Six teams from the NFC will punch tickets to the playoffs and as it stands now the Packers are on the outside looking in. The rise of the Lions and Panthers, and the injury to Aaron Rodgers, has created added urgency as the Pack gets set to take on the Giants.
There is no guarantee that ten wins will get you in. In fact, if the Packers finish 10-6 and in second place in the North, it’s likely they’ll miss the playoffs, because the Niners and Panthers look like wildcard teams, if they don’t win their divisions.
All of that raises the importance of this road game in New York, with Scott Tolzien steering the ship. After an 0-6 start, the Giants have won three straight and are still in the NFC East mix–just a game out in the loss column. Yet they’re a shell of their former selves, in large part because Eli is playing more like big brother Cooper than big brother Peyton. His offensive line can be blamed in part–he has no confidence that he can take his time and look for receivers.
After a wretched start, he’s slowed down on the interceptions of late, but the G-men still lead the league in takeaways with 28. If the Packers have any hope of stealing this one, they’ll need at least a pair of turnovers to help out the beleaguered offense. Eli’s passer rating is a career low 68.5 this season and he’ll throw a couple jump balls. With a league low (and inexplicable) three interceptions all year, the Packers defense must win a couple of those battles and finally take the ball away.
Much has been made about the Pack’s run defense the last couple of weeks and in particular how ineffective they’ve been in the fourth quarter. While we won’t see the likes of Matt Forte or LeSean McCoy this Sunday, bruiser Andre Brown returned from a broken leg last week and banged around for 115 yards on 30 carries. He won’t beat the Pack around the edge, but he’ll gash them up the middle if they’re not careful. Let’s hope the defense has watched the film and listened to the coaches and will revert to the unit we saw last month.
Offensively, we all hope this will be Tolzien’s one and only start (and I don’t mean they’ll hand off to a fourth different starter, Matt Flynn, next week). Aaron Rodgers is hinting that he might be ready for the Vikings next week–we all hope that happens, but it may be a bit ambitious. For now, Tolzien gets his first career start and I get the feeling he’ll do all right.
The Giants’ defense has improved of late: they’ve allowed only one touchdown in the last 14 quarters and that came on a short five yard drive following a fumble on the opening kickoff last week. Pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul may miss the game with a shoulder injury, which would help–and also give us a larger dose of former Packer Cullen Jenkins and rookie DaMontre Moore. What’s really helped the unit was the early season trade with the Panthers for middle linebacker Jon Beason, who’s settled them down and taken on the signal calling.
Tolzien needs to show poise, composure and an ability to look off his first option and find open guys. If Eddie Lacy is going to find some holes, Tolzien will need to move the ball through the air and make those safeties honor the passing game. Hopefully a week of practice and game planning will put him in a position to give the offense a spark. He showed a nice touch on the deep ball and made good decisions (for the most part) last week.
The Giants have been better on the road than at home in recent seasons and still seem to struggle at their place. They barely dispatched the Raiders last week and have really only looked good once, and that was against Josh Freeman and the Vikings.
If Aaron Rodgers were healthy the Packers would likely be a touchdown favorite. Instead, the Giants are 6.5 point favorites. Everyone has to pick up their game for the Packers to win this one. No special teams mistakes, no turnovers and a big improvement by the defense. Hopefully the modified cast Clay Matthews wears will help him play at the level we’re accustomed to. If Eli faces pressure this season, he wilts like a piece of lettuce on a Juicy Lucy. The Packers must rattle him. And they must stop their pedestrian running game.
I’d like to say that’s all going to happen. With the season starting to get a way from us, this is the week the team rises up and beats a team having a historically bad season. But they have to show me before I believe.
Giants 23 Packers 20