By Curt Macysyn
If these two teams were snakes, the New York Giants would have the attributes of a boa constrictor, while the Green Bay Packers would embody a rattlesnake.
Big Blue’s record seems to be a mirage to many who follow the NFL: How is it possible for a team to accumulate 11 wins in the Big Apple and still fly under the radar? Even New York’s two victories over the Dallas Cowboys are barely given a nod in league circles.
On the other hand, the Green Packers are this generation’s version of the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Jordy Nelson are akin to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, while the defense gets less recognition, but is every bit as important to the team’s performance. The road to both Giants’ Super Bowl wins this century traveled through the frozen tundra of Green Bay, so it is fitting that these two franchises clash to close out Wild Card Weekend.
Season Record: Green Bay Packers (10-6)
The Pack and G-Men met in early October, with Green Bay taking home a 23-16 victory at Lambeau Field. Quite frankly, that game feels like it happened a decade ago. More recently, Green Bay has engineered a six-game winning streak that began after a 42-24 blowout loss to the Washington Redskins on Nov. 20. After the loss, Rodgers claimed that the Packers would “run the table” and get into the NFL playoffs. Well, run the table they did, and by virtue of the winning streak, Green Bay took the NFC North division crown. It’s their fifth division title in the last six years. In addition, this past season was the eighth straight year that the Packers have made the playoffs under head coach Mike McCarthy.
Packers on Offense:
During their current six-game winning streak, Green Bay has averaged 31 points per game, so the team’s success clearly revolves around its offense. Overall, the team ranks fourth in the NFL, averaging 27.0 points per game over the 16-game schedule. Some folks may be surprised to learn that the Pack ranks “only” eighth in total offense, with an average of 368.8 yards per game. Under the leadership of Aaron Rodgers, the passing attack ranks seventh in the NFL with a 262.4 yards per game average.
There may not be a more important player to a team than Aaron Rodgers. The veteran signal caller has thrown 18 touchdowns passes without an interception in the last seven games, and his 40 TD throws led the NFL in 2016. With injury after injury at the running back position, the passing attack has had to step up its game, and it has. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson accumulated 97 catches this season for 1,257 receiving yards, and most importantly 14 TD grabs.
Receiver Davante Adams has progressively gotten better in his three seasons in the league, and he had career highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (997 yards) and touchdown receptions (12). Adams has supplanted Randall Cobb as Rodgers’ second-favorite target. Cobb was still third on the team in receptions with 60, despite missing three games. Dual threat Ty Montgomery is the team’s leading rusher with 457 yards and has 44 receptions to boot. Montgomery stepped into the halfback position after injuries to Eddie Lacy and James Starks hobbled the Pack’s ground attack.
Packers on Defense:
The Packers have a porous pass defense that ranks 31st in the league, giving up 269.2 passing yards per game. The team’s secondary is decimated by injuries, and they have to face one of the most dynamic weapons in the league in Odell Beckham.
The Packers are +8 in turnover margin, and that’s mostly due to Aaron Rodgers’ low interception total (7). Everyone knows about linebacker Clay Matthews and edge rusher Julius Peppers, who remains effective in his 15th NFL season. The future Hall of Famer has 7.5 quarterback sacks, as well as two forced fumbles. Matthews has missed four games due to injury, but he can change momentum with one of his patented strip sacks.
The teeth of the Packers’ defense lies in its safeties. Unheralded Morgan Burnett leads the team with 93 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions, while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has 80 total tackles and five pass interceptions. These guys are the glue of the Green Bay defense.
Packers Players to Watch: Aaron Rodgers and LaDarius Gunter
What else can you say about Aaron Rodgers? His statistics are well known to anyone who follows the league, and to think that he will choke on the playoff stage is unrealistic. The Giants probably won’t be able to snuff out the Packers offense completely, but it remains imperative that the G-Men mitigate the damage. In real terms, that means holding Rodgers and company to a couple three and outs, as well as getting off the field on third down when given the opportunity.
The Packers defense is hanging their collective hat onto the fact that they held Odell Beckham down statistically in the first meeting. Michael Cohen recently wrote on the Packers News blog this response to a question: “[The Packers] limited OBJ to five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting earlier this year. LaDarius Gunter did the job for most of the afternoon despite a significant speed disadvantage. I would imagine they follow a similar plan with Gunter on OBJ this week.” Can Gunter repeat his early October performance? And perhaps more importantly, has OBJ exorcised his mental demons this time around?
It is reasonable to expect more out of Beckham this week, so Green Bay needs to understand that past performance accounts for nothing in the Wild Card Weekend contest. The Packers will get some offense rolling and put up points, but the Giants defense seems to come up with a big play down the stretch, and that’s how this one will play out. The Giants will disappoint the Lambeau faithful once again in 2016.