Countdown to Kickoff: Packers vs. Eagles

Green Bay is one step away from a rematch of their memorable 1996 NFC Championship meeting with the Carolina Panthers. Back then, the Packers were the team to beat; no team could get past the Pack at Lambeau. This time around, the tables are turned. The Packers will have to get past the conference's top team in hostile territory themselves.

Here are key areas to watch as the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles battle for an NFC title game berth:

Green gets revenge:  Despite his incredible numbers, the Nov. 10 meeting between the Packers and Eagles definitely put a damper on Ahman Green's record-breaking 2003 season. Green tallied a then-franchise record 192 yards as part of the Pack's 241-yard ground game. Yet the game ended in a 17-14 Packer loss on the Monday Night Football stage at Lambeau Field. At the end of the regular season, a different fate vs. Philly would have put both teams at 11-5 and thus given the Packers the second seed in the conference and a first-round bye.

So it's a safe bet Green doesn't spend much time reliving that one.

Today both Green and the Packers would like nothing better than to put together another tremendous rushing game with a different final result.

Defense digs in: While the loss of Brian Westbrook is significant for the Eagles,  let's remember that he had only 1 yard on 5 carries when these teams met in November. Today, he'll have one fewer yard. So rather than taking away a weapon from the rematch, it simply doesn't add one as Westbrook was coming on strong in the second half of the season until tearing his triceps in the regular-season finale.

The focus remains squarely on McNabb. He's was the engineer of the game-winning drive back in November with two first-down runs and the back-breaking 6-yard TD pass.

Special teams must improve: Last week the Packers gave the Seahawks an average drive start at their own 30, had a punting average of 27.2 yards and gave up 16 yards per punt return. Those aren't numbers Green Bay wants to hand to Donovan McNabb to start his drives.

The Packers must get a better performance from punter Josh Bidwell, and take the coverage – although improving lately – up another notch.

Meanwhile, the Eagles' special teams may feel the loss of Westbrook a little more. He had two returns for touchdowns this year, but did not have a return against the Packers.

Finally, Favre: As much as the Eagles go as McNabb goes, no team is more identified with its leader than the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre. He undoubtedly wants to erase the memory of six fumbles with a broken thumb and slippery splint, and a win is the best way to do it.

Favre comes in red-hot and riding a wave of emotion that would exhaust a lesser player. He'll be working with receivers who have finally started to come together down the stretch, and he'll be facing an Eagles' secondary that, while fierce during the regular season, is nicked up.

Favre is the ultimate intangible – bigger than home field, better than a bye week.


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