Sunday, January 08, 2017

NFL Wildcard Weekend: Packers vs. Giants Preview and Prediction

After winning the NFC North Division Championship last weekend with their impressive victory over the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers earned the right to host a home game today at Lambeau Field on Wildcard Weekend. Their opponent: the 11-5 New York Giants. (We can also thank the Giants for their win over Washington last weekend despite the fact they were already in the playoffs and couldn't do anything to improve their position. That win meant -- win or lose vs. Detroit -- the Packers would also be in the playoffs. Thankfully, though, the Packers kept their momentum going and got in by winning the division. Yay.)

But as Packer fans with even short memories know all too well, the Giants behind QB Eli Manning have won playoff games in recent years at Lambeau Field. So don't expect the Giants to be intimidated despite the cold, the crowd, or the opponent. And despite losing to the Pack earlier this season, the Giants are a very good team as evidenced by their overall record. They are a team that is the only one in their division to have beaten the Number 1-seeded Cowboys twice this season, delivering two-thirds of the 'boys three season losses. It's also fair to say that it's a different team in many respects than the one that last played here. The Giants really had no effective running game the last go-round, now they seem to. In that first meeting, the Packers defense could come after Manning as they didn't have to worry about a rushing attack; now, it seems as if they are more balanced. But getting to Manning early and often can make him quite mortal indeed. And that's what needs to happen or he will definitely be going after the porous Packers' secondary with very good receivers.

Still, the Giants success this season is primarily due to an extremely good Giants' defense. The secondary is one which some Packer fans would no doubt trade for right now. They will force QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers to be very accurate today as coverage will be exceptionally tight. Good thing for the Pack that (a) Rodgers is accurate almost beyond compare and (b) the Packers have a pool of receivers and offensive schemes which present match-up issues for most defenses.
The Packers will need another big game out of the versatile Micah Hyde if they are to move on to the next round of the playoffs.
Photo by Adam Wesleym USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin

As a point of comparison -- within the Giants themselves -- the Giants' offense scored just over 19 points on average per game this season. The defense has held opponents to just under 18 points per game. That's living tight, shall we say, in terms of point differential. But it was good enough to capture 11 wins and be the lowest points-against defense in the NFC. That means you're in every game down to the end.

In contrast, this season's Packers scored 122 more points over the course of the season than did the Giants, or 27 points per game on average, third highest among NFC teams. But defensively, the Packers gave up, on average, slightly more than 24 points per game. Not the greatest, as we know all too well. The secondary itself is ranked 31st in the league, which we might argue has been largely due to the rash of injuries that has beset that unit since the start of the season. And the fact that the Packers secondary experienced even more injuries in the Detroit game...well, that doesn't help much against a very good set of Giants receivers, does it? The Packers pass rush will have to step up in a way they have shown they can do on occasion. The overall defense will also have to rectify its disturbing trend of fourth quarter collapses or near-collapses that have allowed other teams back in the game late.

The Prediction
What we can take from this comparison is what essentially every analyst, pundit and fan has come up with at this point: the Giants win by shutting down their opponent's offense while the Packers win by outscoring their opponent. Which of the two scenarios will play out today?

The oddsmakers have listed the Packers as 5-1/2-point favorites in today's game. Given the nature of playoff football, as well as the Giants success in playoffs at Lambeau Field, many pundits are very reluctant to see the Packers as the favorites to win this game. Others are putting their faith in the capable and hot hands of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, and counting on the Packers' offense to outscore the Giants no matter what the Pack's defense does today. How well and how often the Packers' defense is able to get to Giants QB Eli Manning is also going to be key. The Pack's "D" doesn't have to win the game, they just have to not lose it.

Defenses win championships, they say. If the Packers defense was half as good as its offense, we wouldn't have to worry. The Pack would be an odds-on favorite to win it all. But, that's not the reality. As good as the Packers offense is, if the defense doesn't hold up its end of the bargain for 60 minutes today, and doesn't generate a turnover or two, we'll all be be watching golf next weekend instead of the Pack vs. the Cowboys.

As good as the Giants defense is, though, we have to believe that the Packers can outscore them offensively, barring uncharacteristic turnovers. The Packers will win this game in a close one.

We're calling it 27-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!