Apart from a brief stumble in Week 15, the Packers have been unstoppable, compiling a league-best 15-1 record. But the Giants are quickly becoming the team no one wants to play this postseason. If New York is to hand Green Bay its first loss at Lambeau in well over a year, the team will need its quarterback to come up big, the running game to keep moving, and the defense to disrupt Aaron Rodgers and Co.
At the very least, if this NFC divisional matchup is anything like their Week 13 meeting, fans are in for a real treat. Here’s what the Giants have to do to have a chance to slay Goliath:
1. Eli must be elite
The Pro Bowl quarterback is having a season to remember. He finished fourth in the league in yards, had eight games of 300 passing yards or more, threw 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns, and engineered five comeback victories. Manning didn’t miss a beat last week against the Falcons, throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns, and more importantly no interceptions. The Giants QB has the stuff, the weapons (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham) and the opportunity to hang with Rodgers and the Pack.
Green Bay was historically atrocious on defense this past season. The team was dead last in passing yards allowed (299.8) and total yards allowed per game (411.6). No team with the worst regular-season defense has ever advanced to a Super Bowl. Manning has already put up big numbers on the Packers once this season (347 yards and three touchdowns in Week 13) and there is no reason to think he can’t do it again. If New York can match Green Bay point-for-point on Sunday, the Giants will gain a major moral victory.
2. Don’t give up on the run
The Giants’ running game ranked dead last during the regular season (averaging just over 89 yards per game) and the tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for just two 100-yard performances. It’s amazing that the Giants offense performed as well as it did this season (24.6 points scored per game) all things considered.
But last week against Atlanta, New York’s beleaguered rushing attack came to life, finishing with a season-high 172 yards. Even more impressive was the that running game averaged 5.5 yards per carry, two entire yards north of their regular-season average. But can they keep it up? The Packers were much better defending the run during the regular season (almost 112 yards allowed per game), but if weather is an issue in Green Bay, the ground game will become that much more important. A balanced offense makes the Giants that much more dangerous.
3. Get to Aaron Rodgers
With both offenses potentially cancelling each other out, this game could come down to which D plays better.
Rodgers is a matchup nightmare — from his outstanding accuracy to his scrambling ability to his love of stretching the field with the long pass. He has so many gifted receivers at his disposal (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley to name a few), that it makes it almost impossible to account for everyone. The Packers led the league in points per game (35) and finished third in the NFL in passing yards per contest. Rodgers only had one game (that Week 15 hiccup against the Chiefs) where he didn’t throw two or more touchdowns.
But this Giants defense, with the way it’s playing right now, presents a whole different challenge for the Packers. This past weekend, New York’s D was suffocating, allowing just 247 total yards against Atlanta (including two key stops on fourth and one). The real strength of this Giants defense is its athletic and physical front seven — the unit finished third in the league in sacks and put up 11 over the final two weeks of the regular season. If New York can win the battle at the line of scrimmage and make things uncomfortable for Rodgers, the Giants just might pull off another upset at Lambeau.