The Falcons will seek a second straight victory to open the 2015 NFL season tomorrow, and the Giants will be looking to avoid an 0-2 skid that is typically a kiss of death for teams with playoff hopes.
Superficially, these rosters are built on so-so defenses, a quality quarterback and one standout receiver, but in reality they're very different teams with very different paths to winning this game. I've taken a look at both teams below to determine their best (or at least likeliest) road to a victory in Sunday's game.
The Giants have a few fearsome defenders upfront, including intimidating nose tackle Jonathan Hankins. They lack a great defense, however, and their cornerbacks might actually be the most intimidating part of
The key for the Falcons will be to run. A year ago, that proposition would have made us cringe, because Steven Jackson was aging, Devonta Freeman wasn't quite ready for primetime, and the offensive line was on fire and giving off strong, trash-like odors. This year, however, the Falcons have already shown they can run effectively against a stout front, and the Giants don't pose the same challenge.
A balanced gameplan will go a long way, because the Giants will be hellbent on taking Julio Jones away, and the passing game isn't nearly as crisp when he's not catching balls from Matt Ryan. Instead, look for Tevin Coleman to once again get 20 carries, with Devonta Freeman potentially mixing in for another 10-15.
On defense, the Falcons simply have to avoid getting burned by Odell Beckham Jr. and the kind of short, quick hit routes that killed them in the second half against the Eagles. Easier said than done, however, because the Falcons legitimately couldn't seem to get a handle on Darren Sproles, and while Shane Vereen isn't as talented, he's trouble in space and a capable receiver.
Ultimately, though, the Falcons' gameplan on offense should be geared more toward the run than it was a week ago, while their defensive gameplan will look remarkably similar. The Giants just don't have the same across the board talent on that side of the ball that the Eagles enjoy.
Stuff the run, stop Julio Jones. On defense, it's that simple for the Giants, even if it's a tall task given injuries and talent limitations.
Stopping Julio will likely fall to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is a terrific, athletic cornerback who will still probably require safety help. We saw against the Eagles that Ryan looks like a god when he's tossing 'em up for Julio and merely a good quarterback prone to some mistakes when he wasn't, so the Giants will make that priority. If they can force the Falcons' offense to be unbalanced, so much the better, which means shutting down Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. I'm not 100% convinced the offensive line is a quality run-blocking unit after one week, so this is within the realm of possibility.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants simply need to copy the Eagles' blueprint, as I alluded to below. The Falcons' run defense is legitimate, I think, so short passes will have to replace the ground game to some extent until the likes of Kroy Biermann, O'Brien Schofield, and others prove they can shut down Shane Vereen in space. If they can get Odell Beckham Jr. open for quick hitters so he doesn't have to deal with the gifted Desmond Trufant down the sideline, they'll benefit from that.
How do you expect the Falcons (or Giants) to win?