The Chargers have some injuries of concerns, for sure, but they also have solid depth if needed. In the NFC, the Giants have an emerging offense that is becoming nicely balanced. Get the series history, keys to the games, key injuries, fast facts and more for Sunday's conference championships.
San Diego Chargers (13-5) at New England Patriots (17-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 3:00 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms
36th meeting, if counting playoff games, with the Patriots leading the series 19-14-2. It's the second time they have met this year and the second time they have squared off in the playoffs in the past two seasons. The most historic game between them capped the 1963 season when the Chargers defeated the Boston Patriots, 51-10, for the franchise's only league title.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Regardless of the health of QB Philip Rivers
, RB LaDainian Tomlinson
and TE Antonio Gates
— although they certainly are major storylines — the Chargers' game plan shouldn't change. Yes, WRs Vincent Jackson
and Chris Chambers
have become a very effective tandem in the playoffs. But to help protect the defense, the Chargers must use the ground game to control the clock, wear down the Patriots' front seven and set up the vertical passing game.
The softness of the Chargers' defense is defending the pass, with the secondary only a strength when the pass rush forces opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. San Diego only got to Patriots QB Tom Brady
twice in the first meeting, both times by OLB Shawne Merriman
. If OTs Matt Light
and Nick Kaczur
hold up, Brady should be able to move the ball at will through the air and not have to test the Chargers' strong run defense.
Chargers: Rivers (sprained right knee) and Gates (dislocated toe) could be game-time decisions; Tomlinson (sprained left knee) and DT Jamal Williams
(ankle) might be limited, but are expected to play. Patriots: RG Stephen Neal
(shoulder) and WR Donte' Stallworth (knee) have been limited in practice but are expected to play.
New England has joined the 1972 Miami Dolphins
as the only teams to reach 17-0 in a season. ... Jackson has 207 receiving yards in two playoff games this year.
TE Antonio Gates (toe) sat out another practice and he might not test his injury until a couple hours before kickoff on Sunday.
FB Lorenzo Neal (leg) continued to work and it looks like he will be active on Sunday.
OLB Shawne Merriman (ill) was able to get in some limited work after taking Wednesday off.
NT Jamal Williams (ankle) didn't practice but is convinced he will be fine for Sunday and could work on Friday.
K Nate Kaeding continues to kick more and could handle the kickoffs on Sunday. If so, Dave Rayner could be cut.
LT Matt Light (flu) and S Mel Mitchell (biceps) were the two players not present for the media access portion of Thursday's practice.
QB Matt Gutierrez and OL Dan Connolly wore black jerseys, indicating they were practice players of the week.
G Stephen Neal (shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Neal has been battling a shoulder injury all season but is expected to start this week against San Diego.
WR Donte' Stallworth (knee) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Stallworth played last week against Jacksonville, catching a big pass in the fourth quarter. The injury isn't thought to be serious.
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Brady will be in the starting lineup on Sunday when the Patriots host the Chargers.
New York Giants (12-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:30 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Chris Myers
SERIES: 54th meeting. Packers lead series, 29-22-2. The teams are meeting for the sixth time in the postseason, with Green Bay holding a 4-1 edge. All of those matchups occurred in what was then the NFL Championship, ranging from 1938 to ‘62. The Packers' victories in 1939, ‘44, ‘61 and ‘62 account for a third of their unprecedented 12 league titles. Green Bay pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 35-13 win at Giants Stadium in a Week 2 matchup this season. The visiting team has won the last four meetings, dating to 1998, with the Giants winning the last encounter in Green Bay, 14-7 in 2004.
KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Eli Manning has rightfully been praised for the poise he has shown since the Giants gave New England all it could handle in Week 17. But it's not the passing game that has gotten Big Blue one game from the Super Bowl. RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been the driving force behind the offense, and the ground game must produce with temperatures predicted near zero with possible snow flurries.
The Packers would love nothing more than another game involving snowball fights. RB Ryan Grant ripped off 201 rushing yards last weekend, and his emergence has made it that much easier for Favre to play pitch and catch with his dangerous receiving crew. The Giants have a bigger problem than just their beat-up secondary. With Favre's ability to unload the ball quickly on screens and slants, the Giants' all-important pass rush might not be much of a factor.
KEY INJURIES: Giants: CB Aaron Ross (dislocated shoulder) is expected to start, possibly wearing a harness; CB Sam Madison (abdomen) appears as though he'll be active; CB Kevin Dockery (hip flexor) is unlikely to play. Packers: CB Will Blackmon (foot) could return, but would be unlikely to resume punt return duties over Tramon Williams.
FAST FACTS: Favre (5,075) and Joe Montana (5,772) are the only players with more than 5,000 passing yards in the postseason. ... The Giants are in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2000 season.
The only player on the Giants' roster with a Super Bowl ring is guard/center Grey Ruegamer, who played for the New England Patriots when they won Super Bowl XXXVI. The only two Giants with previous Super Bowl experience, both in XXXV when they lost to Baltimore, are DE Michael Strahan and WR Amani Toomer.
RB Brandon Jacobs, the Giants' leading rusher this season with 1,009 yards, asked to compare himself with the second running back in the game, rookie Ahmad Bradshaw. "Well, he's short and squatty so it's harder to see him in there, and when defenses have taken the pounding I give ‘em (Jacobs is 6-feet-4 and 265 pounds) it's difficult for them to run behind a guy with fresh legs who is as quick and as fast as he is."
Jacobs and Green Bay rookie CB Tramon Williams played on the same high school team in Napoleonville, LA. "I'm really happy for him," Jacobs said. "He never even got a college scholarship when we graduated and it has always been a case of him scratching and hoping for a chance." Jacobs attended Auburn and then Southern Illinois; Williams went to Louisiana Tech as a walk-on.
CB Kevin Dockery (hip flexor) appears to be out for the third consecutive week. "He didn't practice," said head coach Tom Coughlin, "and I'm not sure that he will."
ORT Kareem McKenzie (ankle) went through the full practice and is considered likely to play Sunday.
CB Aaron Ross was limited in practice "but he did more than other guys who are limited," Coughlin added.
On the trade of Packers RB Ryan Grant to the Packers on Sept. 1, Coughlin added this: "We had five or six running backs, a number of people, who we felt could play in the NFL, and that was just too many to keep."
CB Sam Madison (abdominal muscle strain) was termed "limited" at practice and Coughlin said: "He has to show me he can maneuver within his position without worry or injury and be able to defend himself and his job without any interference of limitations."
C Scott Wells didn't take part in contact drills for the second straight day as he continues to receive treatment for soreness stemming from a strained glute. Head coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Thursday that Wells would be fine to play in the NFC Championship on Sunday.
RG Jason Spitz has handled the first-team reps at center with Wells sidelined in practice. Spitz would slide over from his starting spot if Wells needs to come out at some point in the game. Tony Moll is the backup at right guard.
MLB Nick Barnett was limited in team work Thursday, a day after he was held out of contact drills to rest a sore hamstring. He's expected to be fine to make the start Sunday.
WR Greg Jennings was the only player on the team's injury report who had full participation Thursday. He has been managing with a sore groin in recent weeks but will be ready for the game.
CB Will Blackmon continues to make progress with a right foot injury that kept him out of the last game. Blackmon went through drills on a limited basis for the second straight day. A decision on whether to activate him Sunday will be made after the coaches and medical staff see how Blackmon fares in practice Friday.