The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the best record in the National Football League and have won 70 percent of their games during the past five seasons. What they lack is the postseason resume of tomorrow’s opponent, the New York Giants, who have two championships in that span.
The Falcons (11-2), who are a perfect 6-0 at the Georgia Dome this season, host the Giants (8-5) in a rematch of last season’s first-round playoff game won by New York 24-2 on its way to another Super Bowl triumph.
While both teams are led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks and rely on strong passing games, the Giants -- who have won 61 percent of their regular-season games the past five years -- have had the playoff success that has eluded Atlanta, which hasn’t had a postseason win since Jan. 15, 2005.
“The difference is, they’ve won two of them,” Falcons running back Michael Turner, 30, said of New York’s championships following the 2007 and 2011 seasons. “That’s where we’re trying to get to. It’s time for us to take it to the next level.”
Winning a playoff game would be a good starting place for the Falcons, who already have clinched the National Football Conference’s South division title.
Over the same five-year span in which the Giants have held two championship parades, the Falcons have a 54-23 regular- season record and no postseason victories. Atlanta players said a win this weekend may boost the team’s national profile.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make a statement and let people know that we’re the real deal as a team,” safety Thomas Decoud said in an interview. “You still have that feeling in the back of your mind.”
After beginning the season with eight straight victories, the Falcons have lost two of their last five games. Atlanta fell 30-20 last weekend to the Carolina Panthers, who had won only three games coming into their meeting in Charlotte.
The Falcons haven’t won a playoff game since defeating the St. Louis Rams in the first round after the 2004 season. They have been knocked out in the first round the past two seasons, including a 48-21 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in 2010.
Atlanta has three more wins this season than the Giants, including victories against the three other teams in New York’s NFC East division. They’re listed as a 1 1/2-point favorite this week, according to the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning said the Falcons “have my respect.”
“They’re a very talented team and their record shows that,” Manning said this week on a media conference call. “We have to play at our highest level to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Giants will be missing leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw for the game. Bradshaw was ruled out of the game yesterday because of knee and foot injuries.
Bradshaw, 26, has 196 carries for 869 yards and five touchdowns this season, more than half the team’s total of carries (339) and yards rushing (1,513) in 2012. He also has 21 receptions for 196 yards.
In 2007, the Falcons were reeling from the departure of Michael Vick, who was jailed after being convicted in a dogfighting case in Virginia. The day after the Pro Bowl quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in prison, Bobby Petrino quit as the team’s coach 13 games into the season. The Falcons were 3-10 and finished 4-12, missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
Mike Smith, 53, was hired as coach and said he viewed taking over a losing team as an opportunity.
“I didn’t really concern myself with what had happened in the past and that approach has worked very well,” Smith said in an interview at the team’s training facility. “We’ve been able to put that behind us and move forward.”
The Falcons took Matt Ryan out of Boston College with the third pick in the 2008 NFL draft. He helped guide Atlanta to a 12-4 record in his first season, earning Rookie of the Year honors.
Smith, a former defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, took the Atlanta coaching job three months before Ryan was drafted. He also enjoyed rookie success and was chosen the league’s coach of the year in 2008.
The individual awards for Ryan and Smith didn’t prevent the Falcons from losing to the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs that year. The same story has played out each of the past two seasons, with first-round playoff losses following successful regular seasons.
Smith said he is focused on the Giants and not ending the team’s playoff failures. A win over New York, combined with a loss or tie by Green Bay, would give the Falcons a first-round bye. If San Francisco also loses, the Falcons would clinch home- field advantage throughout the playoffs. Atlanta and the Houston Texans, in the American Football Conference, are 11-2.
The Giants, coming off a 52-27 home defeat of the New Orleans Saints, hold a one-game lead in the NFC East.
“It’s a big game for both teams because of the positioning that’s going to take place over the next three weeks,” Smith said. “There’s always something that’s to be determined.”
The Giants have dropped three of their past five games, including a 17-16 divisional loss to the Washington Redskins two weeks ago. After visiting Atlanta, the Giants have games remaining against Baltimore and Philadelphia.
“We’ve still got a chance to win our division and make it into the playoffs again,” Manning said. “That’s what we’re rooting for.”
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