The prevailing notion about Sunday’s wild-card playoff matchup between the fifth-seeded Atlanta Falcons (10-6) and the fourth-seeded New York Giants (9-7) is that the southern-based, warm-weather, “There’s no place like dome” Falcons, who have yet to win a game outdoors in a cold-weather locale this year, would welcome the expected unseasonably nice January conditions at the Meadowlands.
A closer look though, might suggest just the opposite, since the Falcons possess the better rushing game behind running back Michael Turner (1,340 yards, third-best in the NFL this year), facing a New York defense (ranked 19th in the league) which has often been susceptible to the run this year.
Conversely, the Giants, who rank last in the league in rushing (even though their running game has picked up in recent weeks), will be facing the NFL’s sixth-best rushing defense.
While the Falcons certainly have major weapons in the passing game, with quarterback Matt Ryan (who set single-season team record this year with 4,177 passing yards), dangerous wide receivers Roddy White (who has most receiving yards in the NFL since 2007) and rookie Julio Jones (959 receiving yards in 13 games this season), and future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, they don’t want to get into a shootout with the Giants, who have the far superior pass rush, the better quarterback (Eli Manning), and some great playmakers of their own in wide receivers Victor Cruz (team record 1,536 receiving yards this year), Hakeem Nicks (1,192 yards), Mario Manningham, and reliable tight end Jake Ballard, who returns from a knee injury to give Big Blue’s offense an extra lift.
The good news for Giants’ fans is that while they will need a jacket on Sunday, it won’t be too breezy or too cold to hamper Manning, who like Ryan, set a club record this season for passing yards, with a career-best 4,933.
The problems that Manning had with the football sailing on him on seemingly every passing attempt in a 23-11 divisional round playoff loss at Giants Stadium three years ago, when the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles upset the top-seeded Giants, shouldn’t be an issue on Sunday with the forecast calling for winds of about 11 miles per hour.
With sunshine, no chance of precipitation, and temperatures in the mid-40’s projected throughout a game that will kick off at 1pm ET, the Giants should be able to do what they do best – let Manning find his talented receiving corps early and often.
That’s a departure from the Giants of old, when one of the league’s best defenses and a clock-controlling rushing game would make it difficult for a team like the Falcons to come into a windy, cold Giants Stadium for a playoff game.
Rather, this year’s Giants depend greatly on both excelling with the pass and stopping it (with a strong rush).
Thus, contrary to past history for most dome teams, a cold, nasty afternoon might have actually helped the Falcons by slowing down New York’s passing attack and amplifying Atlanta’s advantage in running game.
Instead, a fairly mild day for a postseason game at MetLife Stadium could play right into New York’s hands, especially those of the Giants’ receivers.