Saturday, 7 January 2012

It's the Falcons time to take flight

Sometimes I feel like the guy in 'A Clockwork Orange' who has his eyes kept mechanically opened whilst he is shown a series of mind-bending images.

Thing is you don't need a retina scratching ratchet for me to enjoy a visual feast like no other - yes I'm talking about four, yes four NFL playoff games this weekend.

This time I'll give my thoughts on the first of Sunday's wild-card games, featuring a team that has won three Super Bowls, one per decade since 1986 (Giants) and a team that has been there once as a gaggle of Dirty Birds (1998) but has never lifted a Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants (Sunday 6.00pm UK time)

This game by all accounts pitches two quite even teams, both capable of looking impressive one week and painstakingly average the next. The Falcons come in at 10-6 and the Giants an underwhelming 9-7, but by virtue of the poor performance of the rest of their divisional foes it was enough for the Giants to win their division and host this meaty match up (sorry I'm watching Man vs Food - The Carnivore Chronicles).

Who to look out for on the Falcons offense - Julio Jones WR
This is the time for rookie wide receiver Julio Jones to show that he was worth trading an amount bigger than the all the peaches in Georgia. Jones only caught balls in 12 of his first 16 games but he has caught at least one touchdown in his last four games (three of which Atlanta won). The Falcons #1 wideout Roddy White will be the main focus of the Giants secondary so Julio will need to impress in the cold dank Meadowlands on Sunday. One other Falcon to look out for is another rookie - running back Jacquizz Rogers. He may not have done anything special in the regular season, but is one broken tackle away from an 80 yard sweep that goes to paydirt.

Who to look out for on the Falcons defense - John Abrham DE
Bit of an obvious one but the Falcons defense is somewhat a 'no-name' defense with the likes of Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Thomas DeCoud leading the way. The only name that people will recognise is the only good pass rusher on the entire team - 33 year old John Abraham. Abe as he is known (by me only) had 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles during the season, and he will have a bad taste in his mouth after last year's early playoff exit.

Who to look out for on the Giants offense - Victor Cruz WR
I have to say it here and now, the Pro Bowl is the biggest joke since Rex Ryan predicted the Jets would win the Super Bowl. If anyone cared to look at on-field production and not 'reputation' then Giants wideout Victor Cruz would have been voted an NFC starter. 1,536 yards for any wideout is amazing, doing it at 18.7 yards a catch is phenomenal. Going against Cruz will be the weather, but we know that Giants QB Eli Manning can pull off playoff miracles, and I can see Cruz getting 6 balls for 130 yards and at least one score.

Who to look out for on the Giants defense - Justin Tuck DE
The buzz right now is all about Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who is the human octopus, and all eyes will be on him, but lurking on the defensive line and ready to have a monster game himself is veteran DT/DE Justin Tuck. Tuck has only played 12 games this year, but he has a sack in the last two games. Tuck is a beast and has a high performance motor. Pierre-Paul may have the freakish talent, but Tuck, only four years ago has two sacks in the Giants stunning Super Bowl win against the Patriots (2008), so he knows what it's like to be a winner in the post season. I would also like to say look out for Giants safety Kenny Phillips who has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time when a ball is thrown badly.

Summary and prediction
Of all four games this weekend this is the hardest to pin down, and I don't think either team will advance beyond next week anyway. It's time for the Falcons to move from one-and-done playoff losers to true contenders but in their way are a team that can throw well, run the ball with finesse (Ahmad Bradshaw) and direct downhill thrust (Brandon Jacobs) and get more sacks than a flour factory delivery truck drops off to Hovis every year. It will come down to the Falcons offensive line, known as a dirty unit (sounds like some sort of youth speaker system) and how they can find holes for Michael Turner and protect Matt Ryan from Tuck, Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora. The wind and possible rain or snow in the Meadowlands will also play its part in making this a low scoring tense game.

Prediction - Falcons 23-20 Giants (in a mild upset)
Game MVP - Michael Turner - 122 yards and one touchdown.

Any thoughts people?

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