NFL Wild Card Preview: Giants vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers said, “I feel we can run the table” six weeks ago when the Packers were 4-6 and reeling. He then reeled off a six game stretch where he threw for 18 touchdowns and 0 interceptions leading the Packers to the NFC North division crown. I thought Rodgers reported demise was somewhat overstated to begin with and with how he played the last six games of the year all that talk is finished.
Jordy Nelson playing closer to the level he played at before the ACL surgery that prematurely ended his 2014-15 campaign is also a big reason for the Packers recent hot streak. He scored an NFL high 14 touchdowns this season and scored in 11 of the 16 games the Packers played this season. Davante Adams also had the breakout year that many expected the year before last as he had 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also had drops issues throughout the season which the Packers obviously hope don’t show on Sunday.
The Packers running game has been a little better since Mike McCarthy apparently realized that his best RB is Ty Montgomery. While Ty Montgomery was benched for most of the first half of last week’s win over Detroit after botching a screen play, he has been a revelation since changing positions early in the season. He has 48 carries for 309 yards and three touchdowns, and 14 catches for another 86 yards. While the Giants rush defense has been really good, they haven’t exactly faced a healthy diet of good running backs. They bottled up guys like Dwayne Washington, Ryan Mathews, James Starks, Robert Kelley, Isaiah Crowell and Jeremy Hill. They did lock Zeke up in the first NY/DAL game in September but he rebounded well in the second game to the tune of 107 yards on 24 carries. The Packers have a good enough OL where the run game can be more than an afterthought. If the Giants make the Packers one dimensional, that works in their favor.
On the Giants side, they are an interesting team to analyze in this matchup because their strengths align perfectly with the Packers strengths and their weaknesses (the passing game in particular) can receive a bit of a boost because of the status of the Packers roster. The Packers best DB is currently Micah Hyde. Dom Capers defenses are usually built to stop the pass first but the Packers haven’t done much of that this year and it showed a lot late as they gave up three straight 350+ yard performances to the likes of Matt Barkley, Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford. They also made Adam Thielen look like an all pro with a 12 catch 202 yard 2 TD performance in the week 16 showdown.
Eli Manning has been rather bad all season and as a result the Giants offense has been bad. They rank 25th in points and 27th in DVOA. They didn’t crack 20 points in 10 of the 16 games this season and failed to do so over the entire last month of the season. Manning was also dreadful on the road as he had a 5.94 YPA and averaged a putrid 223 yards per game.
The Packers spent most of the week 5 tilt doubling Odell Beckham and he couldn’t shake loose as Eli struggled mightily. Beckham had five catches for 56 yards and a rather meaningless touchdown late in the game. Even knowing all of this, and knowing that he’s likely to be doubled against him, I’d bet the house on Beckham having a signature explosive play at some point in this game. He’s arguably the best receiver in the sport and he’s probably the most terrifying man in the NFL in the open field.
The Giants run game has spent most of the year being anemic as well as they finished ranked 26th in the NFL. A puppy dies with every Rashad Jennings two yard run on 1st and 10. Paul Perkins added a little juice to the Giants running game as his snap count and amount of touches increased incrementally over the last three weeks of the season. I don’t know how they’re going to split the reps up but the Packers rush defense is ripe for the picking. After Ezekiel Elliott did whatever he wanted with them in week 6, the Packers gave up a healthy 4.7 yards per carry to enemy runningbacks.
The Giants have a top five pass defense but one place the Giants have struggled defensively is covering the tight end as they’ve surrendered 89 catches for 1052 yards and seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends on the year. The football outsiders DVOA backs this up as the Giants ranked 26th in their metrics when it comes to defending the tight end. If the Packers are going to win this game, I think Jared Cook is going to have to make an impact of some sort. That sentence has to be terrifying for anyone rooting for the Packers as Cook has been a chronic underachiever his entire career.
When it comes down to it, the two big advantages the Packers have over the Giants are at QB and OL. The rest are either a wash, given respective contexts, or in the Giants favor. I honestly don’t even care about home field advantage in this scenario because does extreme cold really benefit a team that’s built around aerial assaults as much as the Packers are? It’s not indicative of anything and it’s a four game sample but it is worth noting that in the 2010 SB run the Packers played zero games at home. And also, Eli Manning has been part of a playoff victory in Lambeau as much as Aaron Rodgers has.
The Giants offense has struggled all season but I’ve seen quite a few struggle offenses put it on the Packers over the course of the second half of the season. It goes by the boards quietly because Rodgers was Superman for most of that stretch but I think this is the perfect spot for a “get well for the moment” game for the Giants offense. I think Rodgers and the Packers offense puts up a valiant effort and plays well but the Giants defense does just enough to thwart the aerial histrionics and get out of Lambeau with a third playoff win in the last 10 years.
Prediction: Giants 21 Packers 20