The Giants will face one of their most formidable challenges of the season Sunday when they meet the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game in historic Lambeau Field. Green Bay, the defending Super Bowl champion, finished the regular season with an NFL-best 15-1 record, a franchise record for victories. Their season-opening 12-game winning streak including a last-second 38-35 triumph over the Giants in MetLife Stadium on Dec. 4. The Packers, top-seeded in the NFC, had a bye last weekend. The fourth-seeded Giants won the NFC East with a 9-7 record and defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 24-2, in a wild card game last week. This is the seventh postseason game between the Giants and Packers. Green Bay leads the series, 4-2, but the Giants won the most recent meeting, 23-20, in overtime in the 2007 NFC Championship Game.
The Packers led the NFL with a team-record 560 points, the second-highest total in a season in league history. They scored at least 35 points in every game but one at home – where they averaged 40.1 points while going 8-0 -- and at least 24 points in every game but their lone loss, 19-14 at Kansas City on Dec. 18. Green Bay finished third in the league in yards per game with 405.1. The Packers were third in passing yardage (307.8) and 27th on the ground (97.4). They converted 56.1 percent of their third down opportunities at home this season.
The Packers were second in the NFL in both turnover differential (plus-24) and turnovers (14). Their 76 penalties tied Indianapolis for fewest in the NFL.
Green Bay is getting back players who were injured and missed games at the end of the season. Left tackle Chad Clifton sat out 10 games with hamstring and back injuries before taking 25 snaps in the regular season finale vs. Detroit. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed the final two games with a knee injury but should return. Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught seven passes for 94 yards in the teams' first meeting but missed the last three games with a knee injury, is expected to start. Running back James Starks was inactive three of the last four games with a right knee injury and could be limited.
Aaron Rodgers had one of the finest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. He set a single-season record with a 122.5 passer rating. Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, led the league with a 9.25 yards-per-attempt average and had 10 completions of 70 or more yards. In case that's not impressive enough, Rodgers, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV, is one of the top postseason quarterbacks in NFL history, ranking first all-time in passer rating (112.6), completion percentage (67.8 percent) and yards per pass attempt (8.72).
Rodgers is outstanding at reading coverage, has excellent touch and velocity on short and medium throws, and he's accurate throwing deep. And as the Giants learned last month, Rodgers can run the ball. He led the Packers with 32 rushing yards and hurt the Giants with 11- and 13-yard runs for first downs on a Green Bay touchdown drive. Rodgers was third on the team with three rushing touchdowns and second with 257 yards. Rodgers was inactive for the season finale vs. Detroit, so backup Matt Flynn stepped in and set franchise records with 480 yards and six touchdown passes.
With Starks injured, former Giant Ryan Grant has had a larger role in the rushing attack since the teams' first meeting. He finished the season strong, averaging 5.8 yards a carry in the final four games, and turned a short Flynn pass into an 80-yard touchdown against the Lions. Grant has good quickness, run vision and speed. Starks, who led the team with 578 rushing yards – 19 more than Grant – is more of a power back who can make something out of nothing. He has the burst to follow his blockers and quickly cut through a hole and is strong and skilled enough to pick up blitzers. Starks gains much of his yardage after the defense makes its initial contact. Third-teamer Brandon Saine had eight carries for 28 yards vs. Detroit.
Fullback John Kuhn, who scored three touchdowns against the Giants in 2010, touched the ball just 45 times all season, but was still selected to his first Pro Bowl, an indication how good a blocker he is. He is a tough, hard-nosed runner who led the Packers with four rushing touchdowns. Kuhn also caught 15 passes, including two for scores.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson has emerged as the Packers' most explosive playmaker. He averaged 18.6 yards on his team-high 68 catches and scored 15 touchdowns, including five in the last two games – four of them at least 36 yards long. Nelson is superb at tracking deep balls. Despite his gaudy stats, Nelson started only nine games – five as the third receiver – because Donald Driver is the first-team flanker. He started the last three at split end for Jennings, who had 67 catches. Jennings is an athletic playmaker who finds voids in zones and has strong hands. Driver, the first receiver in franchise history with 10,000 yards, has the smarts and savvy one would expect from a 13-year veteran. He has a knack for being in the right spot when Rodgers scrambles. James Jones adjusts quickly to balls thrown to his back shoulder and has size, speed and sudden movements. Rookie Randall Cobb has deep play ability and is the Packers' gadget guy – he threw an incomplete pass against the Giants last month.
