Tampa Bay was at least decent vs. Quality Opponents, with a 2-3 record while being outscored by 5.0 PPG. And while the Giants showed they could hang and bang with the big boys in the season finale vs. New England, their 1-5 record and -8.5 PPG performance vs. Quality Opponents suggests that their performance vs. New England was more of a fluke than a trend. New York's lone victory over a Quality Teams was a 24-17 win over Washington back in September.
These two teams were basically of the same quality relative to their schedule. Tampa finished +2.5 PPG above average (12th), the Giants +2.0 PPG above average (13th). Tampa's offense was below average, scoring 20.9 PPG against opponents who allowed an average of 22.6 PPG, the fourth easiest slate of defensive opponents in the NFL this year. Tampa, of course, was carried by its defense all year. This defense held opponents to 4.2 PPG below their average scoring margin. The Giants were almost exactly average relative to their competition on both sides of the ball.
Tampa Bay's offense vs. New York's defense:
The Giants are led by their No. 1 Defensive Hogs, which should be able to play well against Tampa's No. 12 Offensive Hogs. But Tampa is a bit better at passing (No. 12 Passing Yards Per Attempt) than New York is at defending the pass (No. 17 in Defensive Passer Rating).
Advantage: Slight edge to New York
New York's offense vs. Tampa Bay's defense:
The Giants also have an edge on this side of the line of scrimmage, with their No. 6 Offensive Hogs up against Tampa Bay's No. 12 Defensive Hogs. But the Bucs have a big edge in the air, with a Defensive Passer Rating that's the 8th best in football this year facing Eli Manning and a subpar New York air attack that ranked 23rd in Passing Yards Per Attempt.
Advantage: Slight edge to Tampa Bay
The Giants have the second-worst special teams in the playoffs (28th overall), and were it not for their kick-return score against New England in Week 17 would probably have been below average in all five Special Teams Index categories. But Tampa is not much better at No. 20 overall and with no top-10 finsihes in any of the five categories.
Tampa was one of the best in the league on the Big Play Index (+20) while New York was below average (-8). That's a difference of nearly two Big Plays per game and, as we found this season, teams that won the Big Play battle win 84.1 percent of NFL games this year.
Advantage: Big edge to Tampa Bay
New York's late-season loss of TE Jeremy Shockey is big, although backup Kevin Boss did a nice Shockey impersonation against New England (4 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD). Injuries to starters C Shaun O'Hara and LB Kavika Mitchell are said to be minor, and both should play.
Tampa has some questionables, but should be more or less intact after resting everyone in Week 17.
Advantage: Edge to Tampa Bay
According to the Weather Channel, it's going to be freakin' beautiful – mid-70s with no chance of precipitation.
What does a monkey think?
Our beloved Bonzo the Idiot Monkey was a prognosticating genius this regular season, using his patented coin-flip method to beat the experts from CBS Sports.com
and finish at 146-109 overall.
Bonzo's coin likes ... New York (+2.5)
And it's three-for-three against Bonzo. New York looked great in Week 17, but going on the road against an excellent defense just doesn't add up to an upset victory. Plus, as has been widely reported this year, teams are just 4-11 a week after playing New England. And the teams that blew their load and nearly beat New England (Indy, Philly, Baltimore)? They combined to lose seven straight after their near-misses against the Patriots.
The final score: Tampa Bay 27, New York 17