1. Take the next step. Since arriving together in 2008, coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have produced four consecutive winning seasons. That’s great, but the big knock on Smith and Ryan is that they have yet to win a playoff game. When they were the No. 1 seed last year, they lost at home to the No. 6 Packers. Going on the road to a cold-weather venue will be difficult. But Atlanta went all-in this season with the trade up to draft Julio Jones and sign defensive end Ray Edwards. They need a postseason victory to make this season any sort of success. Ryan also needs to shed the label that he can’t win the big one.
2. Stop the pass rush. The Falcons had problems protecting Ryan early in the season and that caused lots of problems. The offensive line has played better lately. But the Giants feature a very strong pass rush. They have Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora is back from an injury. The Giants can generate pressure with their front four alone. The Falcons are going to have to use their running backs and tight ends to give left tackle Will Svitek some blocking help.
3. Slow down Victor Cruz. The New York receiver has come out of nowhere to become one of the league’s top receivers. Cruz has lots of speed and has been making lots of big plays downfield. If cornerback Brent Grimes, who has missed time with a knee injury, is healthy, he and cornerback Dunta Robinson can match up with Cruz and the short and mid-level passing game. But safeties William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and James Sanders will have to step up and do a better job providing help than they did in the regular season. Of course, it would also help if Atlanta can generate a pass rush. There are some signs that’s possible. After a slow start, defensive end John Abraham has come on strong in recent weeks.