GREEN BAY, Wis. — The last time the Packers and New York Giants met, all the positive moments from Green Bay’s nearly perfect 15-1 regular season became relatively meaningless.
The 37-20 playoff beatdown Eli Manning helped deliver on a cold mid-January afternoon at Lambeau Field continued another improbable postseason run for New York that concluded with Peyton’s little brother hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in five years. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, meanwhile, saw their hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions disappear with a lackluster performance on their home field.
Ten months later, the rematch is set to take place at Metlife Stadium on Sunday night. It won’t have the same win-or-the-season-is-over implications, but both teams need the victory.
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At 6-4, the Giants are atop the weak NFC East, but a loss against Green Bay would put them just one game ahead of both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. Winning that division is likely the only way any of those three teams will get into the playoffs.
The Packers, 7-3 and on a five-game winning streak, are tied with the Chicago Bears for the NFC North lead. After a week filled with film study that included footage of their last meeting with the Giants, Green Bay’s players certainly won’t lack motivation.
“It would be nice to beat them in the postseason, but maybe if we get them this week we can potentially set up down the road maybe another shot at home,” Rodgers said this week. “They’re a good team, a really good team with great coaching and a lot of really good players.”
For Green Bay to gets its sixth consecutive win, coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to find a way to stop New York’s offense without Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone). Last weekend in a win over the Detroit Lions, several role players performed very well in the absence of Matthews and Woodson.
“Last week at this time, I said we had to play really good team defense,” Capers said. “The guys stepped up and did. These guys understand that, when you get your opportunity, that’s when you make a statement for yourself. Last week, we ended up with five sacks and four takeaways, and we’ll take that every week.
“We’ve got to play a good team defensive game and understand what the Giants do well.”
New York is ranked ninth in passing yards and eighth in scoring, but the Packers may be getting the Giants at the right time. Manning hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the last three games, two of which were losses.
“From Thanksgiving on, you’ve got to get it right and capitalize on that if you’re going to have a chance to do anything,” coach Tom Coughlin said this week. “Without a doubt, that is a truism.”
Coughlin’s Giants teams have had a knack for getting hot at the right point of the season, but this year has been trending in the wrong direction for the defending champs. In the first five games this season, the Giants’ offense had two games with 41 points, as well as one with 36 points. One of those included a 510-yard passing game for Manning. But over the last three games, Manning had just 532 passing yards combined.
New York’s defense has been good this season, ranking second in the NFL in interceptions, third in forced fumbles and 12th in points allowed. But Green Bay has the second-fewest giveaways in the league, with just nine through10 games.
In order for the Giants to continue their defensive success, their pass rush, led by Jason Pierre-Paul with 6.5 sacks this season, will have to consistently get pressure on Rodgers.
“With (Pierre-Paul’s) athleticism, he’s long, he’s very rangy, and he chases things back from the back side and he’ll make plays from the front side,” Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse said. “He does a lot of things, and he does a lot of things well. We know that about him. He’s proven it over and over again in his short career.
“A guy like that, you just have to keep an eye on him, stay within our scheme. We’re not really going to do a whole lot different, but we’re going to be aware of him.”
Green Bay’s offense may be getting an unexpected addition this week, as two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings is listed as questionable. Jennings had abdominal surgery just three weeks ago and hasn’t played since Week 4. But after a full week of practice, including one in full pads, Jennings could return for this game.
Regardless of Jennings’ status, the Packers have an opportunity to gain a small amount of revenge on the team that ended their season in stunning fashion last year. This is also the third time Green Bay and New York have matched up in the past calendar year, which creates a division-rivalry-type atmosphere.
Over the past five seasons, the Giants and Packers have accounted for three Super Bowl titles. So, with the 2012 regular season now two-thirds completed, this game could go a long way in determining if either of these teams can continue the late-season dominance that has propelled them in recent years.
“It’s an excellent challenge,” McCarthy said. “It’s always a tough game, and it’s one we’re looking forward to playing in.”