The last two Super Bowl champions face off in Week 12 as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel to the Meadowlands to take on Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
The Packers (7-3) have hit their stride after a slow start that left them 2-3 and their more forgetful fans questioning Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Since then, five-straight wins (including a thrashing of Houston) has reinvigorated the fanbase and the team has found new ways to win. Now, with shakeup elsewhere in the NFC, the Pack may legitimately be the best team in the conference.
The Giants (6-4) were having a similar type of season after starting 2-2 and winning four straight. However, two November losses against AFC North opponents and an atrocious November record the past few years has left people wondering if the Giants' are slow-rolling the rest of the NFL or simply not good enough to consistently beat the best teams in the NFL.
Key Storyline No. 1: Who's the Best Team in the NFC?
In the end, maybe this question isn't answered until the end of January, but Sunday night's game will go a long way to setting the tone for the rest of the year.
Sure the 49ers, Bears and Falcons have all had their moments this season, but is anyone on a better roll than the Packers right now? Is anyone really putting their money on Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan rather than Aaron Rodgers?
Similarly, the Giants aren't exactly playing their best ball right now, but they didn't last season either. It's hard to be a "dynasty" without double-digit wins, but the Giants won with a similar mindset last year and it would be foolish to count them out too soon this season.
In an age of parity, the NFL has had multiple "best teams" this season, the winner of this game will have an awfully good argument that they're the latest greatest.
Key Storyline No. 2: Is this the Beginning of the End for the Giants, or just the Beginning?
As much as I refuse to bet against the Giants, they're not exactly rolling right now. At some point, the mentality of a team can become ingrained and if playing for nine or 10 wins deep-sixes their playoff seeding, it could mean that their time in the spotlight ends sooner rather than later.
Then again, if we're taking a long view of the Giants' makeup, we have to remember that Eli Manning is 31 and could (easily) have eight to 10 years left of great football. The Giants have also put some good young talent around him in recent years. Even if November is a speed bump and even if the Giants don't repeat in 2012, they could have plenty of great football left in the tank.
Losing on national TV and falling to 6-5 isn't exactly the most awe-inspiring moment, though, and how the Giants play on Sunday night will shape the way people talk about them for the rest of the year.
Keys for the Green Bay Packers
On offense, the Packers don't really need to do anything out of the ordinary. Their 12th-ranked passing attack hasn't been as explosive as they had hoped, but it should be more than good enough to put up some serious yards against the Giants' 25th-ranked passing defense. Of course, protecting No. 12 is always going to be an adventure—especially against the Giants' front—so Rodgers will need to get the ball out quickly.
On the other side of the ball, it isn't going to be easy for the Packers, who have also had trouble stopping the pass this season (and last season, and so on). They need to pressure Manning and make sure the Giants' receivers aren't getting free releases. To some extent, they need to "let" Victor Cruz beat them when he sets up off the line and bring him down after the catch. Sloppy tackling will mean a whole lot of salsa.
Keys for the New York Giants
These teams have enough similarities, that the story is much-the-same for the Giants. The wild card, of course, is that the Giants have a much better running game than the Packers. To protect Eli Manning, they need to impose their will—even (gasp) running on 2nd-and-long—and keep the Packers' linebackers guessing. If it's a close game in the fourth quarter, Manning has a pretty great chance to work his magic.
On defense, the Packers will need to unload a little trickeration as Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are both dinged up. Randall Cobb has been quite the X-factor for the Packers this season and should continue that against the Giants. To stop him, Big Blue needs to get pressure up front and stop the Packers from using any extensive backfield motion. If the Giants let the Packers get "cute," the game is over.
Bold Prediction: Green Bay Packers Get More Sacks Than the Giants
This actually isn't as "bold" as it is surprising to many people, but the Packers' 33 sacks this season is second in the NFL and the Giants' 25 is middle of the pack.
Where this prediction gets bold is on the other side of the coin, where the Giants have only given up 13 sacks compared to the Packers' offensive line giving up 32. Manning is a big part of that success, as his great decision-making and quick release has made up for the pressure his line has given up.
This week, however, expect the defensive trend to overwhelm the offensive one as the Packers continue to apply pressure from all angles as they move the line of scrimmage and collapse the Giants' pocket. Everything the Bengals were able to do against the Giants, the Packers should do in spades.
Player of the Game Prediction: Randall Cobb
As mentioned earlier, the Packers will need to utilize Rodgers' new favorite teammate as both a receiver and a gadget player. The former Kentucky quarterback is able to beat defenses in any number of ways and he'll be the most dynamic player on the field on Sunday night.
Quick passes to Cobb and continually getting the Giants defensive line moving side-to-side with misdirection will neutralize the pass rush and eat up huge chunks of yardage en route to a Packers' victory.
Final Score Prediction: Packers 34; Giants 27
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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