2008 NFC Wildcard Game: New York Giants vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Pick

NFC Wildcard Game: New York Giants (10-6) +2.5, 39.5 O/U at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) -2.5, 1.00pm EST Sunday
by The Crazy Snake of Predictem.com

The perennial argument about the value of resting players versus flirting with team form will go a long way to being answered in this NFC Wildcard match up. These two protagonists took entirely different routes to the play offs. Tampa Bay chose to rest many of its starters and lost the final two regular season games as a result. They still won the division and were never going to avoid the Wildcard round, win or lose, so maybe the approach had merit. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin went after New England will all guns blazing right until the final whistle and reported 4 injured players as a direct result of that game. However, they played a great brand of football against the Patriots and will head into Tampa Bay confident in the knowledge they can mix it with the very best the league can offer.

So who’s right? In hindsight will we applaud Gruden or Coughlin in the aftermath of this game? And will we be right anyway? Personally, I hate the idea of flirting with team form. If team is the ultimate metaphor for “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” then surely momentum must count for everything in the grand scheme of things. We must be mindful of what we mean by momentum, though. Tampa Bay doesn’t have game winning momentum, but they have the momentum created when starters get a chance to get healthy and that should not be underestimated.

Many were heard to say during the Giants/Patriots game that it felt like a playoff game, so perhaps the Giants got an early preparation for this. Will that help them here? It might have, but for the 4 injuries they took out of it. When assessing this game it just isn’t prudent to try to predict the affect of factors like the last game because the two teams come off drastically different preparations. In the end, we have only one option. We line the teams up based upon what we can properly ascertain and nothing more or less than that makes any sense.

I am not going to say “defense wins championships”. I am so sick of that old chestnut trolling out every time we hit the post season. But it’s hard not to like what the Buccaneers have achieved in that regard this season. Though they are statistically ranked second to the Steelers I really see them as the ultimate cohesive unit. It’s hard not to like Gruden’s no nonsense style and how it has gelled with this band of no-names. When you look at the credentials of some of these guys it’s hard to figure out how they came this far. But then that spells out one thing loud and clear more than anything. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a TEAM. There isn’t much room in this group for show ponies. If there is a mantra amongst them it is probably something like “do your job to the best of your ability or die trying”. And with that said, nobody plays out that better than defensive end, Greg White. The sack leader on the highest ranked pass defense in the NFL took 5 seasons to become an overnight success. He found a way to extract every ounce of ability from his body and his performance personifies this team. Hats off to Gruden and his band of merry men. Overachievers of the world should unite in celebration, particularly if this team can make it deep into this post season. Apologies must go to Earnest Graham here, but he is on the wrong side of the ball for this argument.

The Giants, though not ranked in the top 5 in any defensive category is just a well-rounded defensive unit, capable of many types of effective coverage. But it must be remembered that they gave up big scores in their first two games, and just when we thought they had ironed out many of the bugs they went and gave up 38 points to the Patriots in the last week. Say what you like about how well they played. They still gave up a bunch of points at a time when they wanted to do the very opposite more so than ever. If we dismiss that as a Patriot-fed aberration then we can make a case for this team.

Of the Giants’ 10 wins this season, 7 have been on the road. This team seems to thrive in hostile territory. Just as well, then. Maybe they orchestrated a wild card spot on purpose. They wouldn’t be the first to win it all from that position. We need only look to the 2005 season for the last time a team accomplished that feat. Save for the injuries, the Giants certainly hit the post season in the right frame of mind. Eli Manning played one of his most complete games last week and should he recapture that form he could take the Giants far. But the lasting memory for me will be the interception he threw with the game well and truly on the line. I know it’s unfair to focus on his shortcomings in such a complete performance, but it’s the only thing that sticks in my mind. I am so used to him imploding under his own power that only years of contrary evidence will have me believing his underachieving disease has finally gone into remission.

However, despite the tone of all this I am actually leaning with the Giants in this one. I am in the camp of believers that hates to see a team flirting with their form by “soft-playing” their latter games. Records indicate that momentum isn’t everything going into post season but I think the overall flavor of that conclusion may be somehow tainted. I like to see a team playing their best football at this end of the season and in that regard the Giants seem to have discovered the best of their form of late. I would love to be wrong here and see the unfashionable Buccaneers make a run at it. There is romance in over achievement.

The Snake’s Bite: I’m going to give Eli one more chance to shine and side with the Giants straight up at around +130 (Pinnacle Sports). There was something in his gate in the match with the Patriots. He just seemed to relish the challenge of it all in a way that only great players do. Not to say he is anywhere near great, but he always had that potential. Maybe he is beginning to realize some of it. It wouldn’t come a minute too soon.