By Matthew Asher
With just three games left on the schedule, Atlanta is in good position to secure the top NFC Playoff seed. With the memory of New York soundly defeating Atlanta in last year’s 2011 Playoffs, this game provides the Falcons with two opportunities: get a small measure of payback for last year, but more importantly, being able to scout a potential 2012 NFC Playoff opponent.
“It’s one of the motivations that pushes you when you fall short in the playoffs, but we’re a different football team than we were last year and they’re a different football team than they were in the playoffs last year,” Matt Ryan said. “I think it’s important because of what’s in front of us. We have an opportunity to do what we want to do in the regular season and it starts Sunday.”
Atlanta needs just one more win and either a Green Bay loss or tie or a San Francisco loss in the final three weeks to clinch the top playoff seed. If the regular season ended today, the Giants would be the number four seed and would probably face Atlanta in the second round of the Playoffs.
But since that potential Playoff matchup wouldn’t happen for another four weeks, the Falcons are just focusing on their regular season matchup against New York. After getting blown out 30-20 by the Carolina Panthers last week, Atlanta’s first goal is to make sure their current losing “streak” ends at one, just like with the Saints in Week 10.
“It’s the mindset that you try and get the guys in after the ballgame. You want to stop the streak at one when you don’t get the outcome that you want,” Coach Smith said. “That’s what we’ve talked about from the very beginning. You got to flush the previous game out as quickly as possible. You’ve got to make your corrections, move on, flush it out, and get prepared. Don’t let the last game have an effect on the next game.”
The Giants may only be 8-5 with just a one game lead over the Redskins, but when a team is quarterbacked by a two-time Super Bowl MVP like Eli Manning, records shouldn’t have too much emphasis put on them.
Matty Ice may not have the hardware that Eli does, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a competitive game. “I think in terms of their physical stature they’re very similar. They’re very similar in their understanding of the game,” Smitty said. “They have a very good understanding of how to get the team into the right place…We’re all going to be judged, quarterbacks and head coaches, by the success that we have in the second season. We all know that.”
For Ryan, one of the concerns will be against the Giants secondary. While statistically they may not be one of the top defensive teams in the NFL, they are great at takeaways with two cornerbacks in the top 10 regarding interceptions. Stevie Brown has the second most interceptions in the league with 7, and Corey Webster’s 4 are tied for eighth most.
“Obviously, it’s a very good defense. I think they’re second in the League in takeaways. They do a good job of creating turnovers. I think it starts with their front four,” Ryan said. “They do a great job of rushing the passer. They do a great job in addition against screens and against the run game also. We’ve just got to find ways in terms of scheme and with our effort and with the way we play to negotiate their front four. Then, we have to win our one-on-one matchups when we have them on the outside.”
While Atlanta would love to defeat New York in this year’s Playoffs, for now their Week 15 match-up will have to do. Kickoff at the Georgia Dome is 1 pm EST.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.