The NFC North champion Green Bay Packers are back at Lambeau Field for another playoff game against the New York Giants. It's the first home playoff game since the divisional round win over the Dallas Cowboys following the 2014 season. You know, the one where Dez Bryant DROPPED a big fourth down pass to end any threat of a win. While long gone are the days of the Packers' absolute dominance at home during the playoffs, but they have re-established themselves as a team that most others don't want travel to play.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played out of his mind and the offense is humming. Despite a triage unit at cornerback, the defense has upheld their end of the bargain for the most part and this team just seems to have a solid grasp of what is in front of it. The Packers secured the fourth seed and a home game, but they are likely to face a tough road all the way to Super Bowl LI. Much has been made of match ups and which scenario best suits the Packers in their quest to bring another Lombardi trophy to Green Bay, but they have to get through Eli Manning and the Giants first. This is Manning's third playoff game in Green Bay, where he has had some of his best games and broken the hearts of many Packers fans. So how can the Packers make the third time a charm? Let's look at the good and bad of the final game of wild card weekend.
This is playoff football. The Packers finished the season 6-0 and as winners of the North. There should be no rants. But of course there are those who can't get past the. . well, the past. Others are looking at the numbers. All of the stats such as Eli Manning being 7-1 in road playoff games or Ed Hochuli officiating some of Green Bay's worst playoff defeats (three Dallas games in the 1990's, 4th & 26 and the Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. Source: C.D. Angeli's sometimes overly realistic Twitter) aren't too encouraging but as much as the comparisons and storylines are intriguing, this Giants team isn't any of those past teams. These are Ben McAdoo's Giants. Doesn't have the same ring to it as Tom Coughlin's Giants, does it?
Some want to harp on the Packers defense and how depleted they are and that they can't cover Odell Beckham, Jr. OBJ had five catches and a late touchdown in the last meeting that made the game a lot closer than the final score indicated. The Packers were without Damarious Randall in that game and while Randall has struggled lately, I'd rather have him out there than not. His knack for the football combined with Eli's tendency to throw an absolute stinker are a good match. While the distraction of Beckham's relationship with the kicking net has died down, the image of him mobbing deep in South Beach just a day after the Giants win over Washington is still fresh. I don't know that I think it will affect his ability to show up big on Sunday. He may be young and crazy, but he's still a world class athlete and I doubt the Packers are getting a hall pass. OBJ is going to get his. The Packers need to minimize everything else around him. That includes a Giants running game that has busted out of late. They ran the ball 40 times against Washington for over 150 yards. The game plan seemed to be to keep the ball away from Washington and the Redskins seemed willing to oblige so that total may be a bit skewed. But between Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins, the G Men have a nice two-headed monster and they feed it plenty. They're averaging around 30 total carries over the last month. The Packers need to score often and keep the run in check to avoid letting New York dictate the pace.
Others think New York's secondary, otherwise known as the NYPD, is capable of shutting down Green Bay's passing attack and rendering the offense null. This is the playoffs. This is Mike McCarthy's team and this team, as young as they are, knows what they need to do to prepare for a win-or-go-home scenario. Oh and that Rodgers guy I mentioned. The look in his eyes and his demeanor tells me that he's as ready as he's ever been for the second season. And 75,000 of his most adoring fans (even Giants fans have to appreciate #12) will be in the house, too. He'll have plenty of mojo going on.
The Rave is that the Packers finished on a huge winning streak and, much like in 2010 when they needed every last game to get into the postseason, they're hot and the last team the others want to face. So why is that?
Rodgers is so far and above the reason why the Packers are a bad match up for most defenses that we could end this conversation here. 40 passing touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Rodgers had a touchdown pass in every game but one (at Chicago and he should have had two in that game), even when he was struggling and the team wasn't playing well. Perhaps never more than in this season did we witness the long-standing narrative that Rodgers has created a level of play that he is held to that is incredibly hard to achieve. Fortunately, he is achieving everything that most expect from him. The touchdown throw to Geronimo Allison against the Detroit Lions last week was the type of throw that so few quarterbacks can make but that we expect Rodgers to make. Besides a big touchdown to help beat the Lions, the Packers have to be encouraged that Rodgers is throwing those types of passes at a time when they'll become so important. Against the good Giants secondary, Rodgers is going to have to thread the needle at times. He threw two interceptions in the first meeting and hopefully that was Rodgers getting it out of his system against New York.
