NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (9-5) at Green Bay (8-6)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Consecutive losses and the temporary absence of their quarterback have placed the Green Bay Packers in a perilous position regarding a return postseason trip, while the New York Giants still control their playoff destiny in spite of a devastating defeat that all but ruined the team's hopes of winning its division.
In what can essentially be viewed as a likely play-in game for one of the NFC's two Wild Card berths, both the Giants and Packers try to get past their recent heartbreak when the well-stocked clubs tangle in an all-important Week 16 clash this Sunday at Lambeau Field.
With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, New York presently occupies the sixth and final seed for next month's conference playoffs with a 9-5 record, one game ahead of both the Packers and longshot Tampa Bay. The Giants can secure a place in the NFC tournament by besting Green Bay on Sunday, which would in turn eliminate the Pack from consideration.
New York had a chance for greater achievements, however, before letting a golden opportunity slip away in its last outing. Tied with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East entering this past Sunday's showdown between the longtime rivals at New Meadowlands Stadium, the Giants were seemingly on their way towards gaining the inside track in the division race after building a 21- point advantage after 3 1/2 quarters of that pivotal matchup.
As it turned out, that margin wasn't enough to hold off the high-scoring Eagles, who erupted for 28 unanswered points over the game's final 7 1/2 minutes to rally for a shocking 38-31 victory that catapulted them into the NFC East's driver seat and more or less forced New York to shoot for the consolation prize of the Wild Card.
Philadelphia, which also topped the Giants earlier in the season, needs to win only one of its two remaining tests to capture the division crown.
The Packers are also resigned to secondary measures, with Chicago having clinched the NFC North title by virtue of a blowout victory at Minnesota on Monday.
Despite an undesired end result as well, Green Bay has more to be encouraged about its performance over the past week. Playing without standout quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers still gave AFC front-runner New England all it could handle before eventually bowing to the powerful Patriots by a 31-27 score last Sunday in Foxborough.
Backup triggerman Matt Flynn threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in his first career NFL start subbing for Rodgers, while a stout Green Bay defense limited the league's highest scoring team to a modest 249 total yards before finally breaking down the stretch, surrendering 10 points over the last 11- plus minutes to enable the Pats to forge ahead.
Rodgers was held out of the game after sustaining a concussion in the second quarter of a frustrating 7-3 loss at Detroit the previous week, but was cleared to practice on Wednesday and will return to his customary role for Sunday's tilt. The former first-round pick had been playing exceptionally well prior to getting hurt, putting up 11 touchdown strikes and no interceptions over a four- game span leading into the team's encounter with the Lions.
He'll be attempting to further bolster a Green Bay squad that's prevailed in nine of its last 10 home games dating back to last season, with the only blemish during that period an overtime setback against Miami on Oct. 17.
The Giants and Packers will be opposing one another for the first time since the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which New York won in a 23-20 overtime thriller at Lambeau Field in what turned out to be Brett Favre's final game in a Green Bay uniform. The Packers had dealt the Giants a 35-13 loss at the Meadowlands during Week 2 of that season to take a 25-21-2 lead in a regular-season series that dates back to 1928. Green Bay has prevailed in four of the past five non- playoff meetings between the clubs, with New York's lone victory during that span a 14-7 verdict in Wisconsin in 2004.
These two storied NFL franchises have squared off a total of six times during postseason play, with all but the 2007 encounter taking place prior to 1963. The Packers and Giants battled for the league championship in 1928, 1929, 1944 and 1961, with Green Bay winning all but the first of those title games, and the Packers came through with a 16-7 decision in a rematch of the NFL Championship Game held at Yankee Stadium in 1962 as well.
New York head coach Tom Coughlin is 2-3 against the Packers during his career, including an 0-2 mark while with Jacksonville from 1995 to 2002. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 1-1 against both Coughlin and the Giants over his five-year tenure with the Pack.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Though mistakes have plagued the unit throughout the course of the year, New York still fields a dangerous offense that's amassed the third-highest yardage total in the NFL (383.9 ypg) and possesses very good balance. The backfield tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (1182 rushing yards, 8 TD, 40 receptions) and Brandon Jacobs (727 rushing yards, 8 TD) has averaged over 135 rushing yards per game and a strong 5.1 yards per carry this season, while quarterback Eli Manning (3458 passing yards, 28 TD, 20 INT) is second in the NFC with a career-high 28 touchdown passes and matched a personal best with four scoring deliveries against the Eagles last week. Wide receiver Mario Manningham (52 receptions, 7 TD) was on the other end of two of those connections as part of an eight- catch, 113-yard effort and teams with sophomore talent Hakeem Nicks (75 receptions, 959 yards, 10 TD) to form a excellent outside combo. Tight end Kevin Boss (33 receptions, 5 TD) has helped offset the season-ending loss to possession receiver Steve Smith with an increase in production, with the fourth-year pro having caught a touchdown pass in three of the past four weeks. Turnovers have been an issue, however, as New York's 35 giveaways are tied for the most in the NFL.
