This Sunday’s NFC showdown feature two teams that had about the same odds of making the playoffs as Britney Spears did shaving her head. Well both shocked the world in doing just that. The Giants stumbled to a 0-2 start behind a depleted and confused defense and a quarterback in Eli Manning who was completing more passes to the other team than his own. The Packers were quickly disregarded as a â€˜young team’ who would finish 7-9 at best. Under Brett Favre and the miraculous emergence of stud back, Ryan Grant, the Packers steamrolled to an impressive 13-3 and are now sitting in the ideal position for a trip to Arizona. The Giants, meanwhile, recovered in an impressive stretch to finish 10-6 and defeat number one seed Dallas in the NFC Divisional Playoff game. They come to the Frozen Tundra riding a road-winning streak that is nothing short of a miracle considering they played games in blistering heat in Tampa and a rowdy dome in Dallas.
Offense: The Giants offense has improved vastly since Week 2, where the Packers defeated them 35-13 in the Meadowlands. Brandon Jacobs has surfaced as a premiere NFL halfback, while Eli is slowly but surely learning the position of NFL Quarterback. They suffered a drawback, nearly ruining their playoff hopes when playmaker, Jeremey Shockey went down with a broken leg; however, have rebounded nicely to secure a spot in the NFC title game.
The Packers have also improved cosmically on the offensive side of the ball, as they are the second highest rated offense in the league, behind only the Touchdown Behemoths from Boston. Brett Favre is completed an MVP-caliber season as he utilized his young talent to blow out New York in Week 2, division-rival Minnesota in Week 10, and most recently, Seattle last week. Ryan Grant, since he saw playing time in Week 8, has established himself as a big-name runner, with the breakaway ability similar to Barry Sanders.
Edge: Green Bay Packers
Bottom Line: The Packers maintain too much firepower, including a five wide-receiver set, that New York simply doesn’t have the personnel to impede.
Defense: New York possesses a defense line featuring Pro-Bowlers Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, who have the ability to provide big-time pressure on even the most elusive of quarterbacks. However, a depleted secondary that is prone to giving up the big play more than once or twice a game, can be crucial to the crowning of the NFC Champions. Sam Madison was injured earlier in the year after performing at a truly disappointing level, and has been replaced by Corey Webster, a backup safety. Webster provides an improvement, but will have trouble staying with the hidden, yet blistering speed, of some of the Packers wide receivers.
Green Bay comes into this game headlining a depleted, yet effective, defensive line that has the ability to bull-rush through blocks and pressure the quarterback. Because Aaron Kampan, and pass-rush specialist Kabeere Gbaja-Biamila are so effective, the Packers have the opportunity to drop their three linebackers, two of which are playing the best football of their career, into short coverage and jump in the way of a pressured pass. However, Green Bay’s defense focuses on their secondary, as it is one of the most effective and underrated corps in the league. Al Harris and Charles Woodson excel in bump-and-run coverage, while safety Atari Bigby is a ball hawk who has shown his ability to provide brutally numbing hits on receivers (and tight-ends:ask Marcus Pollard) who cross the middle. The combination of pressure from the line and the interruption of routes by the corners yield hurried throws that usually result in minimal gains at best.
Edge: Green Bay Packers
Bottom Line: The Giants defense has played well the last few weeks, but the intensity and talent of Green Bay’s defensive corps can’t be matched.
Special Teams: The New York Giants have quietly been one of the NFL’s better special team units. Featured with punter, Jeff Feadles and returner, R.W. McQuarters, the Giants have the ability to win the field position battle against any team. Lawrence Tynes has been effective as kicker, converting over 85% of field goal attempts.
Aside from a windy day in Chicago, Green Bay’s special teams have been a close-second in the NFC North. Rookie kicker, Mason Crosby led the NFL in scoring. That’s right, the single player who scored the most points this year, was not in New England. With the tandem of returners in Koren Robinson, Tramon Williams, Will Blackmon (questionable), and perhaps Charles Woodson, the Packers own a playmaking ability on all three sides of the ball, as Robinson has been to the Pro-Bowl as a kick-return specialist and Williams returned a pooch-punt 94 yards against Carolina in Week 11.
Bottom Line: You can make an argument for either team in this department, but leave in to the Green Bay defense to give the Packer’s special teams unit plenty of chances to make plays.
Prediction: The Giants have the personnel to make it close, especially on their defensive line, but don’t possess either the firepower to match Green Bay’s powerful offense, or the defensive talent to stop them.
Green Bay Packers 38
New York Giants 24