A championship look

Overall thoughts on present, past championship games; keys to the game for Packers

When the Green Bay Packers take on the New York Giants in the NFC championship game at 5:42 CST on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the Super Bowl will be on the line. The Packers have played in four Super Bowls, including two in the Brett Favre, era, while the Giants have appeared in 3 Super Bowls. Both teams have only lost once in the Big Dance, but both squads have not been there in a while.

The Packers' last appearance in the Super Bowl was 1998 against the Denver Broncos in their only loss. The Giants' last appearance in the Super Bowl was 2001, and that was the Giants only loss as well to the Baltimore Ravens. The Packers loss against the Broncos was eerily similar to how the Buccaneers and Cowboys lost to the Giants in this year's playoffs.

Both the Buccaneers and Cowboys had good success running the football against the Giants, especially early in the game. The Packers did the same thing against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII, as Dorsey Levens was on his way to a huge rushing game in the first half. But all three teams went away from the run. And ALL three teams lost.

The Giants have a great defensive line rushing the passer. They also blitz at times as well, as did the Broncos on that day in San Diego. To beat opponents like that, you have to have a mixture of run and pass, plus you have to keep the defense honest. You keep them honest by running by the defensive ends that are trying to rush the passer. Or you run into zones that are vacated by blitzers. You also can run screens and slants, but you always try and be one step ahead of the defense. Passing almost all of the time is NOT keeping the defense honest.

The Packers have kept the opponents honest in playoff games at Lambeau Field. The Packers are now 15-2 at home during the playoffs, which also include two wins in Milwaukee, including the 1939 championship game at State Fair Park when the Packers beat the Giants 27-0. The Packers and Giants have met five times during the playoffs (all championship games), with the Packers winning in 1939, 1944, 1961 and 1962. The Giants' lone victory was in 1938.

The last playoff game against the Giants was played in brutal conditions in 1962 at Yankee Stadium. Ironic, since the temperature for this year's game is expected to be in the single digits, with a low around zero. The game in 1962 was brutal not so much for the temperature, which was 13 degrees, but because of the wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. That, and the hitting.

FB Jim Taylor waged a fierce battle with MLB Sam Huff as Taylor gained 85 yards on 31 carries and also had the Packers only touchdown in a 16-7 win. MLB Ray Nitschke did some hitting as well, as he won the game MVP. G Jerry Kramer did his part as well, both as a blocker and as a kicker, as Kramer connected on 3 field goals in the fierce wind.

But the last time these two teams played a championship game at Lambeau was in 1961. That was also the year "Titletown" was introduced as a name for Green Bay as Vince Lombardi and the Packers won their 1st of 5 championships. The Packers were nearly flawless that day as they won 37-0 behind Paul Hornung's 19 points and Bart Starr's 3 TD passes.

Speaking of ironic, Starr is going to be the honorary captain for the Packers in the game. If the Packers win, Starr will present the George S. Halas trophy, will signifies the NFC Championship. Starr won five championship under Lombardi. That is the most ever for a QB in NFL history. Starr was also the guy who snuck across the Dallas Cowboy goal line in the "Ice Bowl" with 13 seconds remaining in 1967. It was minus-13 degrees that day. The forecast calls for a game-time temperature of minus-2 degrees on Sunday night, and will be nice have Starr on hand.

So how do the Packers advance to the Super Bowl? Offensively, they have to keep doing what they have been doing, mixing the run and the pass. The running game can hurt the Giants as mentioned earlier, and Ryan Grant should have a big game against his former teammates. Favre should have a huge advantage attacking the Giant hurting and depleted secondary. Favre should have success with weapons like Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Koren Robinson, Ruvell Martin, Donald Lee and Bubba Franks.

The key of course is the offensive line of the Packers. The Giants' biggest weapons in their defensive line are defensive end's Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton will have to play well again, just as they played in the first Giant game earlier this year and as they did last week against the Seattle Seahawks. The interior of the line also has to play as well as they have played recently, both in run blocking and pass blocking.

Defensively, the Packers have to gear up for the run, with both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw doing the bulk of the running. The Packers did a great job last week in shutting down the Seahawks running attack, and they will hope for the same results. The Packers want to force Eli Manning into throwing the ball as often as possible. Manning has not fared well in cold conditions like those expected Sunday night.

The Packers will face some nice weapons in wide receiver's Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. But cornerback's Al Harris and Charles Woodson should be up to the challenge. The Giants receivers should also be aware of S Atari Bigby who has played very well as of late, hitting anything that moves.

Like in any game, especially a championship game, special teams also has to play well. There is a chance that Will Blackmon will be back returning punts this week. But EVERYTHING has to be functioning on all cylinders. The kickoff and punt return teams, the kickoff and punt coverage plus the punts, field goals and extra points. In weather like that expected Sunday night, any mistake can turn the game, one way or the other.

Turnovers have to be kept at a minimum. The Packers certainly can't expect to fumble early in the game against the Giants, like they did against the Seahawks, and come back and win facing a 14-0 deficit. In a championship game, the winner of turnover battle wins almost all the time, especially when one is facing the frigid temperatures coming Sunday night.

The stars seem to be aligned just right for the Packers. They have had a storybook year finishing 13-3 and winning the NFC North with the youngest team in the NFL. The Pack whipped the Seahawks last week 42-20 in a divisional playoff game that was played in a winter wonderland. The Packers also get the Giants at Lambeau as opposed to playing the Cowboys in Dallas. Favre is 0-9 in Dallas. But then again, the Giants have won nine straight on the road.

But the Packers have NEVER lost a championship game at home. The Pack is 5-0 in the BIG games. The team seems to be one on a mission. They have a chance to advance to the Super Bowl, where they will probably meet Tom Brady and the undefeated New England Patriots. Think about the ratings for that game if it should happen. Starr will be with the Packers on Sunday night as well. He was 3-0 at home in championship games. I also think Starr will be handing the George S. Halas Trophy to Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy on Sunday night. Talk about apropos.

Bob Fox is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.

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