The New York Giants steamrolled Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs last season on the way to a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
They're not expecting this meeting to go quite as smoothly, despite the Falcons' latest performance.
In the hopes of moving closer to joining Atlanta in the playoffs again, the NFC East-leading Giants may need another strong performance from rookie running back David Wilson and the defense Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
New York went on to win last season's Super Bowl, a run that started with a 24-2 rout of Atlanta. The Giants blanked the potent Falcons, holding them to 247 yards - 64 rushing - while stopping Atlanta on 10 of 14 tries on third down and all three on fourth.
New York (8-5) is certainly not expecting Atlanta, tied with Houston for the best record in the NFL at 11-2, to fall as easily this time.
"They have two new coordinators in (defensive coordinator) Mike Nolan and (offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They do bring their own personality and style to the way that they're playing, so there is a difference."
Koetter's offense relies heavily on Ryan, who is 68 passing yards shy of becoming the first Falcon to top 4,000 in back-to-back seasons. He's also thrown 24 touchdown passes, five behind his career high from last year.
Ryan was limited to 199 yards by New York in January, getting sacked twice.
The Falcons rank fourth in the NFL with an average of 289.2 yards passing, while the running game is 28th with 86.9 per game - 68.4 over the past five contests.
New York, though, feels NFC South champion Atlanta is capable of mixing things up with running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. However, they combined for a season-low 35 yards on 11 attempts in last week's 30-20 loss at Carolina.
"They're a little bit mixed up," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I thought at the end of last year, they were a little bit more leaning on the pass.
"They want to keep the chains moving, and they're kind of a check-with-me offense. It's going to be a chess match a little more than it was last year."
If so, the Giants may feel at ease with a defense that is second in the NFL in forcing turnovers (34) and interceptions (20). New York made New Orleans cough up the ball four times in last week's 52-27 win.
Ryan feels solving the Giants pass rush is important. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty and Tuck have accounted for 17 of the team's 31 sacks.
"The Giants are probably the best in the league," Ryan said. "They've got three top-tier pass rushers, and we know that from playing them last year. They'll present us with a difficult challenge. Their front four is very solid. For four quarters, they rush the passer as well as anybody in the league."
Wilson gives the offense another threat after his breakout performance against the Saints. He ran 13 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 97 yards for another score.
The first-round pick should get his first start Sunday with leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw ruled out due to knee and foot problems, and backup Andre Brown (broken leg) out for the season.
"Maybe there's a little more anticipation and a little more excitement now," Wilson said Friday after learning of Bradshaw's status.
While recent free agent signees Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin could get some carries, Coughlin feels Wilson can handle most of the workload and could be a 20-carry back.
"There's no reason why he couldn't be," Coughlin said. "Whether he will be or not is a different thing. We have a couple other guys who are going to help us in different ways."
The Giants are averaging 132.0 yards on the ground in the last four games, and the Falcons are surrendering 127.0 per game for the season after allowing 195 to the Panthers - 116 by quarterback Cam Newton.
Eli Manning isn't likely to be the same threat, but he picked apart Atlanta in the playoffs to the tune of 277 yards and three touchdowns while completing 23 of 32 passes. He has eight TDs, two interceptions and a 103.6 passer rating in the last three games.
The Giants, who lead Washington and Dallas by one game in the division, have won four in a row against Atlanta. New York is the only NFC team Ryan has yet to beat.
"We just have to make sure Ryan doesn't get too comfortable back there," Tuck said. "Otherwise, it's going to be a long day for us."
The Associated Press News Service
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