EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants aren't the most dangerous team in the NFC playoffs, but they're the most dangerous team to Green Bay.
The Packers are their next opponent, and the expectation is that Green Bay not will only win but win easily and advance to another conference championship game.
And maybe that happens. But I say nothing will be easy because the Giants are the one team out there that poses a serious problem to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Not New Orleans. Not San Francisco. It's the Giants, because they're playing their best football of the season now, they're getting healthy at just the right time and they have a quarterback who has gone to Green Bay and won a playoff game.
Oh, yeah, and because they don't play in a dome.
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Look, let's be honest: New Orleans could be the best club anywhere -- provided it plays the rest of its games indoors. But if and when the Saints are forced outside for a conference championship game -- particularly if it's Green Bay in January -- it's over. Dome teams just don't win championship games outdoors, and the Saints are proof.
They lost the 2006 NFC title game in Chicago.
But the Giants ... ah, the Giants have the personality to take Green Bay to the mat. In fact, they did just that in early December when the two met, falling 38-35 on a last-second Mason Crosby field goal. Nevertheless, they proved to themselves -- just as they did in the 2007 finale when they lost 38-35 to New England -- that they could beat their opponent if the two met again.
Well, they're going to meet again, and based on what we just saw in the Giants' 24-2 waxing of the Atlanta Falcons, they're going to be a tough out.
That doesn't mean they pull the upset. It just means they could, and I base that not so much on history as I do the Giants' play the past month, with four wins in five games. Their defense is better. Their running game is coming around. They're getting injured players back. Eli Manning is not making critical mistakes. And they continue to dial up big plays.
More than anything, though, their streak has to do with a revitalized defense -- the unit that, for decades, has been the backbone of this club. Where it hemorrhaged points earlier in the season, allowing an average of 26.8 points per start over its first 13 contests, it has pulled together and stifled opponents down the stretch.
Over the past three weeks, all victories, the defense has allowed 28 points -- or a little more than nine a game, and that's a start toward solving the Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
"If we continue to play defense like [we did Sunday]," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Sunday's win, "we can make ourselves heard in this tournament."
|Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey drew up two fourth-and-1 plays for the offense, only to see his QB stymied both times. The Falcons' ground game became dormant, a fact that was exacerbated by QB Matt Ryan's inability to make plays downfield. The defense bent and eventually broke because of the porous coverage in the secondary.|
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|Suddenly, everything clicked for the Giants. Not only did the New York defense -- a unit that frequently fell under criticism during the season -- hold the Atlanta's offense scoreless, the Giants also neutralized one of the best ground games in the NFL. Most importantly, coach Tom Coughlin got his wish as the offense finally found balance between the run and pass.|
|By Alex Raskin |
I couldn't agree more. In an era when people contend that defenses can't win championships, the Giants could prove them wrong. They did Sunday when three times -- twice on fourth down -- they stuffed the Falcons with 1 yard to go. Twice they buried them on sneaks by Matt Ryan. Then, with the Giants holding a 10-2 advantage late in the third period, they threw down Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down.
Game. Set. Match.
"When it's fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-inches, and you go for it," said Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, "and a team stuffs you. ... I mean, how do you respond from that? It's hard to recover from that. It's basically that team telling you they're stronger than you, and you're not going to run the ball on us. Once that happens, it's going to be downhill for the opposing team."
It was for Atlanta, which was limited to 12 or fewer yards on six of its 11 drives, was a combined 4 of 17 on third- and fourth-down conversions and had only one gain longer than 20 yards.
It went for 21 yards.
And that's what I like about these Giants. They have the defense to make Green Bay squirm, and, yeah, I understand, San Francisco is better on that side of the ball. In fact, the 49ers have the top-ranked defense in the NFC.
But they don't have a quarterback who has won a Super Bowl. They don't have a quarterback who has gone to Green Bay and won a playoff game. They haven't pushed the Packers this season. And they don't have the weapons the Giants do now -- especially with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw running to daylight that wasn't there a month ago.
For the record, the Giants' 172 yards rushing Sunday was their best performance of the season, easily outdistancing a 122-yard effort vs. Buffalo in October. But it was the Giants' fifth 100-yard performance in their past six games, and that's significant.
"That's what we're going to have to do to stay in games," Jacobs said. "We can throw it to win, but why not use all your weapons?"
Why not indeed? If you can run, you can extend drives. If you can extend drives, you can keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. And if you can keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, you have a chance to do the unthinkable. You have a chance to beat Green Bay.
The Giants came close once. They could push them again.
"We had a great opportunity to win out here," said defensive end Justin Tuck, "but didn't pull through. Hopefully, that's just something where we can say we're going on another revenge tour. It's going to be very important for us to play our best game. They're the No. 1 seed for a reason. The challenge is great, but I feel we'll be up for it."