For the New York Giants' Victor Cruz, there was nothing "relative" about his anonymity entering this season. An undrafted free agent out of that football powerhouse Massachusetts in 2010, Cruz barely played as a rookie before going on injured reserve with exactly zero catches.
By that standard, Nelson was Jerry Rice by comparison with his 100 career catches and six career touchdowns.
Nelson and Cruz are two of the NFL's breakout stars this season. Cruz finished third in the NFL with 1,536 receiving yards and averaged a league-high 18.7 yards per catch on his 82 receptions. He scored nine touchdowns, with those scores covering a staggering 52.0 yards — an average that led the league.
He caught seven passes for 119 yards when the teams met in New Jersey on Dec. 4, and he kick-started the Giants a month later with a 74-yard touchdown against Dallas in the game that decided the NFC East.
Meanwhile, Nelson led the Packers with 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. He finished seventh in receptions, third in touchdowns and second with 18.6 yards per catch. It's a continuation of last year's postseason, when he had 21 receptions for 286 yards and two touchdowns in his last three playoffs games, capped by a career-high nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Packers quarterbacks had a 150.8 passer rating on throws to Nelson. That's tops in the league.
"With the weapons we have, it's hard to imagine Greg having the year he's had and then myself — and then you still have Jermichael (Finley) and James (Jones) and Donald (Driver)," Nelson said. "The way we rotate, you never know. Things came together, certain plays happened, it just kept building on itself. I've been fortunate and blessed to make plays."
Aaron Rodgers (single-season record with 122.5 passer rating) and Eli Manning (4,933 passing yards ranks sixth in NFL history) are two of the best quarterbacks in the business and former Super Bowl MVPs.
In the playoffs, Rodgers is 4-1 in five starts and holds NFL records for passer rating (112.6), completion percentage (67.8) and yards per attempt (8.72) among quarterbacks with at least 150 passing attempts. In eight career playoff games, Manning is 5-3 with 1,574 yards, 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and a rating of 86.9. He's coming off his best playoff performance, with 277 yards and three touchdowns against Atlanta.
"Eli, he's having I think his best year," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "The guy's been very accurate throwing the deep ball, very good down in the red area throwing the ball. With the receiving corps they have, they've got some guys that are deep threats. They've done a nice job of making big plays with their receivers."
Mike McCarthy is 5-2 in the playoffs, and among active coaches, his .714 winning percentage was tied for first with New England's Bill Belichick (21-6) and New Orleans' Sean Payton (5-2) entering this weekend's games. Giants coach Tom Coughlin is 9-7 in playoff games, including 4-4 with Jacksonville and 5-3 with the Giants.
Getting to the point, there's this: The Packers scored 40.1 points per game at home — second-best in NFL history behind this year's Saints (41.1). Under McCarthy, the Packers are 41-3 in games in which it scores at least 30 points. However, the Giants have never given up more than 23 points in the playoffs under Coughlin.
The Packers finished third in the NFL on third down, converting 48.1 percent of the time. They're even better at home, with a franchise-record 51.6 percent success rate. Against the Giants on Dec. 4, Green Bay moved the chains 7-of-12 times (58.3 percent).
The Giants' defense finished a middle-of-the-road 17th at 38.2 percent. They've been much, much better during their three-game winning streak. Including the wild-card win over Atlanta, the Giants have allowed 12-of-47 — just 25.5 percent — against the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons.
"Well, we've played better," Coughlin said matter-of-factly during a conference call. "We've gotten good pressure. We've created some advantageous down-and-distance scenarios. We've covered better. We seem to be able to get in the line of fire with the ball and have some pass breakups, some tipped balls and some pressure on the quarterback, forcing him to throw the ball or get rid of the ball in a fashion that he may not have wanted to. So, I think it's been a combination of things."
Manning has faced a lot of pressure but, even without Rodgers' scrambling ability, he's incredibly difficult to sack.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Manning has been pressured on 244 dropbacks this season, a whopping 36 more than second-place Cam Newton and 86 more than 18th-place Rodgers. On a percentage basis, only Michael Vick (39.8 percent) was pressured more frequently than Manning (38.9), but Manning was sacked 11.5 percent of the time under those circumstances — 24th in the league. Rodgers, for sake of comparison, was sacked 22.8 percent of the time when pressured.
"Eli doesn't move to run but he moves to buy time for those receivers," Capers said. "They do a good job of adjusting their routes. I've seen him move – he moves more to his right than he does his left – but he can move and still throw the ball with some accuracy. I think he's doing a better job with that, certainly this year than he did last year."
The Packers set a dubious NFL record for most passing yards allowed, but their league-high 31 interceptions helped them finish a could-be-worse 19th in points allowed at 22.4 per game.
Can the Packers follow that recipe again?
"It has all year. Hopefully, it will again," Clay Matthews said.
In the 2010 game against the Giants at Lambeau, Manning threw four interceptions en route to a league-high 25. This year, he's thrown 16, with his interception percentage of 2.7 being the second-best of his career and ahead of his career rate of 3.3.
"We've spent an entire preseason and regular season doing nothing more than trying to improve that particular area," Coughlin said. "2010 wasn't very good to us in that regard, so we've spent an awful lot of time and emphasis on that particular area of our game, and we've done a pretty good job with that."
Turnovers, not surprisingly, are a big part in determining the Giants' fate. In their 10 wins (including playoffs), they've had seven giveaways. In their seven losses, they've had 17.
In their last three games, all wins, the Giants — with their 32nd-ranked running game — have managed to establish the balance on offense between the run and the pass Coughlin likes to see. In that three-game period, the Giants have run the ball 88 times and thrown it 92 times, including last week's distribution of 31 runs and 32 passes against Atlanta.
