NFL Playoffs 2012: New York Giants Earn Rematch with Green Bay Packers
Two of the Green Bay Packers newest owners in a photo op in front of the Super Bowl XLV Lombardi Trophy
Not only did they play the Packers as well as anyone in the regular season, the Giants were the team to take us out in Lambeau. NFL Network even showed the game from January 20, 2008—a day carrying additional pain for one of the newest owners of the only non-profit sports franchise in North America...
On my way home from church that afternoon, we got a flat tire. I pulled off and discarded pleas from my wife to "just call Triple A" because if I can change a flat tire, why wait? The Packers were hosting the Giants for the NFC Championship in a couple hours and that time was too valuable.
Of course, not listening to one's wife has consequences. Like the jack slipping out from under the car and the wheel well falling on my right hand before I could pull it from the tire.
I told them at the emergency room of San Francisco General Hospital to cut my finger off if they had to—a la Niners legend Ronnie Lott—if that was what it took to get me home in time for the game! Of course, by then I knew they would have me out in plenty of time.
Being a good husband, I encouraged her to leave my side to watch football. Being a good wife, she filled me in on that game (unavailable at all to me) when she picked me up and got me home in plenty of time.
"Everything will be worth it if I get to see the team go back to the Super Bowl," I declared. After all I had been through, the Catholic in me was certain it would happen.
Instead I get more pain that day.
An overtime loss because of a dumb pass by our legendary, frustrating quarterback. And because Jarret Bush tried to return a fumble for a touchdown rather than fall on it right at the edge of field-goal range.
Later came the pain of Brett Favre retiring. Then the pain of him un-retiring and strong-arming the team to trade him to a rival. Then the 6-10 season that everyone blamed on Aaron Rodgers (where are these people now?) instead of defensive injuries—five starters out at one time during its peak.
Then "The Traitor" stabs us in the back twice the next season, and we get jobbed when two penalties left uncalled lead to a Rodgers fumble and defensive touchdown to end overtime.
But all of it was worth it with a win last season, and now this team must win games like this. We have the discipline (no team had fewer penalties than the Packers), poise (only one team had a better turnover differential) and ability to overcome adversity (famously 15 players on IR).
That is also why all the pressure will be on the Packers, but the Giants will be less rested. Both teams are close to full health and the weather and field conditions are unlikely to hurt either team. It all comes down to matchups...
Packers Have Advantage When Passing
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Normally, talk of the Green Bay Packers passing game begins and ends with Aaron Rodgers. The discussion this week must begin with the line of scrimmage battles.
The New York Giants have a four-man pass rush that gives most teams fits. The Packers will have the five starting offensive linemen all playing for the first time since October.
This line can pass-block when it is healthy, as shown in the 2010 contest in which the Packers lost only eight yards via sacks. But having not been on the field for that long together will hurt against the stunts the Giants like to run, and this may be the Giants' best ever pass rushing line.
If the Packers allow too many pressures on Rodgers or have to go too much max protect, Rodgers will not be able to do what he does best: take advantage of his considerable weapons, also now in the fold.
That being said, there is no quarterback more dangerous on the move than Rodgers. No one will know for sure how he will respond to not having thrown a meaningful pass in three weeks, but not doing so all summer did not slow him down.
The Packers will be able to spread out the Giants and tax their secondary with the depth of weapons more than the Giants will be able to disrupt its production.
Slight Advantage Packers When Running
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The Green Bay Packers will also benefit from a healthy offensive line in the running game. While Marshall Newhouse is probably a better run blocker than Chad Clifton, that is more than made up for in Bryan Bulaga's return. T.J. Lang will slide back over replacing Evan Dietrich-Smith, improving both positions.
Meanwhile, the Giants are a surprisingly bad run defense. They have smaller, quicker pass rushers that either make plays behind the line or are taken out of the play. Their stunts exacerbate that unknown.
You can get yards on them. The Atlanta Falcons did not last week, but teams do more often than not; New York was in the bottom quarter of the league in total rushing yards and yards per carry allowed.
While picking their spots to run, former Giant Ryan Grant should be able to continue running effectively enough to keep New York honest. James Starks' return means the Packers have their best option back for the tough yards.
