Giants-Packers Preview: Don't make Mr. Rodgers angry

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 13, 2012



By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts January Prognosticator


Sorry, but we can't stop if you already heard this before. In 2007, the New York Giants almost defeated the then-unbeaten New England Patriots in the regular season. The Giants used this game as a springboard of confidence all the way to Super Bowl XLII, where the Giants won the rematch and finally welcomed the Patriots to the land of the defeated. Meanwhile, along the way through the greatest underdog journey, the Giants won the NFC Championship Game in frigid Green Bay in overtime.

Now, the Giants look to "repeat history" with a win Sunday in Green Bay. As the pigskin pundits would tell you, the 9-7 Giants are the same dangerous underdogs they were in 2007, while the 15-1 Packers are the same almost-unstoppable offensive juggernaut that the 2007 Patriots were for nearly the entire season. Furthermore, the Giants will bring in an emerging pass rush and a quarterback who's thriving in late-game situations.

Finally, we'll stop there, because the final sentence ultimately tells what could give the Giants a legitimate shot at the upset.

Let's get this straight. The 2007 Giants and 2011 Giants are largely different teams, as are the 2007 Packers and 2011 Packers. Yes, the New York defensive line is showing some pass rush flashes of its glorious Super Bowl run, but the 2007 unit long dominated before January. The 2007 Giants ranked first in the Defensive Hog Index, while this year's crew ranked 13th in the regular season. In fact, if the Packers can simply neutralize the pass rush, there's a great chance this looks more like last year's matchup between these two teams (45-17 win in Week 16, and the first of 19 consecutive wins, all without trailing in the fourth quarter).

Meanwhile, the Packers won't have BrettFavre to screw things up when it matters the most in the postseason. The Giants-Packers NFC Championship Game chapter reads:

"BrettFavre, and the Packers offense, suffered one of the most colossal collapses in history. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Favre completed 4 of 10 passes for 32 yards with 2 INTs. Green Bay's final four drives, with a Super Bowl appearance easily within their grasp, went for 0, 7, 0 and 2 yards.

 
Favre's final pick, on the second play of overtime, led directly to the Giants' game-winning field goal."
 
That counts as one of the most epically awful quarters in the NFL playoff history. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers only has a 112.6 passer rating and four games with at least three touchdown passes in his five playoff starts. His only playoff "collapse" came in overtime of a 51-45 loss in which a blatently-missed face mask call helped to lead to a game-winning fumble recovery touchdown return for the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.

However, with these differences that favor the Packers, there are differences that favor the Giants. While Green Bay rank first almost all passing offensive indicators (Scoreability, Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Real Quarterback Rating, Offensive Passer Rating, Passer Rating Differential), they struggle stop opponents in the pass game. The 2011 Packers allowed a staggering 4981 gross passing yards this season. Sure, that's a mostly-useless stat, but the problems show in the team ranking 30th in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt.

Are the Packers allowing so many passing yards simply because the offense is scoring so much? The defense can play a bend-but-don't-brend defense that waits for the mistake, which shows in the team's league-high 31 interceptions. However, there isn't a study yet that sufficiently shows if a great offense like Green Bay's increases the game's tempo enough to make defensive struggles a simple by-product of great offenses. Judging by the three awesomely elite offenses this year, the answer seems to be "yes."

No matter what the reason may be, Green Bay's defensive struggles will be supplemented by a strong passing game led by Eli Manning. Manning almost led the Giants to a 5,000-yard season, so the Packers may be in store for one of its rougher games in the secondary. 

The wild card of the game will be weather, which seems to be headed towards the upper 20s at kickoff. It should be warm enough to keep both passing games near full-cylinder, but it won't be a walk in the park either.

While the pigskin pundits like to look at history to suggest a potential Giants upset, they are ignoring what the Giants can't do to help the upset. New York needs to slow the game down with a ball-control offense, just like the Chiefs did in Week 15 and just like the 2007 Giants did in the NFC Championship Game. If the pace picks up to a frantic game, take this game off upset alert, because the Packers earn enough separation to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

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