New York Giants @ TAMPA BAY
NYGIANTS #7 ranked DEF( 8th run, 11th pass) #16 ranked OFF (4th rush, 21st pass)
TAMPA BAY #2 ranked DEF( 17th run, 1st pass) #18 ranked OFF (11th rush, 16th pass)
Where do I begin with this matchup. Hmmm..let's start by saying these 2 teams took different paths in the last two games of the season whereby the Giants played their starters in week 16 to clinch the wild card berth. Despite attaining the feat, a much needed rest wasn't in the cards as Coughlin had them on the field again in week 17 in hopes of derailing the Patriots' unblemished season. In contrast, John Gruden has given his key starters time to rest from the latter half of week 16 on until the end of the regular season. That will tremendously favor Tampa Bay as Gruden is set on entering playoffs with a completely healthy squad. They are primed to have success against a Giants team that has to be a little weary not to mention banged up in key spots. Coughlin's decision to keep his starters playing in the last game will eventually come back to haunt him, as I believe they won't have enough left in their tanks to endure such a physical hard-nosed. With the Bucs coming healthy and rested, they should control the tempo of the game on both ends. With the league's second ranked defense staring at him on the eye, Eli Manning's probability of success throwing the ball is very marginal. If they are to sustain long successful drives, Brandon Jacobs would have to be effective on the ground. If he does not find success scampering early in the game, Coughlin would find his team in trouble. They cannot resort to Eli's arm to open up the passing game because not only is he facing the number 1 pass defense in the league, but db's like Barber and Kelly are masters of picking off the ball. Gruden's number one pass D should be up to the task of neutralizing Plaxico and Toomer, leaving it up to their front seven on limiting the resilient Jacobs to minimal gains.
On Tampa's side of the ball, Garcia's craftiness and experience should come in handy against a Giants D that has consistently created chaos for opposing QB's. This is where Garcia's elusiveness can come into play, as he has the ability to avoid trouble by stepping out of the pocket and sprint downfield for the necessary yards. But having a stout RB in Graham, along with veteran wideouts Galloway and Hilliard at his arsenal..Garcia should be able to utilize his weapons for the most part. Although they may not be juggernauts, I really like his competitive quality which he has shown time and again during his tenure in the league. Leading teams such as Philadelphia and San Francisco to playoff victories, I can't see why he couldn't do it again with Tampa Bay. I look for this game to be close throughout with no lead bigger than that of a touchdown. In the late going, I look for Garcia to march his squad towards a game winning FG courtesy of Matt Bryant. TAMPA BAY 26 NY Giants 24
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