"We didn't do a very good job rushing the football coming out of camp, which would be my fault," Coughlin said. "But we've emphasized it so much, and we've played a number of games where we were able to be patient with the run, and that's kind of the way it's transpired. We've been more patient. We've been able to rely on things like our defense playing better, and so the balance has come back to us, and it's a good thing. It's something that we very much rely on."
"The No. 1 priority with this team is stopping the run," defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "You have to because if you don't stop the run it sets up the big play. They can play-action and draw everybody up and beat us over the top easily. Just watching tape, they feed off the run. You watch (Brandon) Jacobs, he's emotional, and (Ahmad) Bradshaw, when they make a big play, it's like a domino effect, and then everybody just starts making big plays. It's big for us to stop 'em."
On the other side of the ball, the Giants' run defense has held its last two opponents to just 113 yards on 37 carries (3.0 yards per carry). That's not good news for a Green Bay rushing offense that finished the regular season ranked 27th in the league with 97.4 yards per game.
— The Packers and Giants have played each other six times in the postseason, with Sunday's seventh encounter being the second-most in NFL history behind the eight Giants-Bears playoff games. The Giants won the first game (23-17 in the 1938 NFL Championship Game) and the last game (23-20 in the 2007 NFC Championship Game). In between, Curly Lambeau's Packers earned a 27-0 victory in the 1939 championship game and a 14-7 victory in the 1944 championship game. Vince Lombardi beat the Giants for the title in 1961 and 1962.
— The rich history between these teams goes beyond playoff games. Ernie Palladino's book, "Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Pro Football's Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever," details how Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry emerged as two of the NFL's all-time great coaches while serving under Jim Lee Howell. Lombardi, the offensive mastermind of the Giants, went to Green Bay in 1959 and wound up beating the Giants in the championship game in 1961 (37-0) and 1962 (16-7).
"Letting Lombardi, then Landry, go a year apart to the Green Bay Packers and expansion Dallas Cowboys (originally dubbed the Rangers) would be one of the great mistakes the Giants' brain trust ever made, a mess created in part by ownership's frugality," Palladino writes.
— The Packers are 15-3 in playoff home games (13-3 in Green Bay, 2-0 in Milwaukee), but the Giants won't be fazed by Lambeau Field. They're 4-4 at the venerable stadium, including 1-1 in the playoffs. The victory, of course, was the infamous NFC Championship Game four years ago. New York held the Packers to 28 rushing yards and 1-for-10 on third down.
— The 1939 championship game was held at the Dairy Bowl at State Fair Park in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. The 27-0 whitewashing of the Giants was the first shutout and the largest margin of victory in the seven-year NFL playoff history. Each member of the victorious Packers collected a king's ransom of $703.97, according to a United Press account of the game. Charley Brock had two of the Packers' six interceptions, a team playoff record and the third-most in NFL playoff history.
— Here's some not-so-ancient history: The Packers finished 6-0 against playoff teams this season, while the Giants went just 1-3, though that victory was Manning's come-from-behind, 24-20 victory at New England on Nov. 6.
— Manning has led the Giants to 20 winning drives when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. Six of those have come this season, including three times on drives when trailing with 3:10 remaining or less.
— Given the state of the Packers' pass defense, it's probably a good bet that Manning will top the 300-yard mark on Sunday. Manning, however, is just 11-11 when eclipsing 300 yards, including 4-4 this season. He threw for 347 yards in the 38-35 loss to Green Bay on Dec. 4 and 301 yards in the loss at Green Bay on the day after Christmas last season.
— As usual, giveaways and takeaways will be a focal point. While the Packers ranked second in the NFL with only 14 giveaways, the Giants have at least one takeaway in 28 of the last 29 games.
— On the other side of the coin, the Giants are 38-42 when Manning throws at least one interception but 32-8 when he doesn't throw any. In four starts against the Packers, Manning has thrown interceptions in three of them — all losses — and no picks in one (the NFC Championship Game).
— The NFC East-champion Giants are on a six-year streak without a sub-.500 season, their longest since a 10-year run from 1954 through 1963. Not coincidentally, since Manning embarked on his streak of 119 consecutive starts, the other three NFC East teams have gone through 22 starters.
— How's this for a stat: The Packers have 352 first downs but allowed 358. Similarly, the Giants have 321 first downs but allowed 338.
— Talk about parity: With a "streak" of two consecutive postseasons, the Packers are the NFC's only team to reach the divisional round in back-to-back seasons. The Packers are also the NFC's only team to make the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Finally, with 14 postseason appearances, the Packers lead the way since the current free-agency model began in 1993.
— The teams' wide receivers, statistically speaking, are the best in the NFL. Green Bay got a league-high 3,667 yards from its wide receiver while the Giants were second with 3,439 yards. Green Bay, however, led the league by a mile in touchdowns by its receivers with 38, a whopping 11 more than second-place Dallas. In fact, the Packers got more touchdowns from their receivers than Manning threw to everyone (29).
— The last word goes to Greg Jennings, on whether Rodgers learned from Favre's infamous interception in the 2007 championship game against the Giants: "No doubt. No doubt about it. No doubt about it. As a quarterback, as anyone, if you're backing up anybody or you're hands on deck, you're next, you're in the hole so to speak, I mean, it's like, ‘I'm not going to do that when I get in that position.' Without him ever even saying that, you know that crosses your mind. 'I'm going to make that play when I get my opportunity. I'm not going to make that play when I get my chance.' And as a receiver, you may see a receiver not make a play and you're like, I'm going to make that play. That's the mindset you develop and that's the way you go about your business, I'm going to make that play. And we've got guys in this locker room that feel like they're going to make that play when their number's called."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.