“Football weather” has taken hold on the Eastern side of the United States and the -13 degrees they’re expecting in Green Bay will make the -6 in Pittsburgh seem positively balmy! The conditions will only serve to add to the hype surrounding this game, a perfect storm of factors swirl around the final 2017 Wild Card game headlined by the first meeting of Super Bowl winning Quarterbacks in the Playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV in 2011 (making them just the second 6th seed to do so) collecting both the Super Bowl and league MVP awards on the way. In 2011 he also won the Associated Press Athlete of the year award and the Bert Bell NFL player of the year award, he also set the record for the highest passer rating over an entire NFL season with 122.5 (out of a possible 158.3), in many ways 2011 was a the year of Aaron Rodgers. For his part Eli Manning has won the Super Bowl twice seeing off the New England Patriots twice, in 2008 and 2012, he was named MVP both times but the Giants and Packers have won their titles in different ways and this is why this matchup is so highly anticipated.
In Rodgers Super Bowl win the Packers set a record for the fewest rush attempts by a winning team in a Super Bowl with only 13, they also tied the record for fewest turnovers in a Super Bowl as they gave away none. Rodgers threw 3 touchdowns and for 304 yards with Jordy Nelson catching 9 passes for 140 yards and 1 of the touchdowns. The Giants Super Bowl wins under Eli have been much more team efforts, in 2008 he threw for 255 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception while the Giants rushed for 91 net yards and their Defence stopped the Patriots on 2 crucial 4th down attempts. In 2012 the Giants were even more successful running the ball as they average 4.1 yards per carry on their way to recording 114 yards on the ground while Eli threw 40 passes for 291 yards and a single touchdown and their defence made the only interception of the game.
But it’s not just historical comparisons which make these 2 teams such interesting competitors, this season they’ve both conjured up impressive 6 game winning streaks, (the Packers haven’t lost since the 20th of November and the Giants weeks 6-12) after stuttering at the beginning of the season. The Packers still have a manly pass based Offence as Eddie Lacey is now injured and James Starks has been injured during the season but Ty Montgomery has filled in admirably (averaging 5.9 yards per carry over 5 games, although one of those games against the Bears seriously skewed that stat) and Aaron Ripkowski has been a more effective ball carrier than even the Packers seem to realise, he averages 4.4 yards per carry and 5.1 yards per catch but he averages just 5 touches per game. Rodgers though has thrown a career high 401 completed passes this season for 610 attempts, another career high. He’s also thrown a league leading 40 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions this season, the Giants defence however have only allowed 15 touchdown passes all season and they’ve made 17 interceptions, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins are particularly effective culprits with 6 and 5 respectively. Collins has also made 4 sacks this season and with both Jason Pierre-Paul and backup Defensive End Owa Odighizuwa injured an extra onus may be put on Collins ability to pass rush, Green Bay have allowed 35 sacks so far this season and if Rodgers wasn’t such a mobile Quarterback it would surely have been more. The Packers have rushed for just 11 touchdowns this season ranking them 20th in the league, the Giants Defence and in particular Damon “snacks” Harrison have been effective when it comes to snuffing out opposing Running Backs, he’s made a career high 86 tackles, deflected a pass, made 2 and a half sacks and forced a fumble this season. Janoris Jenkins has been another standout performer on the Giants Defence this season and his battle to shutdown Jordy Nelson will be important, especially in conditions where any long pass completion could be a game changer. The longest completion Jenkins has allowed season is just 23 yards and he’s taken 3 interceptions while defending 18 passes, he’s even weighed in with a sack and forced a fumble. Jenkins suffered a bruised shoulder when he was struck by a team mate’s inadvertent knee as they both attempted to make a tackle in week 15, it reportedly won’t stop him playing in the postseason and it certainly didn’t stop trolling Jordy Nelson in what was reported by CBS as “a hastily deleted tweet”!
For the Giants Offence the emergence of Paul Perkins has been a much needed boon, veteran Running Back Rashad Jennings has failed to record a run longer than 38 yards since he arrived in East Rutherford from Oakland back in 2014 and this season his longest is a 25 yarder and he’s averaged a distinctly ordinary 3.3 yards per carry and he’s only rushed for 3 touchdowns in 2016. Perkins on the other hand has averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 10.8 yards per pass reception. In week 17 against the Redskins he recorded 102 yards on 21 carries. The Packers Defence has allowed just 11 touchdowns on the ground all season but they have been giving up 4 yards per carry and only managed to force 1 fumble in 16 games. Unlike their Giant counterparts the Packers Defence has had serious issues when it comes to stopping opposing passing attacks, largely due to the horrendous amount of injuries they have suffered to their secondary, this week they added 2 more Cornerbacks to an injury list that already included 3 who are out for the season, they have also got 5 Linebackers on their injury report but if anyone can still win with players nobody has ever heard of it’s the Packers. Unfortunately for the Giants even though they might be facing a depleted Defence they have been fairly profligate with the football as a passing Offence and the 16 interceptions they’ve given away is the 6th highest number in the league. They have also fumbled 11 times and finished the season with a -2 turnover ratio!
Everyone seems to be saying that the Packers are the team that nobody wants to play in the Playoffs, but I’m going to break ranks and say that the Giants Defence is the thing nobody wants to see during the Playoffs. Pierre-Paul is a big loss but Romeo Okwara and Olivier Vernon could be able to get pressure on Rodgers and very often containing him is more effective than trying to get him on the ground because he’s far more agile than any Defence lineman could wish to be. If The Packers can’t establish a run game early on then the Giants Defence will essentially only have to focus on Rodgers and with their predatory backfield they could have a field day. The Giants won’t mind the extreme conditions as much as the Dolphins will in Pittsburgh as the temperature back in New Jersey will be a frosty -5 (and once it gets below about -4 everything is painful). The major concerns for the Giants are that they have been more impressive at home this season with just 4 of their 11 wins coming in road games and one of the road games they lost earlier in the season was at Lambeau when the Packers prospered 23-16. The Giants Defence has improved drastically since then though as a new coaching setup and a number of big name free agents have settled in. When the Giants have run the ball 20 or more times this season they have a record of 7-0 so if they score the first touchdown they should book themselves a second visit of the season to Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
In all honesty this game could go either way and with all the hype surrounding it it’s bound to be a huge disappointment with the weather having the starring role, personally I would love the Giants to win because they could repeat they’re 2007 feat of winning in London and winning the Super Bowl in the same season (Landon Collins was fantastic in Twickenham back in October) but whoever wins this game will have a very real shot of making it to Reliant Stadium come February.