There’s no love lost between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, a rivalry which has become increasingly heated in recent years. After the Packers spoiled the Giants’ playoff hopes in 2010, the Giants responded by knocking the Packers out of the NFC divisional round of the playoffs on their march to the Super Bowl last season. A Sunday Night Football rematch finds these two teams still largely intact as far as their 2010 and 2011 rosters are concerned, but nonetheless with some key differences that should affect the outcome.
Quarterback: There’s no denying that 2011 was NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ year. But it was Eli Manning who, in the game that mattered, threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Giants to a shocking win at Lambeau in January. However, through the first 11 weeks of this season, Rodgers has been quietly playing incredibly efficient football. He trails Drew Brees for most passing touchdowns by 1 (27), and leads the league in passer rating (107.3). Manning has thrown 12 touchdowns and is 22nd overall in passer rating (81.8). Moreover, Manning is tied for the fourth-most interceptions (11), while Rodgers has thrown just over half that. Manning can never be counted out for a fourth-quarter comeback, but expect Rodgers to anchor Green Bay’s offensive performance on Sunday. Edge: Rodgers
Receivers: Green Bay’s incredibly deep receiving corps has been, at times, shallow this season, with wide receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Donald Driver, along with tight ends Jermichael Finley and Tom Crabtree all appearing on the injured list multiple times this season. The injuries have forced Rodgers, for whom it is not unlikely to target 10-12 different receivers in one game, to spread the ball around even more this season. As a result, no one Packer has jumped atop the receiving standings; Nelson leads the team in receiving yards (577), Jones in touchdowns (8), Cobb in receptions (54). Meanwhile, despite a shaky start, Victor Cruz has put up an impressive 743 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. And yet, aside from Cruz, Manning’s other options have been less than reliable. Hakeem Nicks has had 465 receiving yards but only one touchdown, while TE Martellus Bennett has had three touchdowns but barely over 400 yards (411). In short: Cobb’s emergence as a multiple threat in all areas of the field has reinvigorated Green Bay’s offense, while Jones is always a threat in the end zone. Edge: Packers
Run Game: It’s no secret that the Packers have struggled to find a balance between the air game and the ground game. Ahmad Bradshaw has almost double his nearest Packer competitor’s carries and rushing yards, Bradshaw: 151 attempts, 675 yards; Alex Green: 87 attempts, 272 yards. Moreover, the Giants score on the ground often. Bradshaw and Andre Brown have 11 rushing touchdowns between them, while the Packers have only rushed for two touchdowns, total. Edge: Giants
Defense: The Giants and the Packers are close to even in terms of total yards allowed, but the Giants have been a little more generous. On average, New York has allowed 257.8 passing yards and 113.8 rushing yards per game. However, the Packers have lost an alarming number of defensive playmakers to injury, most of whom will probably still sit out Sunday (most notably Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Nick Perry, Erik Walden), and the Giants’ strong front four should have multiple opportunities to exploit the Packers’ leaky o-line and keep Rodgers off his feet (he has been sacked 32 times so far this season). The loss of Matthews and Woodson gives New York a slight advantage on the defensive side of the ball. However, if the Giants’ pass rush can’t disrupt Rodgers, their shaky secondary may have trouble containing the Packers’ air game. Edge: Draw
Advantage: Slight Packers