The 15-1 Green Bay Packers aren't the underdog in their matchup Sunday vs. the 10-7 New York Giants, but you would never know that according to some of the media types—especially those with a bias towards the Big Apple.
All you hear is how the Giants look exactly like the team that won three road NFC playoff games after the 2007 season (including the NFC Championship Game against the Packers at Lambeau) and then went on to beat the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The Packers are also going into this game emotionally charged after the tragic death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son Michael earlier this week. Head Coach Mike McCarthy choked up talking about that situation during his press conference on Wednesday.
The Packers' organization is all about staying together like a family unit. The pain that the Philbin family is suffering right now goes beyond words. The Green Bay organization grieves with the Philbins. The team has dedicated the game on Sunday to the Philbin family.
Philbin himself is not expected to be with the team on Sunday. But the Packers will be thinking about Philbin and his family. And the Packers will also be playing the game for them.
This stat jumps out at you. Aaron Rodgers is 2-0 lifetime against the New York Giants and has thrown eight TD passes vs. just one pick for 773 yards and has a QB rating of 121.2. Somehow, I don't think Rodgers is phased by the pass rush of the Giants that produced 48 sacks in the 2011 regular season and produced two more last week vs. the Atlanta Falcons in their 24-2 victory.
The Giants have sacked Rodgers four times in those two games, and have applied decent pressure, but the quick release by Rodgers offsets that. In addition to that, Rodgers has the ability to make plays with his feet.
In the two games against the Giants, Rodgers rushed six times for 58 yards. That's almost a 10-yard average folks. In one drive alone, in the game in New Jersey, Rodgers twice ran for first downs.
I also expect the offensive line of the Packers to handle the pass rush of the Giants effectively. All five starting offensive linemen that lined up at the beginning of the season will be out there to face the Giants.
LT Chad Clifton, who missed the last game vs. the Giants (he missed 10 games overall in 2011 due to a severe hamstring injury), will be back, as will RG Josh Sitton, who also missed the last game against the G-Men because of a knee sprain.
No matter what, expect another big day by Rodgers this Sunday.
As noted in the previous slide, Aaron Rodgers loves to play against the Giants. Obviously that also means his receivers love to play against the G-Men as well. Look at these two game breakdowns vs. the Giants for the men who catch the ball from Rodgers...
Greg Jennings- 14 receptions for 236 yards and one TD
Jordy Nelson- eight receptions for 218 yards and one TD
Donald Driver- seven receptions for 78 yards and two TDs
Plus James Jones is also dangerous, although he didn't have a reception in the 38-35 win over the Giants in the regular season game. Jones did, however, catch four passes for 36 yards and a TD last season vs. the Giants.
TE Jermichael Finley didn't play against the Giants last season due to a knee injury that ended up putting him on the IR, but in the game this season, Finley had six receptions for 87 yards and a TD.
Now I'm sure some of you are asking why I would include the running backs for one of the reasons the Packers will beat the Giants. I mean the Packers only ran for 89 yards vs. the G-Men almost six weeks ago. And Aaron Rodgers had 32 of those yards.
Last year the Packers only rushed for 119 yards against the Giants. But that came on 35 attempts. Mike McCarthy likes to utilize the running game in colder conditions. The weather at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sunday afternoon will definitely be cold. The high temperature is expected be 31°. That temperature will get colder as darkness appears above the Frozen Tundra.
Last year in two colder playoff games in Philadelphia and Chicago, the Packers rushed 32 times in each game. The Packers had 138 rushing yards in the game against the Eagles (behind the 123 yards rushing by James Starks). The Packers also rushed for 120 yards vs. da Bears.
Bottom line, expect a steady dose of run attempts by Starks, Ryan Grant, Brandon Saine and John Kuhn. Time will tell how many yards the Packers will get running the ball, but if nothing else if will make the pass rush of the Giants honest.
Also, the Packers have been using the screen play more often and with nice success too. The screen pass is yet another way to offset an effective pass rush.
The Green Bay defense finished 32nd in the NFL in total yards allowed. That's dead last folks. The Packers also allowed Eli Manning of the Giants to throw for 347 yards and 3 TD passes in the last meeting between the two teams. The Giants also rushed for 100 yards.
During the bye week last week for the Packers, Dom Capers and his defense staff sort of read the riot act to the defensive players. The coaches were brutally blunt in their assessment of the defense. The coaches challenged the players to get better. To be assignment sure. To make big plays.
I believe the defensive players on the Packers will answer that challenge.
Plus, there was bulletin board material. Players on the Giants were guaranteeing a win. Players on the Giants were calling out the Green Bay secondary. Plus, there was Marshall Faulk of NFL Network calling out Clay Matthews. Talking about Matthews, Faulk said on the No Huddle show, "Has he (Matthews) played this year?"
Faulk was being tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but Matthews came up big against the Giants almost six weeks ago. Matthews had a 38-yard interception return for a TD, plus also had a sack that caused a fumble, which was recovered by the Packers.
The Packers led the NFL in interceptions this year with 31 picks (eight more than any other team). The last time the Giants and Packers met in Green Bay, the Packers had four interceptions vs. Manning, plus recovered two fumbles as well.
Matthews may not have the sack numbers that he has had in the past this year (6 sacks), but he has played well overall, especially vs. the run. Matthews also had a career-high three interceptions this season.
Charles Woodson led the Packers with seven picks this season, while Charlie Peprah chipped in with five.
Bottom line, I expect the defense of the Packers to reach down and play a very solid game on Sunday. Players like Matthews and Woodson are very prideful and they will help lead the charge.