Look for the Giants to try to pound away on a Green Bay defense that's been extremely stingy as a whole but has shown a vulnerability at times against the run, with Detroit grinding out 190 yards on the ground en route to its upset win two weeks back. Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk (94 tackles, 2 INT) and Desmond Bishop (88 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT), the team's top two tacklers, will be in charge of containing New York's effective running back pairing and trying to get their opponent into obvious passing situations in order to unleash a formidable pass rush that's generated 40 sacks, tied for third-best in the league. The Packers have one of the best in the business in that area in relentless outside linebacker Clay Matthews (53 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 1 INT), as well as a top-notch cornerback duo in 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson (83 tackles, 2 INT, 10 PD) and Tramon Williams (52 tackles, 5 INT, 17 PD), who are a big reason why Green Bay stands atop the NFL in pass efficiency defense. The Packers won't have one key stopper available for Sunday's game, however, with end Cullen Jenkins (18 tackles, 7 sacks) sidelined with a calf injury, and Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins (62 tackles, 2 INT, 9 PD) is a question mark due to sore ribs.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Green Bay does most of its damage through an extremely efficient passing attack engineered by the accurate and athletic Rodgers (3289 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT), who's hit on 65 percent of his attempts this year and been intercepted just one time in his last six starts. The 27-year-old has a quality complement of weapons to work with as well, with big-play performer Greg Jennings (65 receptions, 1026 yards, 12 TD) headlining a deep receiving corps that contains three other viable targets in James Jones (45 receptions, 4 TD), steady veteran Donald Driver (43 receptions, 4 TD) and slotman Jordy Nelson (39 receptions, 1 TD). Running back Brandon Jackson (645 rushing yards, 40 receptions, 1 TD) gives Rodgers another good outlet and can be a factor as a runner as well, as evidenced by the 99 rushing yards on 22 attempts he came through with against New England. Rodgers is capable of making plays with his legs as well, ranking second on the team in rushing yards (309) and scoring four touchdowns on the ground this year. That's a concern for a New York defense that was burned for 130 rushing yards by dynamic Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick that helped spark the Eagles' Week 15 comeback.
Rodgers and his collection of pass catchers figure to be challenged by a Giants' stop unit that's permitted the second-fewest passing yards (188.4 ypg) in the NFL this season and leads the league with 34 takeaways, while its sum of 42 sacks is second overall. New York is loaded with outstanding pass rushers, with starting ends Justin Tuck (67 tackles, 10 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (42 tackles, 10 sacks) each boasting double-digit sack totals and promising rookie Jason Pierre-Paul (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks) starting to make an impact in a situational role. Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (84 tackles, 5 INT, 20 PD) and Corey Webster (47 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PD) have combined for nine interceptions as the primary outside defenders, while veteran Deon Grant (60 tackles, 3 INT, 9 PD) has excelled as a nickel safety who will see plenty of snaps on Sunday to combat Green Bay's multiple spread looks. Tuck also serves as one of the key run stoppers of an outfit that's second in the league in total defense (290.9 ypg) and has also gotten strong contributions from tackles Barry Cofield (47 tackles, 4 sacks) and Chris Canty (38 tackles, 1.5 sacks) as well as middle linebacker Jonathan Goff (64 tackles, 1 sack).
Rodgers is in no danger of missing this crucial game, so it's safe for owners to re-insert the Green Bay field general back into lineups for what's could be a championship week in fantasy circles. Manning is also a solid choice at the quarterback position, and there's a bevy of worthy receiving candidates between both sides as well, with Jennings, Nicks, Manningham all recommended plays and Jones a usable alternative in sleeper leagues. The Giants generally get enough production out of both Bradshaw and Jacobs to merit a place for either back, while Jackson has decent value as the main cog of the Packers' backfield. There's two good defense to select from as well here, and the possibility of a low-scoring bad-weather matchup at Lambeau Field in December always exists. That potential scenario wouldn't bode well for the prospects of Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby or New York counterpart Lawrence Tynes, though.
Jumping right back into the fire for a game with big playoff ramifications may be a good thing for the Giants, who won't have time to dwell on last week's failure with so much at stake on Sunday. Coming out on top at Lambeau can be a daunting task, however, albeit one New York is capable of achieving as long as it can hold onto the football. That's been a big if for Big Blue over the course of this season, however, and having to face a Green Bay defense that's been terrific throughout the second half will be another obstacle to overcome. Expect the Packers to bring their "A" game in a win-or-else situation, and make one fewer mistake than the more erratic Giants that will be the difference in a contest that really could go either way.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 20, Giants 17
12/23 16:51:17 ET