Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Giants' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the Atlanta Falcons.
When last we saw the Atlanta Falcons in these parts, they were limping off the field after a humiliating 24-2 beatdown at the hands of the Giants in the playoffs.
The loss did more than just end their season. It cemented a narrative that's been growing around the team for the last several years.
Atlanta has never had a better run than they've had in the five years that Mike Smith has been the coach and Matt Ryan has been the quarterback, but they continually run into a wall when the stakes are the highest. Three playoff losses in three playoff visits, poor performances in all three of those games and a sense that they don't have whatever intangible your favorite pundit uses to challenge the fortitude of a team.
Such theorists got another arrow for their quiver on Sunday when the Falcons were manhandled by a 4-8 Panthers team that they beat earlier in the season. Winning 11 of your first 12 doesn't mean much if you can't win when the big ones and Sunday brings the Falcons another chance to show they can win against a rival for the throne.
If they do, they'll take a big step toward home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and an even bigger one toward convincing people that they have what it takes to win a Super Bowl. It's a moment every good team reaches at some point, even if the precise "it" every team needs seems to only be known to sports radio hosts in hindsight.
Should the Falcons lose, those doubts will rise even higher because this is the perfect situation to finally go out and show they are more than just the product of a forgiving schedule. Here's a few of the people who will be trying to help them avoid that fate.
Three Amigos - There aren't many receiving trios in the same class as the one the Falcons deploy with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez and they've finally allowed them to dictate the pace of the offense this year. It's pick your poison for defenses that don't hurry Ryan into mistakes.
Speaking of Hurrying Ryan - Matty Ice is ice cold right now and his struggles make Eli Manning's post-bye blues seem like a pretty big overreaction. Those receivers aren't going to throw themselves the ball, so Atlanta needs their guy to get right.
Ageless Wonder - It seems like 20 years ago that the Jets moved on from John Abraham and started looking for his replacement as a pass rusher. It was only 2005, though, and the Jets are still looking while Abraham's still dropping quarterbacks in bunches.
Turner No Longer a Burner - The Falcons offense sometimes reminds you of the Giants' offense the last two years whenever they'd try to run the ball with Brandon Jacobs. Michael Turner's not fast enough nor nimble enough to continue as a feature back in the NFL, which makes it all the better for a Giants team that can't stop the run.