Tight end Jermichael Finley is Green Bay's third most-targeted receiver. He is quick to settle into holes in the coverage and is also a deep threat. Finley is an effective blocker in the run game. Tom Crabtree is a feisty blocker who helps in pass protection by chipping defensive ends. He is also a good outlet receiver on intermediate routes. No. 3 D.J. Williams plays about 12 snaps a game.
The Packers have used five different starting offensive line combinations this season. The unit is solidified with the return of Clifton, who missed Weeks 6-16 with his injuries. He is an athletic left tackle who quickly recognizes tricks by the defensive line and works well in space. Left guard T.J. Lang started every game, including a stint at right tackle vs. Chicago on Christmas night. He plays with strength and punch and has a finish mentality. Center Scott Wells joined Lang as the only offensive players to start all 16 games and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He is quick at the snap and sustains and finishes his blocks. Right guard Josh Sitton missed three games, including the Giants, with a knee injury – after playing every snap the previous two seasons. He has heavy hands on contact and is particularly effective near the goal line. Bulaga, a first-round draft choice in 2010, is tough and competitive and is good on the move. He gets consistently good position in pass protection.
The Packers have some unusual defensive numbers for the team with the league's best record. They ranked 32nd – that's last - in the NFL by allowing 411.6 yards a game. They were also last in pass defense, where they surrendered the most yardage in NFL history – 299.8 a game. Much of that was due to the fact that Green Bay frequently enjoyed large leadsand opponents were forced to pass to get back into the game. That resulted in another notable stat – the Packers led the league in both interceptions (31) and takeaways (38).
Green Bay's defense features three Pro Bowlers in nose tackle B.J. Raji, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson.
Raji is an every-snap player who contributes from all three line positions. He is a 337-pounder with speed, range and strength. Left end Ryan Pickett is a focused and intense player with effective pass rush moves. Howard Green has been starting at right end but is removed in sub defenses. He locates the ball quickly and constricts run lanes. Jarius Wynn plays about 25 snaps a game and chases the ball all over the field on every one of them. He has a good swim move on his pass rush. C.J. Wilson is another productive reserve. He is quick on takeoff and is difficult for tight ends to block. Mike Neal has flashed some pass rush ability.
Matthews is a solid run and pass defender who is the first Packer since John Brockington (1971-73) to earn Pro Bowl recognition in each of his first three seasons. He intercepted an Eli Manning pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown in the regular season game. Matthews is an attacker in the run game. He can overpower tight ends and he has the speed to chase down a ballcarrier from the back side. Matthews is an outstanding pass rusher who led the Packers with 6.0 sacks. The other starting outside backer is a bit of a mystery. Erik Walden held the job for most of the season, but Frank Zombo replaced him in the regular season finale. There has been speculation that Brad Jones might start Sunday. Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop each missed the first Giants game with injuries but will play Sunday. According to the Packers, Bishop led the team with 142 tackles (109 solo), including 5.0 sacks. He is a destructive force in the run game who often tries to strip the ball from the runner. Hawk is another productive defender who is constantly attacking.
Free safety Morgan Burnett is the only player to start every game in the secondary. He gets everyone lined up and is a particularly effective player in zone defenses. Charlie Peprah is quick to react and close from his strong safety position. He is a good run support player. Woodson is at the top of his game in his 14th season. He tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and earned his fourth Pro Bowl bid in a row and eighth overall. Woodson is the league's best player at covering a slot receiver. Right corner Tramon Williams led the team with 24 passes defensed. He typically covers the opposition's finest receiver. Sam Shields is a solid sub defender and a sure tackler in space. He takes Woodson's place on the left side and Woodson moves into the slot in the nickel. Jarrett Bush is the extra defensive back when Green Bay plays a dime.
Cobb emerged as one of the league's most dangerous return specialists in his rookie season. He was second in the league with a 27.7-yard kickoff return average, including a 108-yard touchdown, and seventh with an 11.3-yard punt return average. The Giants held him to 76 yards on three kickoff returns and six yards on two punt runbacks. Crosby was fourth in the NFL with 140 points and he hit 24 of 28 field goal attempts, most notably the game-winning 31-yarder against the Giants as time expired. He had 13 touchbacks at home in December, including seven in a victory over Oakland. Punter Tim Masthay had a 45.6-yard gross average and a 38.6-yard net average and placed 23 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Bush and Pat Lee shared the team lead with 12 special teams tackles apiece.
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