New York Giants (9-5) at Green Bay Packers (8-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 3:15 p.m.
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver).
Keys to the game: An NFL head coach typically wears many hats — game manager, teacher, disciplinarian, and, for the Giants' Tom Coughlin most of this week, psychologist. Coughlin has the added task of trying to expedite the team's healing from the devastating loss it suffered last Sunday at Philadelphia. At this pace, the Giants could become the first team to have the highest sack total on defense and allow the fewest sacks on offense since the 1992 Saints, who gave up only 15 sacks in 16 games while bringing down opposing quarterbacks 57 times. For the Packers — a team that has 14 players on injured reserve — it comes down to gambling like there's no tomorrow. That includes rolling the dice on the health of twice-concussed quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Series history: 49th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 25-21-2. The intraconference teams are meeting for the first time since the Giants ousted Green Bay 23-20 in overtime in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, 2008, at Lambeau Field. The Packers had won four of the previous five games, including a 35-13 rout earlier in the 2007 season in New Jersey. The Giants have won two straight games in Green Bay, dating to 2004. The teams have met six times in the postseason, as the Packers won four of five matchups in the NFL championship game from 1938 to '62.
Inside the numbers Packers: 11th in offense (24th rushing, eight passing) and seventh in defense (19th rushing, third passing). Giants: third in offense (fifth rushing, 12th passing) and second defense (10th rushing, second passing). Turnovers: Packers are tied for seventh at plus-5; Giants are 15th at minus-1 despite a league-high 34 takeaways.
Numbers to note: 7 — Fumbles lost by the Packers this season. The Giants have a league-high 19 takeaways on fumbles.
Inside the Giants
For the New York Giants, the similarities between this year and their 2007 Super Bowl run are eerie.
In 2007, the Giants entered Week 15 at home against the Washington Redskins, a division rival, whom they were expected to beat to secure a playoff berth. However, the Redskins upset the Giants 22-10, causing the Giants' record to fall to 9-5.
The following week, the Giants hit the road to face Buffalo in the cold, a game they won 38-21, clinching a playoff berth.
This year, the Giants, fresh off one of the hardest losses in recent franchise history against the Eagles, another NFC East opponent, find themselves at 9-5 and in a position where, if they secure a win on the road (this week against Green Bay), they will clinch a playoff berth.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin recalled that 2007 season and the challenges his team faced in December to make the playoffs and he too couldn't help but see the similarities between the two teams.
"A few years ago, I walked in after a bad loss at home when we had to win somewhere along the line to get in the playoffs and just said, 'Hey, we messed that one up; there's not a whole lot we can do about (it),'" he said.
That's precisely the message that Coughlin has been preaching to his team this week, saying, "What we can do is have something to do with right now, and hopefully that will contribute to what's going to happen in the future."
If the Giants can take care of business against Green Bay, they will not only clinch a playoff berth, the win will go a long way toward erasing the extremely bitter taste left in their mouths from last week.
The stakes are high for this one in the penultimate week of the regular season. The Giants would be in the playoffs with a win, and the Packers would have to wait till 2011. Green Bay needs to win Sunday and also the following week against the Bears to sew up a wild-card berth. Consequently, it's Aaron Rodgers back at quarterback for the Packers, after he missed a game because of his second head injury in two months.
The onus is on Green Bay's inconsistent offensive line to keep the blitz-happy Giants from getting to Rodgers and testing whether he can withstand any more hits. The quick, short passing game that worked well for Matt Flynn as Rodgers' replacement in the narrow loss to New England would be the way to go to neutralize the New York pressure. Coach/play caller Mike McCarthy was uncharacteristically committed to running the football against the Patriots, and the Packers found success. Doing so against the Giants' top-10 run defense may be a different story.
Green Bay's defense, meanwhile, will be out to try to stifle New York's fifth-rated rushing attack (144.9 yards per game), featuring the tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Look for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to roll the dice with run blitzes and other exotic ploys to crash the line and force the Giants into throwing mode. Although Eli Manning has been sacked just 15 times, tied with brother Peyton of Indianapolis for fewest in the NFL, he has thrown a league-high 20 interceptions.