The New York Giants made a statement with their 24-2 win over the Falcons in the wild-card round. This year's version of Big Blue resembles the Super Bowl team of 2007-08. They rush the passer in waves, they've suddenly rediscovered a potent ground attack and Eli Manning is cool under pressure. The Packers will have their hands full when the Giants come to Lambeau Field for a rematch of a regular-season game the Packers narrowly won, 38-35.
However, the defending world champs have been sailing along all year with just one blemish on their record. And when you look at this 13-month run -- which began with a 45-17 win over the Giants on Dec. 26, 2010 -- Green Bay is 21-1 while averaging 33 points per game. The Packers are 13-0 at home during this span, posting 40 points per game.
This divisional-round matchup features two pass-first offenses and has all the makings of a shootout with both quarterbacks throwing for well over 300 yards. Here are the three biggest questions I have about this game:
Can the Giants' pass rush create enough pressure on Aaron Rodgers?
The Packers' offense is a well-oiled machine, relying far more on the pass than the run. Green Bay has thrown the ball 59 percent of the time in the last two seasons. And when it comes to yardage, 75 percent of their offensive output has come through the air. The last time these teams met, Rodgers had four touchdown throws on 49 pass plays and was only sacked twice. New York must get to Rodgers more frequently. Fortunately, the Giants' pass rush is finally healthy and firing on all cylinders of late, recording 13 sacks during the current three-game win streak.
Rodgers is enjoying an MVP campaign with 45 touchdown passes to only six interceptions, but he can be sacked. He's been dropped 36 times this season, which equates to one sack every 10.5 pass attempts. Thus, the Giants should be aiming for 4-5 sacks in this game. In the last two years, when Rodgers is sacked four or more times, the Packers are 5-5, which means the Giants can level the playing field with a great pass rush. However, the Packers get back offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga for this game, as well as star receiver Greg Jennings, shoring up some potential problem spots against the Giants' rabid defense. Home field is a factor, as well -- of those 10 games when Rodgers was sacked at least four times, only three took place at Lambeau.
Can Eli Manning match the Green Bay scoring machine?
In the earlier meeting between these two teams, Eli Manning threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Sounds like a great day, except Rodgers one-upped him with 369 yards and four scoring strikes. Manning has only thrown four touchdown passes in a game once this season -- against the Eagles back in September -- and only three times over the past two years. There's no question in my mind that Manning can deliver a three-touchdown day, especially against a Packers defense that has struggled to get to the passer. In their last three games, the Packers have three sacks in 118 pass attempts (one in every 39 pass plays), so Manning will have time to throw. His main issue will be avoiding interceptions. Green Bay has 31 picks this year and eight of those came in the last three home games.
Back in Week 13, the Giants were without center David Baas -- who realized he couldn't play just hours before the game -- and wide receiver Mario Manningham. With Manningham healthy, the Giants will look to exploit a suspect Packers secondary with three wideout sets, maximizing explosive playmakers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. But as strong as Manning has been this season, he may still have a tough time matching Rodgers' offensive output. Jake Ballard has been a pleasant surprise this season, but Rodgers has a big advantage in tight end Jermichael Finley.
Which team can close out the game on the ground?
Manning will need help from his running game, which has come alive since the last time these teams met. Over the past six games, New York has rushed for 694 yards (116 per game) and seven touchdowns. That gives the Giants the better running game right now. And it's worth noting that Packers RB Ryan Grant struggled mightily against the Giants last time, managing just 29 yards on 13 carries.
One of these teams is going to have a lead in the fourth quarter and will look to close out the game on the ground, keeping the other high-powered offense on the sideline. The Giants seem to be in a better position to do that.
New York is buzzing over the Giants right now, and rightfully so. But the world champs have been resting, getting healthy, and are ready to defend their title. I would love to see the Giants win this game because they remind me of last year's Packers. But Green Bay will eke out a tight win. Packers 33, Giants 30