Saturday, January 14, 2012

InReeseWeTrust: New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers Playoff Preview

New York Giants (10-7) at Green Bay Packers (15-1), Sunday, January 15th at 4:30 p.m. at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin
By Ben Kelly - 1/14/12

Packers Giants, part deux
The Giants will make their second road appearance this Sunday since defeating the Packers, 23-20, at Lambeau during the 2008 playoffs. Corey Webster intercepted Brett Favre’s final pass in a Green Bay uniform in overtime to set up the decisive Lawrence Tynes field goal. In the teams’ two matchups since the NFC Championship, the Packers scored two victories: a 45-17 demolition during last season’s playoff push, and the 38-35 thriller in the Meadowlands on December 4th of this season. A two-point conversion run by DJ Ware evened the score at 35 with less than a minute to play before Aaron Rodgers marched the 11-0 Packers to a game-winning field as time expired. Despite dropping their fourth straight and falling into playoff jambalaya at 6-6, the Giants landed on their feet en route to the division crown at 9-7.

The stars align on the line
I can’t remember a Giants roster so full of bonafide stars. Eli Manning has been a lightning rod all season for his “elite” comments, but Manning’s national perception has finally caught up to what Giants fans have known for years: that he’s right. The combination of size of power in backfield mates Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs makes them the most intimidating running corps left in the playoffs. Outside the tackle box, Victor Cruz’s fairy-tale of undrafted to All-Pro in two seasons has completely outshined Hakeem Nicks’ steady progression into an elite receiver himself. With a healthy offensive line, several of the offensive stars will be game-changers on Sunday. It’s just a matter of which ones. Defensively, no playoff unit is more impactful than the Giants’ pass rushers. Beyond the edge-rushing stars in Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul, this Giants rotation is deeper in 2011 than ever before. Chris Canty saved his best play this season for the playoff push, notching two sacks in the past three games. The unsung Rocky Bernard was cut loose against Atlanta, sacking Matt Ryan once and deflecting a pass at the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter. Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Jacquian Williams look more comfortable and dependable every week in the linebacker rotation. Even Linval Joseph played well last week as a run stopper. Joseph’s best game this season came against Green Bay when he lugged his 320-pound frame to a career-high nine tackles. Joseph’s inside force held Green Bay running backs to 2.4 yards per carry, calling for a season high 46 pass attempts and the third lowest completion percentage of the season for Aaron Rodgers. Giants defensive linemen must once again force Green Bay into a one-dimensional passing offense and enable the secondary to be in position for drive-ending stops and interceptions.

Throw seeds out the window
In the past five seasons, number one seeds in either conference advanced out of the divisional round only four out of ten times. The 2010 season should remind the Packers of that fate, when they stormed through the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons 48-21 in last year’s divisional round. The 2010 AFC first seed fell to the same fate as Atlanta when the Jets toppled the Patriots 28-14 in New England. Both divisional playoff games were regular season rematches. But in the words of my high school Statistics teacher, “there are three kind of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” There are plenty of statistics that tilt the advantage in the Giants’ favor, and just as many to support the Packers. The game won’t be won by analyzing the histories of four seeds versus one seeds, or which team Vegas likes to win. Green Bay-New York offers plenty of matchups full of circumstance and momentum not found on charts. What kind of rust will Aaron Rodgers show after not throwing a live action pass since December 25th? How long will the Giants pass rush keep Rodgers off his game? Can the Giants outrun their Super Bowl shadow?

Eli Manning has played some damn good football at the end of this season, but the Giants could have topped the Packers in December if not for one major gaffe by Manning. With New York leading 10-7 early in the second quarter, a delayed blitz from linebacker DJ Smith forced Eli to direct a panic throw to Ahmad Bradshaw on the sideline. Clay Matthews jumped the route and galloped forty yards untouched into the end zone for a 14-10 Packer lead. The Giants scored on another drive later in the second quarter, but the Matthews touchdown changed what could have been a 17-7 Giants lead into a four-point deficit. New York led only once again and never during in the second half. But even as the Packers kept pouring on the points, New York hung tough and scraped together scoring drives. The Packers have a bend-not-break defense, ranking last in yardage allowed but first in turnovers forced with 38 this season. The Giants will score again in Green Bay, and so will the Packers with Rodgers at the helm. The result rests on defensive difference makers and momentum shifting stops. In tough games this season, Green Bay has had to rely on Rodgers to outscore opponents. Facing the toughest defensive line in football, he won’t have the chance to dig the Packers from a late hole. Giants win, 33-25.

Around the League
New Orleans 36, San Francisco 27
Denver 27, New England 21
Baltimore 24, Houston 10

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