In January 2008, everything was looking up for Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Favre was aging, but had just had his best regular season since 2002. The Packers had rolled through the regular season at 13-3 and had home-field advantage in their first-round game against the Seattle Seahawks.
That game, in the NFC Divisional round, was a laugher. Green Bay spotted Seattle 14 points in the first six minutes, then easily disposed of them by reeling off 42 points. Favre was at his most Favrian, throwing snowballs and touchdown passes and slapping five with the officials.
When the 10-6 New York Giants improbably knocked off the Dallas Cowboys (who would have hosted Green Bay for the NFC Championship), a trip to the Super Bowl looked all but certain. The Packers had momentum, the weather and the great Favre on their side. The Giants were finally starting to get healthy, but some continued to malign Eli manning as a bust.
Yet, New York won. The game featured sloppy play at times and strange twists of fate at others, but the Giants pulled out the win over a team that had looked, all season, like the class of the NFC. Once they reached Super Bowl XLII, it must have seemed a much less daunting task to take down the ostensibly perfect New England Patriots.
Three years later, the Giants are the team everyone sees as the NFC elite. The Packers, like those 2007 Giants, are a very young team that has dealt with devastating injury loss in the early going. Green Bay certainly wins the NFC North beauty contest, but the Chicago Bears have the tie-breaker on the Packers as Green Bay goes into its bye week.
It seems entirely possible that the Packers, led by frustratingly inconsistent but sensational young passer Aaron Rodgers, will enter the playoffs as a Wild Card—just as did the 2007 Giants. Rodgers and company will have to run a relative gauntlet to even get to the NFC title game.
The two teams will clash first at Lambeau Field on the day after Christmas. New York will likely have the NFC all but sewn up then, so the Packers will get little in the way of advanced information. In 2007, the two teams clashed early in the season, and Green Bay smashed the Giants. New York used that loss for information about the Packers, though, and won the game that counted most.
If the Packers can get to New York in January, though, they have a very real chance to knock off New York. Clay Matthews is precisely the kind of well-rounded player necessary to disrupt New York's offense, while Rodgers has shown signs of life over the past two weeks after three straight uneven games.
The Packers are the defensive juggernaut New York was in January 2008, and have the offensive efficiency New York had that year. They are young and explosive, and could be much healthier than they are now by the time the two teams meet in December. Green Bay would love nothing more than to make their fans forget the bitter disappointment of that loss three years ago, and send the Giants home early this winter.