January 05, 2008

SI.com's Don Banks had a veteran NFC insider assess the Giants-Bucs matchup.


That last game against New England was huge for Eli Manning. He just hadn't been very good over the last few weeks, and his showing had to help his confidence in the playoffs. What really helped them down the stretch was their running game. Even when Brandon Jacobs was hurt, Ahmad Bradshaw stepped in and had a great game.

Without Jeremy Shockey in there, this is a team that's going to have to run the ball well for Manning to have success in the playoffs. Manning is down to one go-to guy in Plaxico Burress. He's been great this year, but he's still playing with that bad ankle. So with one real playmaker for Manning to throw to, the running game has to step up. Jacobs and Bradshaw have to be the difference in the postseason. Their success will make Manning a success.

The best news is this matchup favors the Giants running the ball because they have such a solid offensive line. New York has five quality starters, and they play well together. If they get in a groove, this offense can ride that running game.

The Giants also have the deepest pass rush in the playoffs. The strength of that team is the front four. Their linebackers and secondary are playing well enough, but they could get dink and dunked down the field by Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia. It'll be a matter of whether Garcia can beat the Giants over the middle of the field.


The Bucs, to me, are the most vulnerable team in the NFC. They really took their foot off the gas the last two weeks of the season, starting with the second half of that game in San Francisco. They almost looked like they went into shutdown mode. That really surprised me, because it's not like they have a bunch of superstars on this team. They're a team built without superstars. They have a bunch of good solid parts. It was surprising to see them pull guys when they were playing pretty well.

Garcia hasn't played much down the stretch, but he can come back and play well in the playoffs, even with that bad back. I think the passing game will probably benefit from them holding him back the last two weeks to get healthy, but conversely, the running game is really tough to jump right back into. A running game is a matter of rhythm, and you can't always find it again once it's gone.

The Bucs at running back are going with Earnest Graham, and he's not an edge runner, which fits their talent on the offensive line. The strength of this running game in particular is up the middle. They've got a good center in John Wade, and two good young guards in Davin Joseph and Arron Sears. I want to see if they can re-establish the run in the playoffs, because it tough to just turn it on.

The Bucs don't have a great defense any more. They've gotten pretty good play out of their corners, though. Ronde Barber is still playing a good, No. 1 corner. But of all the NFC teams, this is the one that looks the weakest across the board. They're 9-7, but they kind of forfeited their last two games in order to get healthy. They haven't been a dominant team, just the best team in a division that struggled all season.

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