New York Giants (10-7) at Green Bay Packers (15-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jordy Nelson, the Packers' "Z" receiver, and TE Jermichael Finley dictated coverage looks from the Giants in the first meeting. New York aggressively bracketed "X" Greg Jennings, but coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers' play-caller, said the Giants' defense has since been simplified. By bodying up their receivers at the line, the Giants hope to give their agile pass rushers time to crowd Rodgers' sightlines -- if not bring him down. Jennings has pogo-stick quickness in and out of his breaks and gets deep easily, but the entire receiver corps blocks well. With RB James Starks (ankle) healthy for the first time in months, the Packers will use the Giants' aggressiveness against them with screen passes and isolation draws designed to expose shaky second-level tackling.
The Packers' pass rush slowed late in the season with five sacks in the final six games. The Giants averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the first meeting, but called 40 passes in their 61 offensive snaps. They'll try to balance that number, and target RB Ahmad Bradshaw and TE Jake Ballard short, but the game will be there to be won with the deep ball. QB Eli Manning has three receivers who can take the top off of a defense in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, but must be cautious. Green Bay's corners (31 interceptions) aggressively jump inside routes, and Manning threw a pick-six in the first meeting.
FAST FACTS: Thirty players in this game -- 15 from each roster -- played in the 2008 NFC Championship Game won by the Giants. ... The Packers allowed an NFL-record 4,796 yards passing during the regular season. ... The Packers won, 38-35, at MetLife Stadium on PK Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal as time expired in Week 13. QB Aaron Rodgers had 369 yards passing and four touchdowns for Green Bay.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — Losses by the Packers in three home games in the divisional round of the playoffs. Green Bay is 5-5 in NFC divisional games since 1972. 8-0 — The Packers went undefeated at Lambeau Field during the regular season for the first time since 2002. Incidentally, starting with that 2002 season, when Green Bay promptly lost 27-7 at home to the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card matchup, the Packers have struggled in the postseason at Lambeau. They have lost three of their last five home games. 6 — The Packers held the Giants to a record-low six first downs in the 37-0 romp in the 1961 championship game. Speaking of first downs, the Packers and Cardinals combined for a record 62 first downs in their 2009 game. The Packers and Boston combined for a record-low 15 first downs in their 1936 game. 7 — Meetings between the Packers and Giants in the playoffs, including Sunday's matchup. That's the most postseason games for Green Bay against one opponent — the Packers hold a 4-2 edge, dating to 1938.
GAME PLAN: The Giants had the football for less than 27 minutes but managed to gash the Packers for 447 yards and came within a spectacular long drive engineered by Aaron Rodgers in the final minute to set up a game-winning field goal of possibly prevailing themselves when the teams met Dec. 4. The rematch comes six weeks later, and resurgent New York won't be an easy out for top-seeded Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoff.
The Giants have been trending upward with four wins in their last five games since they last met the Packers, and are riding what has become a foolproof trend. New York has controlled the football for 34 1/2 minutes in each of its last two games, and in doing so overmatched the Cowboys (31-14 win to end the regular season) and Falcons (24-2 victory in wild-card game Sunday) with lopsided differentials for yardage.
The other common denominator in both contests was a turnover-free game for the Giants. It's the blueprint they likely will need again to limit the touches for Rodgers and Green Bay's high-scoring offense and give themselves a shot to pull off the upset.
Eli Manning is the difference-maker pulling the trigger for the New York offense and went to town against the Packers' beleaguered coverage by throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns last month. Still, Manning won't be nearly as effective if the Giants, who are 6-0 this season when he doesn't throw an interception, can't run the football with authority, which they have rarely done this season. The recent exceptions came with an effective output of 100 yards against the Packers and then a 172-yard outburst against the Falcons, led by the 1-2 punch of Brandon Jacobs (14 carries for 92 yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (14 carries for 63 yards). Dom Capers' defense was without inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk in the first meeting, so he didn't send a lot of pressure at Manning, who was hit only three times and sacked just once.
Capers can ill-afford to hang the cover guys out to dry against the Giants' productive receiving corps, led by big-play Victor Cruz, which should mean considerably more blitzes. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews had a big day in the first go-around with a touchdown return of Manning's only interception and a forced fumble as well as a sack. Green Bay's offense will be galvanized by the return of Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings (out last three games with torn MCL) and top rusher James Starks, who has been riddled by ankle and knee injuries the last several weeks.
The Packers' offensive line also may be solidified for the first time since the opening month of the season, but that doesn't guarantee it will be able to handle the Giants' relentless pass rush. Still, Green Bay's highly successful M.O. is to throw, throw, throw Rodgers had a season-high 46 pass attempts in the earlier meeting. Sunday should be no different, unless the dormant run game that incidentally was led by Rodgers' 32 yards in the first meeting suddenly awakens.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.