This is a very close matchup. Well done to both McNulty and Rag/Eli. Yes, I'll do writeups this long for each game. No, you don't have to read them.
When Atlanta has the ball:
I'm not a huge fan of the Falcons' gameplan. I understand wanting to run it at Aldon Smith early, but running to set up the pass just doesn't make a ton of sense when you look at the rest of each team's personnel. Regardless, I think they could have a bit of success. Newhouse and Locklear are a very weak pair of tackles, and not being afraid to run it up the middle should prevent Smith and Houston from cheating to the outside and gaining an even bigger advantage over them. Then again, despite Smith's possible rustiness against the run, often running behind Newhouse and Locklear seems ill-advised. Jurrell Casey had a strong rookie year and was stout against the run. Marcus Thomas offers nothing but run stuffing but is fairly good in that department.
Iupati, Amano, and Blalock should be able to win most battles, but with a pretty good linebacking group against the run in Briggs and Connor (don't know much about Hayes), I see Thomas and Tolbert having only average days. I've heard good things about Ahmard Hall's blocking and Fasano at tight end is a mauler, so those are added bonuses, particularly in short-yardage.
With the Falcons' running game having only moderate success, pass protection will be important. Newhouse isn't always terrible, but he's maddeningly inconsistent, looking good maybe a third of the time and like a backup the rest of the time. Because there's no way to predict which Newhouse shows up, I'll assume he's somewhere in the middle (or about 1/3 of the way from bad Newhouse if you care). Semi-bad Newhouse vs. Aldon Smith is still a large mismatch though, and Smith should be in Cutler's face all game. Although Houston should rape Locklear in the running game, his pass rushing left much to be desired this year, especially compared to his rookie year. He still holds the advantage over Locklear, but he shouldn't need to be chipped or doubled like Smith will. Casey can get some penetration while Thomas cannot, but I wouldn't expect anything from either going up against a strong guard tandem.
With Cutler's running game doing okay and him facing a lot of pressure but not a ton, which is pretty much par for the course for him, it comes down to him and his receivers vs. the Giants' back seven. Carlos Rogers is a big corner who matches up very well with Jackson. Sure, this was the best year of his career by far, so there's a small fear he regresses, but he's always been talented. I think Quentin Jammer sucks and is overrated, but Andre Roberts sucks too. Jammer should keep him in check.
Where I can see the Giants' D getting gashed is underneath. Briggs is good in coverage, but that's the worst part of Connor's game. I don't know much about Hayes, but as an 18th round pick I would guess he's no coverage stud. Kenny Phillips should be able to take out Fasano/Thomas/Tolbert, but Baldwin should destroy Cedric Griffin while Fasano or Thomas/Tolbert (whichever isn't covered by Phillips) should have some success against New York's linebackers and Sean Jones underneath. Edelman is still unproven as a receiver, but Benny Sapp is turrible.
All in all, Atlanta's offense will have a tough day. The running game will chug along, eating up some clock and yardage, but there won't be many runs longer than 5 yards. In the passing game, with play action's effectiveness limited by the running game's average-ness, Jackson and Roberts should be close to non-factors, with the offense's main playmakers being Baldwin, Fasano, and running backs. This offense may be able to sustain some drives, but they'll struggle with zero big play ability.
When New York has the ball:
Here's where it gets more interesting. One of the best CMD offenses against one of the best defenses. There are only a few real front seven mismatches:
- Soliai, Watt, and Orakpo vs. Backus, Holland, and Saturday: Peyton's blindside will be annihilated. I think that's indisputable. Soliai can't get much penetration, but if he's singled by Saturday on most plays I could see him collapsing the pocket. When you add in Watt and Orakpo on the same side, the left side of New York's line should be easily overpowered, meaning Starks and Hernadez/Hoomanablahblah may have more blocking to do than usual.
- Sitton vs. McPhee: One of the best guards in the league against a rotational lineman who's already a liability against the run? McPhee should be a non-factor.
Winston vs. Reed is a wash. In the running game, Starks will be destroyed every time he doesn't run to the right. He has Soliai in the middle and Wattrakpo on the left. He should be able to run to the right, but given the huge advantage Atlanta has on the left they will probably realize that he can only go one direction and direct their linebackers accordingly. McCarthy looked good this year while Bradie James is pretty bad. Regardless, if they both cheat to the right the Giants' running game should be stifled pretty easily. I do like the duo of Starks and Thomas given where they were drafted, but today isn't their day.
Now, the passing game and some better news for McNulty. Peyton will be under siege, but Peyton has gotten better against pressure every year of his career and now he's one of the all time greats. Sure, Orakpo and Watt will get their hits, but there's no one better at getting rid of the ball quickly than Peyton. McNulty did a great job tailoring this team to Manning's strengths. Although he won't have time to step up and throw deep, he should have a field day throwing short and intermediate routes.
Cruz vs. Thomas isn't as big a mismatch as some are making it seem, but it's still a mismatch. Thomas should be ready for training camp, but a low end number one corner coming off a torn ACL probably won't do so well against one of the shiftiest and quickest receivers in the league who can stretch the field and play in the slot. (Assuming he isn't the next Sidney Rice.) Having Huff shaded to Cruz's side should help in containing his awesome YAC ability, but unless Huff is bracketing him from the snap I don't think he'll have much impact in an offense that will absolutely have to rely on short routes.
(Quick note: Not sure why you decided to play zone when your corners are probably better suited to man. Ah well.)
Meachem and Hernandez should also be productive. Meachem vs. Porter is something of a wash in man, but Meachem gains the advantage with Porter playing zone. With Huff shading to one side, the middle of the field should be more open for Hernandez to work. I don't think Goldson or McCarthy can cover Hernandez alone, but having them bracket him leaves Atlanta open to Jones and Starks. Assuming the Giants spread it out on 90% of plays (as they will have to with very little running game and facing a great rush), Atlanta's scheme just doesn't make sense and I think their secondary will be spread too thin to be effective.
Then again, you cannot underrate the impact of their pass rush. Manning should be forced into some bad decisions and no offense can function with every receiver running two second patterns ever play.
Well, to the zero of you who read this entire thing, here's my prediction... This was a really, really tough decision.
Atlanta 20, New York 17 (OT)