Kenny Phillips already declared out. If Roddy White plays, that means he, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez will all be on the field, which could spell big trouble. Eli Manning should do well in a pass-fest against Matt Ryan, but that's not a game the Giants likely want to play.
Local Takes: Falcons
Many fans, and analysts, are calling this game a "must-win" for the Falcons. The analysts say that if the Falcons can't beat the Giants, it will prove they are frauds. We're all tired of being condemned by sports journalists everywhere to another one-and-done playoff scenario even though the regular season is not yet finished. But, with the division, and a playoff spot, secured, this game is not a must-win for the Falcons. At this point of the season, ensuring that key players are healthy enough to be effective in the playoffs has to be a bigger priority. Sunday's game is, however, a must-win for the Giants, with the NFC East far from decided. If the Falcons win, New York's playoff hopes are in jeopardy, with the Cowboys and the Redskins both just one game back, and both with better divisional records than the Giants.
Local Takes: Giants
Before last season's NFC Wild Card game and during this past offseason, Atlanta Falcons' wide receiver Roddy White enjoyed taking some jabs at New York Giants' receiver Victor Cruz. White said that Cruz is more of a slot receiver and, "big boys play the outside."
Why does White like to take jabs at Cruz so much? I don't know. That's up for one's opinion. However, White's barbs led me to use this week's spotlight to take a look at the two receiving corps. After all, White does like to boast about how much better the Falcons' receivers are than the Giants
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
I do expect Roddy White to play this weekend. All the arrows that matter are pointing to it.— Dave Choate (@TheFalcoholic) December 14, 2012
#nyg David Wilson has 327 yards of total offense today, a Giants' franchise record.— Ed Valentine (@bigblueview) December 10, 2012
Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter
ESPN New York Giants writer Ohm Youngmisuk
Perry Fewell said Jayron Hosley will start if Prince is out. Big Sunday for the two Va. Tech rookies -- David Wilson and Jayron.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) December 14, 2012
The Giants played terrifically in their last game, which, this season, means they're likely due for a massive letdown. The Falcons need to bounce back from that atrocious loss to the Panthers, and they'll be at home in the Georgia Dome, which, when it's rocking, is among the best home-field advantages in football. If there were a regular-season game, besides the annual Saints game, for the Georgia Dome to rock, this would be it. I expect Eli Manning to play well, but I expect Matt Ryan to play just a little better, especially with Amukamara and Phillips on the shelf.
Falcons 31, Giants 28
The line for this game is sort of all over the place, but it's very close. On some services, it's as high as a full point in the Falcons' favor, and others have it as even money, according to OddsShark.
In Week 16, the Falcons go on the road against the 4-9 Detroit Lions on
Monday Night Football Saturday night. The Giants will go on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in the national showcase game on FOX at 4:25 p.m. ET.