The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers meet Sunday in an NFC Divisional Round game. We look at whether or not the fourth-seeded Giants have a chance at an upset.
The Green Bay Packers are nine-point favorites in Sunday's NFC Divisional Round playoff game at Lambeau Field (4:30 p.m. ET/FOX). Perhaps dismissing the underdog Giants, SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber asks if the defending champion Packers are primed to make it two Super Bowl titles in a row.
I want to ask a different question. That is, are the Giants primed to pull off the upset? There has been a great deal of talk around the Giants about how similar this playoff run is to the one that led to their Super Bowl victory four years ago over the 18-0 New England Patriots. Some of that from the media, but also some from the Giants themselves.
It is hard to avoid the comparison. In that magical 2008 Super Bowl run the Giants used a narrow loss to the Patriots as a confidence-building springboard, then went on the road and won an improbable series of games just to get to the Super Bowl. There, of course, they pulled off the most improbable upset of all, defeating New England for the title.
This season, a narrow regular-season loss to then-unbeaten Green Bay was eventually followed by a pair of season-ending victories, and the Giants opened the playoffs with their most impressive all-around performance of the season, a 24-2 annihilation of the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers finished the season 15-1. The Giants are 10-7 after last Sunday's playoff victory.
So, now what? Can the Giants do it again? Let's look at some of the key factors in Sunday's game.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli Manning
Of course, the two opposing Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks are not going mano-a-mano on the field at the same time. They are, however, opposing each other. There is an expectation that, coming off a record-setting season in which he passed for 4,643 yards and had a best-ever single-season passer rating of 122.5 that Rodgers and the Packers will be able to score points.
Manning's job will be to match him volley-for-volley, or scoring drive for scoring drive. If anyone still does not believe that Manning is an elite quarterback, they were not paying attention to the franchise best 4,933-yard season Manning just had and the five fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories he led. The real difference in the 38-35 victory by Green Bay the first time the teams met was one bad throw by Manning that turned into a Pick Six for Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Related: Reasons The Giants Can, Can't Win
It isn't every Sunday that you get playoff football games with two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks at the height of their powers going toe-to-toe. This should be fun to watch.
The Giants Pass Rush Vs. The Green Bay Offensive Line
The Giants are built to rush the passer, having finished third in the league with 48 sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul had a breakout, All-Pro season with 16.5 of those. Pro Bowl ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora each missed significant time this season due to injuries, but both are as healthy now as they have been all season and are playing well. The Giants have 13 sacks in the past three weeks.
The Packers have had some injury concerns along their offensive line, although they appear to be healthy now. The pass rush very well might be the key to defeating the Packers, especially if the Giants can get harass Rodgers without having to constantly send extra people.
"The pressure is on our D-line. Even when you can't get to him, just to let him feel you, make sure you're around him, maybe some batted passes. Things like that," Tuck said this week. "He's dangerous anyway, but obviously letting him sit back there and get comfortable, we don't have a shot."
The Packers led the league with 31 interceptions and are +24 in takeaway/giveaway ratio. That, largely, is what has helped Green Bay overcome a defense that is last in the league in terms of yardage allowed (411.6 yards per game). Manning threw those 25 interceptions Eli-bashers love to talk about a season ago, but had just 16 this season while the Giants were +7 in takeaways/giveaways.
Rodgers threw only six picks all season. If, however, the Giants can find a way to win the turnover battle with the Packers that would go a long way toward allowing them to pull off an upset similar to 2008.
Giants Wide Receivers vs. Green Bay's Secondary
The Giants have the explosive duo of Victor Cruz (a franchise record 1,536 receiving yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192 receiving yards). The Giants believe there are plays to be made against the Green Bay secondary -- if they can avoid the big turnover.
"They have some players on that side of the ball that are very willing to take chances and gamble and if they give up a few plays they don't mind because they're looking for an interception," said New York offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. "Hopefully we can stay away from those bad plays because when I think you employ that style defensively you also hopefully give us some chances on the offensive side to make some plays."
The Giants definitely have a chance here. They have the quarterback and the explosive offense capable of competing with the Packers in a shootout-type game. They have the pass rushers who could limit Green Bay's ability to march up and down the field. Many of their core players were on the team that defeated the Packers in the NFC Championship Game four years ago, so they know it can be done.
Will they pull it off? We will find out Sunday night.