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-Wildcard Sunday: Giants vs. Buccaneers
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 6, 2008
Eli Manning hopes to lead the Giants to a postseason victory for the first time in his career. They'll see a familiar face on the other side of the field, because Jeff Garcia eliminated them from the postseason last year when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. Today's game could change at the flip of a defensive play from a big-time defensive player. Michael Stahan? Ronde Barber? Who will shine when it matters most?
NFC Wildcard Playoff Game - Team Stats
New York Giants - #5 vs. #4 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Overall Record: 10-6
Road Record: 7-1
Offense:
16th overall
(4th rush, 21st pass)
Defense:
7th overall
(8th rush, 11th pass)
  - Overall Record: 9-7
Home Record: 6-2
Offense:
18th overall
(11th rush, 16th pass)
Defense:
2nd overall
(17th rush, 1st pass)
Position by Position Analysis
Quarterback vs. -Quarterback
Eli Manning: 297 of 529 for 3336 yards, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 27 sacks, 7 fumbles.

Note: How can you diagnose the season that Eli Manning had? He had some success early on in the season and looked really good last week against the New England Patriots. Throughout the whole middle of the season though, his miscues were part of the Giants teetering with the possibility of "choking" a playoff spot away. After throwing 20 interceptions this year, he'll have his hands full against Tampa Bay's cover-2 defense which ranks first in the league against the pass.
  Jeff Garcia: 209 of 327 for 2440 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 19 sacks, 2 fumbles.

Note: With some teams, I question the decision to rest starters. The Buccaneers took an interesting approach: they basically played their backups for the final two games of the season, forfeiting the possibility of them getting the third seed. They settled for only getting one playoff game in the postseason to rest a guy like Jeff Garcia. Garcia is such a good fit with veteran experience for what the Buccaneers want to do on offense that I agree with how they handled the situation. And, if Garcia gets banged up against the Giants' heavy pass rush, Luke McCown now hands all the experience he needs.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
Brandon Jacobs: 202 carries, 1009 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 fumbles. 23 catches, 174 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Ahmad Bradshaw: 23 carries, 190 yards, 1 touchdown. 2 catches, 12 yards.

Note: If the Giants are going to beat the Buccaneers, they're going to need the support of their running game. Manning works best off of playaction, and the only way to set that up is if Jacobs and Bradshaw provide the same type of rushing attack they did in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills. Jacobs played very well over the last month of the season but has been held back at times with injuries.
  Earnest Graham: 222 carries, 898 yards, 10 touchdowns, 1 fumble. 49 catches, 324 yards.
Michael Pittman: 68 carries, 268 yards, 1 fumble. 26 catches, 191 yards.

Note: After the season-ending injury to Carnell Williams, Earnest Graham fit well in an offense that relies heavily on a manageable player to work with at each position. Graham's ability to catch the ball suits Garcia's style as a quarterback as well, much like he had last year with Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia. Also, they now have veteran Michael Pittman back. Pittman was with the Buccaneers when they won a Super Bowl several years ago.
Receivers vs. Receivers
Plaxico Burress: 70 catches, 1025 yards, 12 touchdowns.
Amani Toomer: 59 catches, 760 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Kevin Boss: 9 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns.

Note: The Giants key to success: Kevin Boss? It may be a little premature to say something like this, but Boss seemed to have better chemistry with Manning than Shockey did in the first half of last week's Patriots game. Still, the Buccaneers' defense is so good at defending the pass that guys like Burress and Toomer, who are notorious for their drops, can't afford to play like they have all season.
  Joey Galloway: 57 catches, 1014 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Ike Hilliard: 62 catches, 722 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 fumbles.
Alex Smith: 32 catches, 385 yards, 3 touchdowns.

Note: You wouldn't know it based on his stats, but Galloway was a key factor in leading the Buccaneers to the playoffs. When Garcia was playing every week earlier in the season, the chemistry on the deep ball for touchdowns between the two of them played a major role in victory. Hilliard had a quiet resurrection of his career this year, while Smith remained as a low-key, yet reliable tight end in short yardage situations.
-Defense vs. -Defense
Stats: 21.9 points allowed, 15 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, 53 sacks, 5 defensive touchdowns.

Note: The Giants give up a lot of big plays, but they can also wreck havoc on anyone's quarterback in football. When you have three guys basically in double digits in sacks (Michael Strahan only had nine), it changes the way opposing teams call their plays. Garcia is known for rolling out and evading tacklers, and it's hard to say that he should try and be a pocket passer this week. However, the Giants have the type of speed that can force Garcia backwards on a rollout.
  Stats: 16.9 points allowed, 16 interceptions, 24 forced fumbles, 33 sacks, 2 defensive touchdowns.

Note: This is the type of Buccaneers defense that took them to the Super Bowl. This is the type of efficient offense that can keep them in games. Why aren't they being taken more seriously for making the NFC Championship? They may thrive off the role of the "underdogs" this year. The Buccaneers don't have a ton of interceptions, but they play physical enough and have great coverage to prevent teams from moving the ball consistently. 
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
Ahman Bradshaw: 24.2 yards per kick return.
Lawrence Tynes: 23-of-27 in field goals, with a long of 48 yards.

Note: Tynes was 5-of-8 from 30-39 yards this season, but was a perfect 8-of-8 from 40-49 yards. There's a chance that Tynes will be relied on heavily against the Buccaneers, because it's hard to imagine Manning having success when the Giants get into Buccaneers territory.
  Michael Spurlock: 27.8 yards per kick return, 1 touchdown. 7.5 yards per punt return.
Matt Bryant: 28-of-33 in field goals, with a long of 49 yards.

Note: Spurlock had the Buccaneers first kickoff return in history this season. With that type of rarity for a franchise, the chances of him returning another kick should be slim.
Final Analysis
New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Can Eli Manning finally show up in a playoff game? Although all of America appreciated the effort they gave last week against the New England Patriots, it cost them on the injury side of the ball. Many of their defensive players are out or didn't get the rest they were hoping for. However, perhaps Manning got the confidence that he's been looking for all season long. If that's the case, then it may have been beneficial to play throughout all four quarters.

The Buccaneers don't allow opposing teams to score much through the air. The last time these two teams met was last season when the Giants won 17-3. In that game, Manning had an average day -- he threw for one touchdown in the first quarter before sitting on the lead the rest of the game. If the Giants' defense is hot and able to disrupt Garcia often, that may be the best route for them to go. With as up-and-down that the Giants have been this year though, I have to take Garcia to eliminate them in the playoffs for the second straight year.
NFC Wildcard Prediction
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, New York Giants 16

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