Every year, the Packers running game comes alive in the winter. Expect to see the Packers run the ball more often and effectively to counter the attempts of the Giants to control the clock.
Advantage Giants When Passing
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Cheeseheads expecting bad Eli Manning to show up—guess again. He has only had one truly bad game all season.
The "lesser" Manning backed up his words at the beginning of the season, declaring himself an elite quarterback. He finished fourth in yards (4,933), third in yards per attempt (8.4), sixth in passer rating among those with 300-plus attempts (92.6) and tied for sixth in touchdowns (29).
The Giants have an abundance of weapons in the passing game, from Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham at the receiver position. They have a good line that gave up just 28 sacks.
Green Bay has trouble consistently generating a pass rush and gives up more yards than any other team in the league. But the Packers win by forcing turnovers or making red-zone stops, and the Giants did have 16 interceptions during the regular season.
If the Giants turn the ball over more than once Sunday, they will lose.
Slight Advantage Giants When Running
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Sure, the New York Giants were the worst rushing team in the NFL in both yards per game and yards per carry. The Green Bay Packers ranked 14th in yards allowed and six teams ranked lower in average yards gained.
But the Packers were incredible in the first three weeks or otherwise those numbers would be worse. The Packers are more susceptible to the run because of the 3-4 defense coupled with one of the defensive ends being undersized.
Big physical backs like Brandon Jacobs have even more success than other runners. The memory of LeGarrette Blount running over poor tackling is etched upon the minds of anyone following the team.
Meanwhile, the Giants are at their heart a smash-mouth football team that is getting its running game back. They have a very good offensive line and three capable backs.
Against the sixth-ranked Falcons defense (albeit 13th in yards per carry), Ahmad Bradshaw and Jacobs combined for 28 carries and 155 yards. They will find success against the Packers.
However, much of the Packers problems in the trenches may well be due to fatigue. B.J. Raji played almost every down until the season finale, and the defensive ends likely lost bulk throughout the season as undersized linemen do.
The week off may do them good, as the Packers gave up under 200 combined rushing yards to backs over the first three weeks of the season and the two that followed the bye—less than 40 per game when rested. The list of backs included Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson.
Slight Advantage Green Bay on Special Teams
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The Green Bay Packers had among the worst special teams units in the league last season. This season, the group is above average.
Mason Crosby and Lawrence Tynes are a virtual wash. Both are good on kickoffs and both missed five field goal attempts. The Packers' Crosby attempted four more, but missed more often inside of 50 yards, where most will be kicked in the cold.
Tim Masthay is a not only a better runner than Steve Weatherford (he converted his only rush and Weatherford failed miserably), but a better punter. While Weatherford averages a few more inches per punt, the Giant gets a touchback on an ever-so-slightly higher percentage of kicks and pins opponents inside the 20 on more than 10 percent fewer of them.
The Packers' coverage and return units are better, too. New York gives up 3.8 more yards per punt return than they net and get only about a foot more per kick return, with no touchdowns scored or allowed. Green Bay gives up fewer than two more yards and gets more than a yard better than its opponents on punts and kicks, respectively, scoring twice and allowing just one.
Packers 35, Giants 34
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The reality is this game is so close that the Packers' slight advantage on special teams is the margin of victory.
Eli Manning is fantastic in the fourth quarter and Rodgers is fantastic in the red zone. Look for the Green Bay Packers to convert when it gets deep and the New York Giants to storm back in the final period. But Aaron Rodgers is not going to lose his first home playoff game after going 4-1 on the road.
When Rodgers led the Packers to the winning score in New York in Week 13, Skip Bayless rated the drive just a six. He reasoned (using that word in reference to Skip Bayless just caused an earthquake somewhere) that because Rodgers was tied, not behind, the pressure was not great enough.
He will be able to similarly weasel out of this one. Rodgers will get the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, but with enough time on the clock that settling for a tying field goal would have been an option.
The Giants will score a field goal to bring it within one, and the Packers will predictably run-run-pass, getting just one first down before having to punt. But on the last possession when New York can no longer run, the Packers' pass defense will get a game-sealing interception.