The Green Bay Packers (7-3) and New York Giants (6-4) will renew what has become a budding rivalry over the last handful of seasons when the two face off Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
The two NFC heavyweights are playing for a third straight season, the first time that has happened since the late 1980s. The Giants are also responsible for ending the season of Packers teams in both 2007 and 2011 that combined to win 28 regular season games.
Throw in the fact that the Packers and Giants have won three of the last five Super Bowls, and you get the perfect recipe for a non-divisional rivalry that has some staying power.
Here are some other things you could watch Sunday night:
Cruzing the Slot
Mike McCarthy said Thursday that Giants receiver Victor Cruz is Eli Manning’s primary target and an exceptional player in the slot. The numbers back up those rather obvious claims. Cruz has a team-high 60 catches for 743 yards and six touchdowns on 104 targets, including 43 for 605 yards and five touchdowns from the slot.
Facing him inside for most of Sunday will be rookie Casey Hayward, who, according to Pro Football Focus, has allowed just a 53.0 passer rating when covering the slot this season (second in the NFL). The rookie has been a revelation this season, but Cruz clearly represents his most difficult slot challenge of his young NFL career.
Handling More Pressure
The Packers’ reshuffled offensive line had its share of problems (three sacks, 11 total pressures) during the first week without Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. Unfortunately, nothing gets easier in the second week with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard and T.J. Lang on the right side.
In each of the two games against the Giants last season, the Packers offensive line allowed 17 total pressures. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse allowed nine of those pressures in the first game, but just about everyone in protection was responsible for the 17 in the divisional round loss.
The Packers will have to get a more even performance from the guys up front Sunday night. If that means more more max protections and chips from running backs and tight ends, then so be it. But Mike McCarthy can’t let things get out of hand (see: Seattle) on the road against a top pass rush without making quicker adjustments.
Generate Pressure Without the Star
Facing the NFL’s top passing offense without his top passer rusher last Sunday, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers actually received a surprisingly efficient outing from his pressure package. Dezman Moses gave the left side of the Lions offensive line fits for long stretches, and Erik Walden continued what has been a career year with two sacks. Matthew Stafford rarely looked or acted comfortable in the pocket despite Green Bay not having Clay Matthews available.
The Packers defense will have to replicate that effort without Matthews Sunday night against a quarterback that has shredded Green Bay’s secondary over the last two meetings. Facing little in terms of pass rush, Manning threw for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns against the Packers in 2011.
The Giants offense has sputtered over the last two games in part because Manning hasn’t been protected well. The result has been a bevy of turnovers and just 33 total points for New York. Can the Packers continue that recent trend without Matthews Sunday night?
The Packers haven’t lost a regular season game by two touchdowns or more since 2008, when the Saints romped to a 52-29 win in New Orleans on Monday Night Football. The pieces might be in place for a second rendition Sunday night in New York. The Giants have had two weeks to fix their offensive woes and can feel the Cowboys and Redskins breathing down their necks, while the Packers are still beat up and coming off an emotional, hard-fought division win on the road. The Giants also have a pass rush that can replicate the kind of success Seattle had and receiving weapons capable of really hurting an improving but young secondary. These Packers are resilient but the Giants are rested and ready to flick on the switch they do every season around this time.
Giants 31, Packers 17 (Season record: 5-5)