Sunday, January 15, 2012

Packers vs. Giants in Divisional Playoff - Who Goes to the NFC Championship?

In a little more than 3 hours from now, the Green Bay Packers will take on the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the last of the NFL Divisional Playoff games. The winner will take on the San Francisco 49ers who upset the New Orleans Saints in a great game in 'Frisco yesterday afternoon. If the Packers win, the Niners will come to Green Bay for the NFC Championship; if the Giants win, the Niners will host the Championship game.

Let's just get this out of the way right now. The Giants will not be going to San Francisco, nor will the Niners be hosting a Championship game. The Packers are going to win this game today. Period.

That's not to say it will be a cake walk. Far from it. Remember that in Week 13 of the season the Packers got a 3-point victory in the Meadowlands (is it still the Meadowlands?). It was a struggle. But a win. Just like it will be today.

The Packers are listed as 7-1/2 point favorites today. They are as healthy as they've been all year long, coming off their first round bye. QB Aaron Rodgers has had two weeks to rest. But the team and coaching staff is also coming off a week of high emotions following the drowning death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son, Michael. Philbin, it was just announced, will resume his coaching duties today. According to coach Mike McCarthy, Philbin had written the game plan for this game during the Packers bye week. Assistant coaches were spreading out Philbin's work amongst themselves this week in his absence to make sure everything was covered just in case Philbin wished to take a leave of absence. McCarthy, as most know, does the offensive play calling. So it's been a different week of preparation, for sure. Still, McCarthy and players all said that practices were sharp. Perhaps there was a focus and intensity that was brought to bear by this tragedy. Certainly, the team will be playing for their coach and his family, as well as for themselves, today.

The Packers weren't getting much love from most of the national media this week. Most are talking about the Giants' rolling into the playoffs, peaking at the right time, much as the Pack did last season. The Giants had a dominating defensive performance last week against the Falcons, and their two-headed running attack of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs tore up the Falcons defense. The latter, in particular, scares the bejeezus out of me.

The Packers, let's be honest, have not had great luck stopping the run this season. Or gettting a pass rush on the quarterback. Or stopping big plays. They are the 32nd-rated defense in the NFL this season, giving up more yards than any other team. Not good. In fact, you can't get any worse. But while they tend to let teams run up and down the field, they do usually get turnovers and come up with a stop when they need it. It's definitely living on the edge. As we saw in that lone embarrassing loss at Kansas City a few weeks ago, if the Packers don't get turnovers on defense the other team has a chance, particularly if the offense sputters.

But I can't imagine the offense sputtering today. And I might be alone in this view, but I think the much-maligned Packers' defense will have its game of the season today, as well, much as the 31st-ranked defense of the New England Patriots did last night against Denver. Granted, we're facing Eli Manning and a potent offense, not Tim Tebow and the Broncos. But the Packers can put up points. With one exception on the season, more than each of their opponents. That trend continues today.

I said immediately after watching the Giants dismantle the Falcons last week that the Pack would need to score at least 38 today to win. I'm sticking with that.

I'm calling it Packers 38 - Giants 31.

Go Pack Go!!!