Matt Moore. Jay Cutler. Todd Collins. Shaun Hill. Tony Romo.
Quick quiz: what do these five QBs have in common? They were all knocked out of games by the Giants this season--the first three due to concussions. This intimidating stat is the elephant in the room as the Packers prepare for a "playoff game" on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers has passed all concussion tests and was back on the field early in the week practicing with the team--wearing a new helmet designed to protect his brain from further scrambling. He will be back behind center on Sunday afternoon leading his team with the season on the line. Win and the Pack lives to play again next Sunday for the final NFC playoff berth. Lose and the Packers will welcome the Bears next Sunday with nothing to play for except maybe denying them the coveted #2 seed and a bye.
This is the biggest game of the week in the NFL and the two teams come into it after vastly opposite performances last weekend. Green Bay gave the league's best team all they could handle for 60 minutes, coming up just short, but proving a lot about themselves in the process. The Giants are coming off a collapse of epic proportions, beginning with surrendering a 21 point lead at home in the final eight minutes. And then allowing DeSean Jackson to finish them off on the game's final play.
We have no way of knowing how New York will respond. QB Eli Manning stood before his shaken teammates on Monday and told them they had to get over it and get ready for Green Bay. Former Giant great Michael Strahan was extremely critical, labeling them "soft." With a Super Bowl pedigree and a coach that knows how to push buttons, the Giants could use that loss to go on a bit of a run. Or they could go into complete fetal position mode, which they did last season when things started to go awry.
As all big games do with a lot on the line, this one will come down to which team wins up front. The Pack has its hands full there. The Giants boast the same five guys on the offensive line that played on the '08 NFC title game at Lambeau. They protect Manning pretty well and really shine in run blocking, where Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs form a very effective duo. With no Cullen Jenkins for at least another week, the other guys in the front seven will need to rise up to slow down the running game and force Manning into passing mode.
The Giants' strength is on the defensive line, which is mostly responsible for KOing all those quarterbacks. Ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora have 10 sacks each and are adept at stripping the ball and forcing fumbles. Inside it's Barry Cofield and Chris Canty who can also get to the QB. The defense is a bit weaker behind them, with a pedestrian set of linebackers and an average secondary.
The Packers are no doubt watching film of the Eagles and and seeing how Mike Vick was able to break contain and gouge the Giants' defense with his feet. The only problem is, Green Bay would like to limit the amount of running Rodgers does. One more helmet/ground collision might finish him for the season.
Green Bay needs to use the same offensive formula it used on Sunday night. Run the football and gain 4-5 yards on first down to open the opportunities on second and third down and make them less predictable. If the Pack is forced into second and third and long situations, the advantage shifts to the Giants' pass rush.
The inspiring effort in New England gives hope that we are in for a supreme effort by the Packers. Remember, they've played four of their last five on the road. It will be huge to be back in front of the home crowd, on a field where they've won 9 of their last 10 games, the best home record in the league, after New England (wouldn't it be nice to have that one loss, against Miami, back right now? How 'bout the losses to Washington, Chicago and Detroit? Or Atlanta for that matter....yeesh).
With game time temperatures in the low 20s, weather should not be a huge factor. The implications are simple. If New York wins, they're in the playoffs. If the Packers lose, they're out. If the Pack wins, they're one win away from a playoff berth and a likely first round matchup with the Bears.
I like what I saw from this team last week. It looks like a team that's ready to finally win some close games. Pack 24 Giants 20.
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