The national subplot leading into the divisional round matchup between the Giants and Packers is how history may be repeating itself. Remember, the ’07 Giants almost handed the unbeaten Patriots a loss late in the season and then took them down in the Super Bowl. Now, four years later, they can do it again to the Pack. Plus, they won here the last time Green Bay hosted a playoff game on the frozen, sub-zero tundra in the NFC title game in Favre’s last game as a Packer.
There’s been a lot of steam on the Giants all week. They’re healthy, confident and can do the two things necessary to knock off the champs: run the ball and rush the passer. But the closer we get to kickoff, I get the sense that most rational minds are starting to come back around to the side of the green and gold–and there are many reasons why.
It starts with the location of the game. The Packers are 22-3 at home since that playoff loss and are riding a 13-game home winning streak. This year at Lambeau, with Rodgers under center, the average score has been 39-19. They’ve trailed at home once all season, 3-0 against Denver.
But #1 seeds in the NFC have lost three of the last four in this round–the Pack did it to the Falcons just last season. I find it so interesting that from 1990-2007 the #1 seed was unbeaten in this round and now it’s become a very dangerous spot.
I’ve said it all week: I believe we will see a different Packers defense in this game. No, they’re not going to suddenly channel last year’s squad, but they’ve had a lot of time to listen to the naysayers since Christmas night. They can’t stop the run. They can’t rush the passer. Look what the Giants did to them, etc. etc.
This is a proud, rested, healthy unit. The Pack gets linebackers Desmond Bishop and AJ Hawk back for this matchup and they welcome the return of Ryan Pickett, whose loss was felt clearly in the Chiefs and Bears games, especially against the run. The Giants ran very well against the Pack and last week against the Falcons. This from a team that ranked dead last in the NFL this season. No one is calling Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs “Thunder and Lightning” anymore. Jacobs played well last week, but tends to disappear in big spots. Bradshaw is still not 100% with a foot injury, practicing only on Fridays and not playing as many snaps as he would if healthy.
I think the Packers step up with their run defense and put the game in Ei Manning’s hands. Putting him in second and third and long situations makes him an entirely different QB–as it does most signal callers. Don’t get me wrong, the Giants will score some points–but not as many as they did in the first meeting. Brad Jones may get the start at outside linebacker and will likely be much more disciplined than Walden. Clay Matthews’ matchup with Kareem McKenzie is a mismatch and the Giants will have to give him some help.
The Pack’s biggest advantage in this matchup is when they have the ball. They hung 77 points on the G-men in their last two meetings (taking away Matthews’ pick six) and Rodgers’ passer rating has been sky high in both games. The Giants have a terrific defensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul has become one of the league’s top pass rushers and he had his way with Marshall Newhouse in the first meeting. But Chad Clifton is back. In fact, the Pack’s offensive line is intact for the first time since Week 3. Clifton and Sitton missed the first matchup–they’ll hold up against the pass rush.
The Packers have all kinds of advantages in the passing game. With Jennings back, he’ll draw much of Corey Webster’s attention. That leaves Aaron Ross (recovering from a concussion) and rookie Prince Amukamara (and maybe even former Packer Will Blackmon) to cover Nelso, Jones, Driver and Cobb. Though Cobb’s been slowed by a groin injury, I get the feeling he will make two or three big plays in this game, in both the passing and the return game. The Giants will have a completely healthy Michael Boley back at linebacker–he’s very good and will be charged with keeping an eye on Jermichael Finley, who was left open often in the previous game. The Giants may try the same game plan, hoping he’ll continue to drop some easy catches, particularly when a linebacker or safety is nearby.
And then there’s Rodgers. He hasn’t had a chance to show his stuff since Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s passing record. Since then, Rodgers’ MVP award-in-waiting has been handed by many to Brees. Some actually point to Matt Flynn’s video game numbers in Week 17 as a reason to give the award to Brees–and to question whether Rodgers benefits from McCarthy’s system. Rodgers no doubt is feeling a little disrespected right now. You won’t hear him say it, but on Sunday he’ll let his arm do the talking.
Want another reason to like the Pack this Sunday? Mike McCarthy is 7-1 in games following an open week. He knows how to use the extra time and he knows how to make sure there is no rust on his players when they run through the tunnel. Now, this has been no ordinary week. The tragic death of Michael Philbin has shaken this organization. Many players have never experienced a loss of someone close–Aaron Rodgers had never been to a funeral before. Joe Philbin is beloved and has the ultimate respect of his players. As difficult as this week has been emotionally, the players will keep him in their minds and close to their hearts when they take the field.
I’ve been accused at times, by some, of being a nervous Nellie. Not this week. The Giants are a quality team, playing better than their 10-7 record. But these Packers are healthy, playoff-tested and will be ready for this game. They will get off to a fast start (very important) and they will play the best 60 minutes of football we’ve seen all season.
Packers 35 Giants 20