At 11-0 and closing in on a perfect season, the Green Bay Packers may find Sunday's game against the New York Giants to be their toughest challenge. Sitting at 6-5, the Giants are riding a three-game losing streak but have a talented team that may be determined to turn things around before it's knocked out of the playoffs entirely.
The Packers will be coming to town, though, and will be enjoying a longer week of rest since they played on Thanksgiving. In addition, their offense is playing better than any other unit in the league, and their defense seems to be finally coming around after a rocky start.
Here are five big questions that will be answered when the Packers and Giants take the field on Sunday.
In 2009, the Giants started out at 5-0, only to collapse in the final 11 games to finish the season at 8-8. The next year, they were well on their way to the playoffs until blowing a 31-10 lead to Philadelphia in the fourth quarter. The next week, they faced the Packers only to be blown out 45-17.
This year, the started out 6-2, but have lost three in a row and will have the difficult task of coming back to win the division when they still have to play the defending Super Bowl champs, as well as the Cowboys twice and the Jets.
It seems like for the past three seasons, the Giants have blown leads in their division and collapsed at the end of the year. And with it happening again this year, the question must be posed of what is happening to this team? Is coach Tom Coughlin's demeanor wearing thin? Or is there simply no leadership or chemistry in the locker room?
This week would be the perfect chance for the Giants to break their recent struggles late in the season, but if they continue to struggle against the Packers, their season will be in jeopardy.
In Week 12, the Packers played the Lions on Thursday afternoon and, after beating them handily, did not have to play until this Sunday, giving them 10 days of rest. However, the Giants have had considerably less time to rest, losing on Monday Night Football just a couple days ago.
Frequently, a team that is on shorter rest is at a major disadvantage, especially if that team is on a three-game losing streak and is playing an undefeated team. The only thing the Giants have going for them in this game is they play at home, but is the home-field advantage really going to be enough, especially considering the high number of Packer fans that have been traveling to away games this year?
Josh Sitton might be the Packers' best lineman, but unfortunately, he is likely not playing this week due to a knee injury. Because of this, backup center Evan Dietrich-Smith will be taking over in his place, and while he played well against the Lions, he is going to have some big shoes to fill.
Dietrich-Smith is a solid backup, but will be facing a formidable defensive line featuring Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He may have his hands full, and if he struggles the defensive line might get to Aaron Rodgers, which could be the best way to stop the Packers' potent passing offense.
Dietrich-Smith may be the key to this game; if he can do his job and protect the quarterback, Rodgers should have a good game against a struggling and injury-ravaged Giants secondary.
Despite the three-game losing skid, Eli Manning has had a good season. Even in a loss Monday night, Manning threw for three touchdowns and 400 yards. While the Packers defense has had recent success this year against the Vikings and Lions, it has also struggled against the Chargers, Saints and even the Panthers, especially in the pass.
With the Giants' running back corps decimated due to injuries, the offense will likely have to rely on the passing game, so the Packers will have to have a good pass rush and will likely have to turn the ball over a few times if they want to stop Manning and the Giants and get the win on the road.
It will definitely be a tough task, but the Packers defense seems to be finally getting it together, and if it can have a good game against Manning and the Giants, Green Bay will be in good shape in the final stretch of the season.
Aaron Rodgers has been incredible this season, on his way to 33 touchdowns and four interceptions, and while he is facing a Giants defense that can get to the quarterback, he is also facing a Giants secondary that has some talent in Antrel Rolle and rookie corner Prince Amukamara. However, the New York secondary has also been hit hard by injuries, and even Amukamara was affected greatly, only returning to the field a couple weeks ago.
Like I said earlier, the Giants' best hope of stopping Rodgers will be to put him on the ground, and they may have a decent shot of doing this as two backups are playing on the offensive line for the Packers. However, both Marshall Newhouse and Evan Dietrich-Smith have held their own, so if they continue their success, Rodgers will be fine.
As it seems like it's been for the last 11 weeks that as long as Rodgers has a good game, the Packers will win, and with the year he's been having, it's hard to imagine him struggling—unless the Giants are able to put him on the ground a few times.