Eli Manning has been maddeningly inconsistent for most of the year. While he ranks among league leaders with 28 touchdowns, his 25 turnovers have often left the Giants in bad situations in key moments. With a playoff berth on line against the Packers, he must deliver a gold standard performance for the G-Men to win.
The combination of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has propelled the Giants' fifth-ranked rushing attack. Jacobs has done the dirty work between the tackles with Bradshaw adding the sizzle on a combination of cutback and perimeter runs. With the Packers decimated along the front line, the duo will likely shoulder a hefty workload in this matchup.
The loss of Steve Smith robs Eli Manning of his favorite third-down receiver, but Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are still a formidable duo. Both have the size and strength to muscle smaller defenders, and their underrated running skills make them dangerous playmakers. Kevin Boss doesn't get a lot of attention, but he could be a huge factor as Manning's designated safety valve against the blitz.
The Giants have suffered through a rash of injuries up front, but their offensive line continues to dominate the point of attack. Chris Snee sets the tone for the group with his tenacious play, so it is not a surprise that most of the Giants' big runs are directed to his side. Given the Packers' razor-thin depth along the defensive front, expect the G-Men to relentlessly pound the ball between the tackles.
Perry Fewell's defensive line is arguably the most talented and deepest unit in the league. Though it is easy to single out Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora as the headliners, it is the unheralded work of Chris Canty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Rocky Bernard and Barry Cofield that wears opponents down late in games. Given the suspect play of the Packers' front, expect a big performance from the Giants' defensive line.
Michael Boley has emerged as a pivotal playmaker in Fewell's scheme, and he must continue to be an impact player on the second level against the pass-happy Packers. As a rusher or cover man, he needs to use his speed to disrupt the rhythm of the offense. Jonathan Goff has been steady in the middle, but the Packers' preference for spread 'em out football will force him to the sideline on most downs.
The Giants' secondary has a host of young, athletic playmakers capable of shutting down premier receivers with their physical style. They specialize in bullying pass catchers with hard jams, and their relentlessness wears down finesse players. Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant and Kenny Phillips are versatile safeties with excellent ball skills. Look for Fewell to use a three-safety package to get them on the field.
After the DeSean Jackson disaster, the Giants' coverage teams have spent the week refining their lane discipline. They hope to get better directional punts from Matt Dodge, but the rookie's confidence is likely shaken after his dust up with Tom Coughlin. Lawrence Tynes has been money from all distances, and has the range to go beyond 50 yards.
Tom Coughlin is a taskmaster with a reputation for getting his players ready to play in all circumstances. Perry Fewell is just as fiery, and he has quickly remade the Giants into one of the league's best defenses. After watching the Giants fall apart in the late stages of the Eagles game, you can count on New York being revved up to take out their frustrations on a reeling Packers squad.
Aaron Rodgers returns after sitting out last week due to a concussion. He faces a Giants defense that will aggressively try to come after him with a variety of pressures from their base and sub packages. If he can quickly identify the blitzers, he could produce a few big plays on the outside. With a playoff berth on the line, he has to play at an all-star level in this matchup.
The dismal production from the running backs has forced the Packers to really adopt a one-dimensional attack offensively. Brandon Jackson, however, showed signs of life against the Patriots and he will need to duplicate that effort against an athletic Giants defense that snuffs out running lanes. John Kuhn could also be a factor as their "heavy" back in goal-line situations.
The Packers' receiving corps is as deep and talented as any in the league. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are the headliners, but Jordy Nelson and James Jones are playmakers who shouldn't be overlooked. With a diverse game plan that features a revolving door at the primary spot, the Giants will be hard pressed to slow the Packers' juggernaut.
The Packers' offensive line has come under scrutiny for their inconsistent play, and they will be severely tested by a Giants front four that is widely regarded as one of the NFL's best. Bryan Bulaga, in particular, will have to meet the challenge of playing against a host of athletic edge rushers. How well he fares in his individual matchup will go a long way toward determining the winner of this pivotal battle in the trenches.
Injuries have rendered the Packers short-handed along the line, but B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett are hulking defenders adept at controlling the point of attack. They must win on early downs to keep the Giants from grinding out long drives behind their physical ground attack. If they aren't able to force multiple three-and-outs early in the game, look for Bradshaw and Jacobs to run wild in the late stages of this matchup.
Clay Matthews has been the league's most dominant pass rusher for most of the season, but opponents have found a way to neutralize him in recent weeks. However, his energy and speed off the edge give him an advantage in this matchup, so expect him to find a way to be a factor against the pass. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop will need to play big against the Giants' downhill running game.
Charles Woodson is not having a stellar year, but he is still a dangerous ball hawk in the back end. He has a knack for anticipating routes, so Manning must be careful with his ball placement at all times. Tramon Williams is quietly emerging as their No. 1 corner, and he needs to have an outstanding day against Hakeem Hicks or Mario Manningham on the outside.
Mason Crosby hasn't been the consistent kicker that the team envisioned, but he has the range to nail long-distance kicks in inclement weather. The Packers' return game has been disappointing, so Tramon Williams, Sam Shields or Jordy Nelson will need to break off a big gainer to flip the field for favorable positions.
Mike McCarthy surprisingly got his troops ready to play against the Patriots despite having an inexperienced quarterback at the helm. McCarthy might need to dig deep into his playbook to get the Packers off to a good start against a stiff Giants defense. Also, expect Dom Capers to use a host of exotic pressures to harass Eli Manning into a critical turnover.