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NFL Playoffs: First by ground, then by air

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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NFL PLAYOFF SUNDAY

NY Giants at Green Bay, 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX

how they got here

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Retrace the paths of the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants in the regular season.

What to watch for: With the healthy returns of Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck toward the end of the season, New York now has a complete and a relentless pass rush that figures to give MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers all he can handle.

Just in time, the Packers get back their two starting offensive tackles in Chad Clifton (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (knee). If Sunday is anything like these teams’ regular-season matchup in Week 13, Rodgers will need them both — and need them at full strength. In that first game, Rodgers threw a season-high 46 pass attempts in a game the Packers won with a field goal at the final gun. The Packers didn’t have much of a running game in that one, either, as Rodgers led them with 32 yards on many of his nifty scrambles out of trouble. Rodgers hasn’t played in three weeks, but he does get WR Greg Jennings back to go with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and deep-threat tight end Jermichael Finley.

Despite the chilly temperatures at Lambeau Field, this figures to be a shootout. Giants QB Eli Manning has displayed a lot of poise down the stretch and has two playmaker receivers in Hakeem Nicks (1,192 receiving yards, 7 TD catches) and Victor Cruz (1,536 yards, 9 TDs). Ahmad Bradshaw is also dangerous out the backfield as a receiver and the Green Bay linebackers better be ready.

The Packers allowed the most yards in the league this season, but also led the NFL with 31 interceptions. Manning will have to steer clear of Green Bay playmakers Charles Woodson in the secondary and Clay Matthews (aiming for the Giants’ backfield). The Packers have really missed safety Nick Collins in the deep middle, plus CB Tramon Williams has had a down season by his standards. New York’s secondary, if Rodgers gets the time, is susceptible to double moves, plus Rodgers has been so good at simply taking whatever the defense gives him.

Czar’s scoop: With the exception of rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich (ankle), who won’t play, the Giants are entirely healthy today. Giants CB Aaron Ross (concussion) is expected to start. On the flip side, Packers TE Andrew Quarless believes he can play next season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery this week. Quarless is hoping that he can be on the PUP list when training camp opens and then be available the second half of the 2012 season. The Packers’ superb backup inside LB Robert Francois has been bothered by a hamstring injury.

The Packers don’t figure to franchise unrestricted QB Matt Flynn and then attempt to trade him, a strategy that the Patriots used with Matt Cassel — which allowed them to get compensation from the Chiefs.

Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, whose son Michael drowned last Monday, will be with the team on Sunday two days after Michael’s funeral, which was attended by several Packers including Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy. Several of the other offensive assistants aided McCarthy with the game plan and its installation while Philbin was away with his family during the week. Philbin, who will be coaching from the press box today, remains in contention for the head-coaching vacancy in Miami.

Tagged: Packers, Chiefs, Giants, Ravens, Texans, Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Matt Flynn, Jameel McClain, T.J. Yates

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