Sunday Football Wildcard Preview

Simon Stracher, Staff Writer

Sunday at 1:00 Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants

            At 1:00 on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan will travel to MetLife Stadium to face the NFC East champion New York Giants and Eli Manning. Ryan will be attempting to win his first playoff game in his short career, and Manning will be attempting to take the Giants back to the Super Bowl.

The Giants and the Falcons are polar opposites in terms of consistency. According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, the Falcons were the most consistent team that they had ever measured. On the other hand, the Giants lost to the Seahawks, Eagles, and the Redskins twice, all far from good teams.

Even though the Giants are less consistent than the Falcons, they have an edge in almost every position. Manning is coming off a career year, and passed for more than 4,900 yards. Matt Ryan did have a solid season with 4,177 yards and twenty-nine TDs, but if the Giants and Falcons had a choice between the two quarterbacks, both teams would take Manning in a millisecond.

The receiving core is closer, but the Giants depth puts them ahead. With Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, the Giants barely outpace the Falcons combination of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. White, Jones, and Douglas combined for 2,750 yards receiving, while Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham combined for 3.251 yards receiving.

The running back position is where the Falcons have a clear advantage. RB Michael Turner is no longer as good as he once was, but he is still clearly superior to the Giants’ combination of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw and Jacobs combined for 1,230 yards, while Turner had 1,340 by himself. This advantage could come back to haunt the Giants, as they will have nothing to fall back on if Manning struggles.

Defense is a little murkier. At first glance, one would think that the Giants have a better defense with their defensive line of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. However, the Giants ranked twenty-fifth in the NFL with twenty points let up per game. The Falcons were slightly better ranked at eighteenth with 21.9 let up per game. The Falcons don’t have a star player on their defense, but together work well as a unit. I think the Giants’ defense is slightly better, but not so much better that it will make a tremendous impact on the game.

Pick: In a close game, the Falcons, who played twelve of their sixteen games in a dome, aren’t able to survive the cold weather and the three-headed monster of Tuck, Umenyiora, and Pierre-Paul in a 27-20 Giants win.

Sunday at 4:30 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

            This has the potential to be the most lopsided game in the playoffs. The Steelers made the Super Bowl last year, and are always a threat to win the championship. They have a top-ten quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, two 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and the number one defense in terms of points per game allowed. What do the Broncos have? They have Willis McGahee, the Baltimore Raven castoff who finished with 1199 yards rushing and a remarkable 4.8 yards per attempt. They also have several solid defensive pieces in shutdown corner Champ Bailey, rookie linebacker Von Miller, who with 11.5 sacks, has been a revelation and a force for the Broncos, and defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who did not play in 2010 with a major injury, and in 2009 had seventeen sacks, and in 2011 finished with nine and half sacks.

Nevertheless, even with all of Denver’s defensive talent, they are still not in the same league as the Steelers’ vaunted defense, which is consistently one of the best in the league. However, the biggest problem for the Broncos is their quarterback, or their lack of quarterback. Tim Tebow has been a revelation for the Broncos, taking over the starting quarterback duties after the Broncos started 1-4, and lead them to an 8-8 record with several amazing fourth quarter comebacks and a playoff berth. He has been called amazing, extraordinary, and clutch. He has been the subject of a SNL skit, and has received second alternate status in the Pro Bowl, even though he has a completion percentage of 46.5%. The truth is, even though all the hype that Tebow has, he is simply a terrible quarterback. He has less than a 50% completion percentage, 6.4 yards per attempt, and 1729 yards passing. All of those numbers are what you would expect from a Division III quarterback.

Pick: The Steelers are superior in almost every way imaginable, and the only thing the Broncos have going for them is that the Steelers are banged up. RB Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL and is out, and QB Ben Roethlisberger described his ankle as a “five out of 10.” Even so, the Steelers defense will get the job done, and Tim Tebow will throw for less than 100 yards and two interceptions in a 24-7 Steelers victory.