I guess you can’t blame Wisconsin sports fans for feeling pessimistic in 2012.
The list of things to grumble about has gotten pretty long in the New Year: The Badgers’ football team lost the Rose Bowl and then a bunch of coaches followed offensive coordinator Paul Chryst out of town. Badger center Peter Konz declared that he’s entering the NFL Draft. The Badgers men’s basketball team fell out of the national rankings. The Brewers decided to re-sign Manny Parra.
And then there’s the unseemly off-field incidents ranging from the curious – UW senior associate athletic director John Chadima’s decision to resign in the face of reported allegations of misconduct – to the tragic – the death of the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
Things have gotten so bleak that many Packers fans have begun to lose hope, with some of them fearing that Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the New York Giants could be the Pack’s last game of the season.
Really? The Green Bay Packers? The defending Super Bowl champions? The team that toyed with perfection for much of the regular season? The team that led the league in scoring? The team that was second in the league in turnover differential and second in the league for fewest penalty yards? The team that features QB Aaron Rodgers, nearly every pundit’s pick for league MVP?
Well, some would say, it’s also the team with the league’s worst defense. And sure, Aaron Rodgers is terrific, but he’s also been spending valuable playoff preparation time filming lame commercials for an insurance company.
So, should Packers fans be worried? Do the New York football Giants have a playoff run in them to match their Super Bowl championship 2007 season?
Perhaps. Let’s see how the Giants could win:
1. The Giants run the ball successfully. Given the Giants’ (largely unearned) reputation as a ground-and-pound team that move the ball with seasoned backs Ahmed Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, it probably surprises many to learn that the Giants had statistically the worst rushing attack in the league in 2011 with a paltry 89.2 yards per game. However, in walloping the punchless Atlanta Falcons in last week’s Wild Card game, the Giants nearly doubled their season rushing average, gaining 172 yards on the ground with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. If the Giants can repeat that performance, they could pull off the upset.
2. Eli Manning outduels Aaron Rodgers. Don’t laugh. It’s possible. While Rodgers has been off-the-charts spectacular, Eli has had a more than respectable season, actually surpassing Rodgers in yards thrown. The biggest difference between the two (although Rodgers tops Eli in basically every other category): Manning has thrown 16 interceptions, while Rodgers has tossed only six. But Manning’s wideouts are almost as dangerous as Rodgers’s: The group of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Jake Ballard combined to catch more passes for more yards than the Packers’ group of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley. Of course the Packers also have James Jones and rookie Randall Cobb. One of them could be a difference-maker Sunday.
3. The Giants get consistent pressure on Rodgers. One of the Giants’ strengths is their defensive line, with standouts like Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul combining for 17 sacks and five interceptions in their last five games. It’s a great group, and they should be able to get their licks in this Sunday: Rodgers was taken down 36 times this season, and Matt Flynn was sacked three times in the Rodgers-less season finale against Detroit. All told, Rodgers was sacked three or more times in six games this season. It would surprise no one if that number became seven this weekend.
4. The dreaded intangibles. Putting aside the tragic situation that has obviously distracted Joe Philbin over the last several days, there are so-called intangibles that seem to work out in the Giants’ favor. Most obviously is New York seems to be the leading candidate to be the 2012 version of the 2011 Packers: Last year the Packers entered the postseason on a hot streak, going to the home of the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons and blowing them out en route to the Super Bowl. This year the Giants are that hot team with the chance to upend the No. 1 seed. And who could forget the outcome the last time the Giants visited Lambeau in the postseason? But though the Giants have won four of their last five games, the Packers proved last year that beating the Falcons in the postseason was no difficult task. And if either quarterback is going to throw a late-game interception as happened on that frigid January 2008 night, this time it’s unlikely to be the one playing for the Packers.
Prediction: The Giants are a scary team with arguably a more balanced offensive attack and an inarguably better defense. But the Packers have the better playmakers and are much more likely to win Sunday’s turnover battle. Those facts alone should be enough to put Packers fans’ minds at ease. Final score: Green Bay 31, New York Giants 24.