Sunday afternoon, the Giants will play the Atlanta Falcons in a game that's a matchup between first-place teams in the NFC. It's a matchup between the team with the best record in the NFL and the team that won the Super Bowl last year. This should be all anyone in the football world is talking about this week. But the general vibe is that both teams are suddenly also-rans; the attention of the NFL is elsewhere.
The two main reasons for this, of course, are the Falcons' sluggishness of late (along with their past playoff flameouts) and that Robert Griffin III has become the central focus of everything in sports. (Good and bad, and with good reason.) You'd almost forget that the Falcons have already won their division and can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. And that the Giants are a game up on the Redskins and Cowboys, and, oh yes, are the defending champs.
Still, the skepticism is understandable. The Falcons, as Peter King pointed out, have only outscored their opponents by one point over their last five games. And the Giants seem only to be able to pull it together when it's absolutely necessary.
This week might not quite be considered "necessary" yet. The Giants are working in David Wilson as the primary back now, aren't favored in this game, and don't feel like their backs are quite against the wall yet. They can lose this game and still make the playoffs fairly easily, even with Washington and Dallas charging hard behind them. The key game is actually next week, against Baltimore; to get in, the Giants basically just need to win one of those two. Though if they want to secure the division, winning both would be handy, unless you want to count on Washington falling once.
Atlanta has a home crowd behind them — well, an Atlanta home crowd, but a home crowd nevertheless — and a desperate desire to make up for a lousy performance last week. They can also rest everyone the next two weeks if they win here. The Giants have a little left to lose yet. Falcons 27, Giants 21.