By Paul Dottino
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Honestly, can it get any better? The Giants (10-7) and the Green Bay Packers (15-1), two of the most historic franchises in NFL history, in a playoff game at Lambeau Field.
If you are a nostalgic sort, you will harken back to the 1960s. If not, there’s always the overtime road game the Giants won on their way to capturing the Super Bowl XLII. Either way, there’s plenty to draw from – unless you are Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin has said he would not talk about tradition very much with his team going into this game. It’s more about the actual opponent and what needs to be done to reach the NFC Championship game. And he’s right. There are less than 20 players on each club remaining from the 2007 season, when these teams last met in the playoffs – and Lawrence Tynes’ field goal sent the Giants into the Super Bowl.
Indeed, Coughlin and Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy can draw from their Dec. 4 meeting at MetLife Stadium, a last-second 38-35 Packers victory, in order to best prepare their players for this rematch. There are many lasting impressions from that game, from the poor officiating that hurt the Giants to Aaron Rodgers going 4-for-4 on the winning field goal drive. It’s reasonable for both teams to think they could have won the game without having to go to the final play to do so.
As for this game, here are the Giants’ three key matchups to watch:
1. Giants running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Packers front seven. The Giants have rolled up at least 100 rushing yards in five of their past six games, adding some physicality and balance to their offense. The Giants would like to mimic the blue print the Kansas City Chiefs used to hand the Packers their only loss of the season – and it required holding the ball for 36 minutes and not making any turnovers.
The Chiefs used a mixture of short passes and runs to control the clock. The Giants, given the potentially cold and nasty conditions, would prefer to drain the time with a steady ground attack. The Packers’ 3-4 defense ranks 14th in the league against the run at 112 yards per game, but their opponents usually had to go to the air to play catch-up so it’s a skewed statistic.
2. Giants defensive line vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. The Giants sacked Rodgers twice in the regular season meeting, but their pass rush was inconsistent and there were a few times that Rodgers was able to scramble out of trouble and make a play with his legs or complete a pass downfield. Rodgers has too many weapons at his disposal for the Giants to gamble with a heavy blitz, so they will have to rely on the front four to get pressure.
DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle) did not play in last month’s game and injured DE Justin Tuck was a shell of himself. Both players have been operating at what appears to be near peak efficiency during this run – the Giants have registered 13 sacks over their current three-game winning streak.
3. Giants against the Giants. You are reading this right. The Packers proved they were the best team in the NFL during the regular season. Nobody is going to dispute this statement. But Kansas City proved that a team which holds the ball and doesn’t make mistakes is capable of stealing a game from them.
Over the past three weeks, the Giants only have turned over the ball once (an interception) and been flagged for 14 penalties – both significant statistics that will go a long way in helping a team advance through the postseason. The Packers, who lead the NFL in turnover radio (+24), came up with a league-leading 31 interceptions. They also were the least-penalized team in the league (76). It will be important for the Giants to play clean, fundamental football to have a chance because the Packers are not going to beat themselves.
PREDICTION: Packers 27, Giants 23
PREDICTION RECORD VS. SPREAD: 9-8
What’s your prediction for Giants-Packers? Sound off in the comments below…