Less than a month ago, Rodgers was dealing with a hamstring and calf injury. He could barely walk off the field after the games against the Seattle Seahawks and Bears. Rodgers' mobility appeared to be in serious jeopardy at a time when it was needed most. And then suddenly, he's running around like he was never hurt against the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Lions, it was vintage Rodgers, running for first downs and making pass rushers miss him, badly. The determination that Rodgers has to getting himself ready and putting himself on the line to make plays and elevate this team is something to admire. It reminds me a bit of Reggie White in 1995. White had a severe hamstring injury late in the year and appeared headed to miss the rest of the season. He was back two weeks later as if he had never been hurt. In a game this Sunday where everyone wants to talk about the past and the parallels, there's one that is slanted the Packers' way.
All of the talk about what Manning has done against the Packers should have that famous chip on Rodgers' shoulder in full effect. Having joined the Packers in 2005, Rodgers has witnessed both of Manning's performances at Lambeau Field in the postseason. It's time for Aaron to remind everyone who's king.
2254, the combined receiving yards between Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. 26 combined touchdowns for the duo. That's enough to keep any defensive coordinator up at night. Nelson and Adams have been good all season but their emergence late in the year during the six-game winning streak has been explosive. Both will face a lot of attention by the Giants' secondary but the game's best players still find ways to make plays. Expect to see both Nelson and Adams to have modest days statistically, but their contributions will end up being key. Scoring isn't likely to be very high given the weather conditions so it's going to be about quality over quantity. These two have been coming through in big moments. Nelson's 60 yard catch late against the Bears set up the game winning field goal. Adams has finally started making some of the big and tough catches such as this one that some may have forgotten from week one this season.
What's His Name
The Packers have forged a reputation of relying on little-known players, many undrafted free agents, to play big roles. Injuries this season have further forced the Packers to bring up young and inexperienced guys to try and play over their heads. Guys like Lane Taylor, LaDarius Gunter, Geronimo Allison, Joe Thomas and Kentrell Bryce to name a few. It's not the most ideal situation, but all of the snaps these guys have under their belt now become paramount as they will line up against the league's best for the rest of this season. Gunter will see plenty of Beckham. Taylor will try to help stop Olivier Vernon. Allison will likely see Janoris Jenkins, who had two interceptions against Rodgers in the first meeting earlier this season.
While that all seems to favor the more experienced players, Green Bay has seen these unsung young players step up and play big roles. Allison had a big touchdown catch against the Lions while stepping in for an injured Randall Cobb. Taylor only had to fill in for former Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton and had a brilliant season. Gunter has faced some of the league's best receivers in Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffrey, and Beckham to name a few. While many see a mismatch of stars versus joe's, I think about how close Gunter, for example, has come to making a big play this season and how he's due. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski has endeared himself to Packers fans but outside of Green Bay, who had heard of him prior to last week's game against the Lions? 61 big yards later and the Ripper is on the map.
It's a big stage to be playing in a playoff game, but these guys have been out there every week. The wide eyed phase is past them and it's time for them to seize another big moment.
Some would say Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is hardly magical in the postseason. Some are still harping on his decision to kick two field goals early in the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks two seasons ago. Some harp on his decision to run twice, predictably, late in that same game, stalling a drive and giving the ball back to Seattle. But when the Packers' backs have been against a wall in the decade that McCarthy has been here, he's come up with some pretty good plans to prepare his team. I feel like I reference the game against the New England Patriots in 2014 ad nauseam, but that was a brilliantly called game. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said so himself. Russell Wilson helped a ton, but the Packers came up huge against the Seahawks in week 14 during their "table run". That was the toughest remaining game on the schedule and the Packers were ready for every Seattle miscue on the day. That mentality is something instilled by leadership.
When the Packers were losing, many wanted McCarthy to go crazy, scream at guys and be demonstrative. Show he cared. McCarthy knew better. He has a good pulse on this team and instead focused on how close they were to making some big plays, to getting a win instead of suffering a close loss. It's hard to argue with the result. McCarthy is aware that his legacy of two bad losses to the Giants in the playoffs is hanging over his head and that a third loss would likely cement New York as his ultimate kryptonite. Expect McCarthy to come out and show is former pupil, McAdoo, a thing or two about football in January. We've been waiting for tight end Jared Cook to have this "game for the ages" that we keep hearing that he can. Based on what has troubled the Giants defense this season, it would seem that this might be the week that McCarthy's game plan puts #89 front and center of his strategy to nullify the NYPD and send Eli pouting all the way back to New Jersey.
Jersey Al and Julianna Czech will be in the house for this game. Safe to say that Adam will also be there, in whatever way he can. That's a lot of added mojo for the Giants to have to deal with and they don't even know it's coming. Just before he passed, Adam told Julianna that the Packers were going to make a run. Winning six in a row certainly made a prophet of our fallen friend but something tells me this "run" isn't quite done yet. Wishing Adam's Pack a great day at Lambeau Field and a big celebration afterwards.
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