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Preview: Giants at Green Bay

Teams FO Ranking NFL Ranking
Packers Rushing Offense 9 21
NY Giants Rushing Defense 10 8
NY Giants Rushing Offense 7 4
Packers Rushing Defense 6 14
Packers Passing Offense 5 2
NY Giants Passing Defense 15 11
NY Giants Passing Offense 24 21
Packers Passing Defense 18 12
Packers Special Teams 8
NY Giants Special Teams 20
Packers Scoring Offense 4
Packers Scoring Defense 6
NY Giants Scoring Offense 14
NY Giants Scoring Defense 17

ESPN's Mike Sando had a column back on January 2nd with analysis of the statistical trends during the regular season from 2000 through 2007 and how it matched up with playoff success. He found that the team with the better scoring defense and the better quarterback usually won. Based on those results, the Giants have no business playing in the NFC Championship game. They arguably entered the NFC playoffs with the worst defense and the worst quarterback. Their defense ranked 17th overall and allowed 21.9 points/game, lower than Dallas (13th, 20.3/game) and Tampa Bay (3rd, 16.9/game), while QB Eli Manning was ranked 30th by Football Outsiders and his NFL passer rating was 25th, which was significantly worse than the regular season stats compiled by QB Tony Romo and QB Jeff Garcia. Statistically the Giants should have not gotten this far, but obviously they have not been playing their opponents on paper.

What have they been doing right in the playoffs? First, they haven't committed any turnovers in two playoff games. Second, although they've failed to generate over 300 yards on offense in either playoff game, when they get near the red zone, they've scored a touchdown on 6 of their 7 scoring drives. Third, their defense has held both of their opponents under 20 points (Tampa scored 14, Dallas scored 17).

The Packers would do better if they could force turnovers, but they aren't the most opportunistic defense and they only forced one turnover by Seattle last Saturday. Obviously they can force the Giants to settle for a field goal when they get in the red zone, but again that is easier said than done. However, the Giants will have a hard time holding the Packers under 20 points in the game. Since the bye week, when RB Ryan Grant became the starting running back, the Packers have scored more than 30 points in 8 of their last 11 games, and scored more than 30 points in their last 6 home games. They haven't scored under 30 points at Lambeau in 6 games with Grant as the starting running back.

One big difference between the Packers and the Giants prior opponents is health. For Dallas, QB Tony Romo and WR Terrell Owens, and for Tampa Bay, QB Jeff Garcia and WR Joey Galloway, all played through injuries during their playoff losses. None of those players were at 100%, while the Packers are probably in the best health they've been all season and QB Brett Favre hasn't shown any lingering signs of the arm injury he suffered in Dallas back in November.

I doubt the Packers will bring out any special defensive game plan for the Giants since the standard game plan has worked pretty well this season. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders never plays too aggressive, but he has been willing to have one of his linebackers blitz more often over the last several games to get pressure on the quarterback. The safeties will play deep and the cornerbacks will press at the line of scrimmage. A big key is to stop the Giants running game because it is the best part of their offense and it will turn them into a one dimensional offense. Tampa Bay's run defense is about as good as the Packers according to Football Outsiders, Tampa's ranked 7th and the Packers 6th during the regular season, and Tampa held the Giants to 3.3 yards/carry two weeks ago. The Packers run defense also plays much better at home, having allowed 4.35 yards/carry on the road while only 3.23 at home against some pretty good run offenses such as Minnesota and Philadelphia. The big sin for Tampa's defense was they didn't get enough pressure on Manning, recording only one sack in the playoff game, which allowed him to complete 74% of his passes at Tampa, well above his season completion percentage of 56.1%.

The Packers offense is playing their best football of the season after racking up 408 yards and 42 points against a very good Seattle defense last week. The veteran tackles controlled Seattle's great pass rushing defensive ends and will have to do the same against DE Osi Umenyiora and DE Michael Strahan who are arguably the two best defensive players on their team. Although CB Aaron Ross will play after dislocating his shoulder twice last week in Dallas, CBs Sam Madison and Kevin Dockery are unlikely to play and the Packers' four and five receiver sets, along with Favre's quick release, should cause them a lot of problems. The Giants have a good run defense, but Grant just shredded Seattle's even better run defense last week and the officials have overall shown an unwillingness to call any offensive holding penalties. Anything short of a chop block or tackling the defensive player should be permitted.

The Giants have no business making it this far in the playoffs which makes them dangerous as one of those teams like Carolina in 2003 and Pittsburgh in 2005 that played way above their regular season performance once the playoffs started. However the Packers are rolling and betting against them is not a good idea with the way their offense has played over the last several home games. Packers 31, Giants 16.