After a rocky start to the season, the Packers have won five in a row and have clawed their way into first place in the NFC North. Meanwhile, the NFC East-leading Giants have dropped their past two games and continue to cling to a precarious one-game lead in their division.
When these two teams meet, the outcome of the game will be important not only because of immediate momentum, but also because this interconference game may ultimately be a deciding factor in playoff seeding for one or both teams.
Given that the Packers have already lost two games against NFC foes—one to Seattle and one to San Francisco—and that they lead the NFC by just a tiebreaker, a loss to the Giants could have some pretty awful repercussions down the line.
It goes without saying that preventing turnovers is important to allow the offense to do its job and put points on the board, but as far as keys to the game go, this one is huge.
The Packers have suffered from a propensity to give the ball away at key times that has robbed the team of momentum just when they have started to get on a roll. Avoiding that on Sunday will go a long way toward keeping the offense moving down the field.
On the other end of the ball, the Green Bay defense needs to keep creating turnovers.
The team’s plus-7 turnover ratio thus far this season is a testament that the Pack has been successful at creating more turnovers than they have surrendered thus far this season.
If Casey Heyward can keep up his interception mojo and others on the defense can step up to help give the Packers a positive turnover ratio on the day, it should mean good things for Green Bay.
Injuries and the struggle to fully mesh as a group have been the name of the game for the Green Bay offensive line, but the success of the O-line that has been pieced together to pick up the slack is crucial for the offense to succeed.
T.J. Lang and Evan Dietrich-Smith clearly struggled against the Lions, and the test they will face on Sunday versus the Giants won’t be any easier.
Hopefully a week of practice and preparation will help solidify some of the weaknesses in the line so that Aaron Rodgers will be able to take advantage of reliable protection in the pocket.
There’s not much to say about Mason Crosby: He has two jobs and he hasn’t been doing one of them well.
Crosby needs to climb out of his slump and get the ball through the uprights on field goal attempts. Turning the ball over to the Giants near midfield is a dangerous proposition, and one that Mike McCarthy won’t tolerate.
Mason Crosby needs to be better with his accuracy, but Mike McCarthy needs to have more faith in his kicker, too. Going for it on fourth-and-four when the Packers were in field-goal range was one of a myriad of poor play calls that McCarthy probably wished he could take back.
McCarthy has not been shy about the fact that he was disappointed in his own play-calling effort last Sunday, but fortunately he seems to be adept at learning from his mistakes.
Aaron Rodgers was able to bring his team back from behind with an 82-yard touchdown drive for the win, but those final couple of charges down the field masked overall tepid offensive performance for most of the rest of the game. Keep in mind that the final score included a defensive touchdown.
That’s been the story for the Green Bay offense for much of the year, with the passing game running hot and cold and the running game remaining nearly invisible. There has got to be more consistency and better chemistry between Rodgers and his receivers. Revitalizing the deep passing game that gutted defenses last season would be a nice added bonus.
Eli Manning seems to have lost his mojo lately, and it behooves the Packers to keep putting him down.
Over his past three games, Manning has averaged a quarterback rating of just 51.8, and he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass. While the Giants have managed to score in other ways, keeping the quarterback off his game will be a great step toward containing the Giants.
The Packers haven’t had a great running game in years, but they have many of the pieces in place to create at least a serviceable ground game. James Starks has been finding some success, and Mike McCarthy has expressed the desire to start working Alex Green back into the rotation as well.
With Aaron Rodgers under center, the Packers really only need a good enough running game to keep the defense honest. If they can come up with that on Sunday, then they will ultimately come away with a win.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers defense will need to go the extra mile to contain the Giants running game.
Ahmad Bradshaw and his counterpart Andre Brown have picked up the slack to at least get the Giants on the board each week when Eli Manning has not been successful.
Taking the running game out of the picture the way the Cincinnati Bengals managed to do in Week 10 will effectively shut down the New York offense if Manning continues to struggle.
Whether it’s Casey Hayward bringing in another interception or Nick Perry and Dezman Moses coming in for a sack, rookies and other younger players who have been called upon to fill holes for injured veterans have been stepping up in a big way.
Two years ago, a similarly decimated Green Bay roster showed astonishing depth and resilience down the stretch thanks to the talent that backed them up. Now, the younger, less-used backups are once again being asked to play a big part in the game.
So far, the rookies have been more of an asset than a liability. Against the New York Giants, these men who have helped glue the team together as the first-string players have fallen, but will need to continue to bring their best game to the table.