After some dubious matchups on Wild Card weekend -- at least, it seems that way; they'll probably all end up being overtime epics -- we get the most exciting contest, by far, on Sunday night.
Eli Manning and the Giants are having another one of those years where they hang around and hang around and then get hot at the right time. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers overcame a slow start to become maybe the scariest team in the league the last month of the season.
Freezing temperatures at Lambeau. Shirtless wide receivers partying with Bieber. This game has everything. This would be a perfectly reasonable NFC Championship Game. We get it on much earlier than that.
No. 5 New York Giants (11-5) at No. 4 Green Bay Packers (10-6)
When: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET, FOX
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Most recent meeting: Oct. 9: Packers 23, Giants 16. Neither team had it quite going at this point of the season: It's a far more fascinating matchup now.
Simple Rating System numbers: NY Giants 1.6., Green Bay 0.1
Current line: Packers by 4 1/2.
Ranking among four first-round matchups: First. There are probably six or seven teams that are thought to have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. These are two of them.
How the Giants can win
1. Recapture that postseason magic. When the Giants get on one of these playoff runs like we've seen twice in the past decade, it doesn't matter what happened in the regular season. Bye Patriots, bye 49ers, bye 2012 Packers, who thought they had one of their best teams in years before the Giants wiped them out. When the Giants get rolling, they look unstoppable. And talent-wise: This sort of looks better than some of those Super Bowl winning teams.
2. Make sure it's playoff Eli. It has been one of the more uneven seasons of an uneven career for Eli Manning. For all the talk of "Eli's thoughts about the wide receivers on the boat," they have been the ones bailing him out all year, not the other way around. On Tuesday, Eli turned, somehow, impossibly, 36 years old; he is now as grizzled a vet as you'll find, even if it still looks like he'll never need to shave. The Giants need him to minimize mistakes … but they may also need him, going against Aaron Rodgers, to be explosive late in the game. With the injured Packers in the secondary, he might have that chance.
3. Terrify Rodgers. This Packers team has some talent outside of Rodgers, and it has figured out its running game late, but this is still not a dominant offensive unit and one that lacks a breakaway threat at receiver. Rodgers has been successful making plays happen, being inventive and persistent, but the job of the Giants' expensive pass rush is to make sure he doesn't have time to be persistent. They need him to be sacked before he has time to run for his life. Give Rodgers even the tiniest window, and he'll create something. The Giants need to slam the window.
How the Packers can win
1. Score big, early. The Packers would love to get on the board first and make the Giants try to force the issue. The Giants want to win this game with their defense and a big play or two from Odell Beckham Jr., but the Packers are more explosive offensively, and they have a steadier hand on the till in Rodgers. If the Packers get a lead, they now have the run game to sit on it, and they have an opportunistic defense that will be ready to pounce on any Eli mistake.
2. Contain Beckham. This, obviously, won't be easy, but with the Packers' secondary injuries, it'll be imperative. The Giants have other weapons, but he's the one you have to stop. Triple team him. Make Eli dump it off. Something. Because Beckham is going to be looking for people to pick on.
3. Have Rodgers be perfect. Which he has been:
Aaron Rodgers' stats heading into the playoffs...- Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) January 2, 2017
In his last 6 games:
15 pass TDs
121.0 passer rating pic.twitter.com/G3dZpZ8LWW
Rodgers is going to be running for his life all day. If any quarterback can pull this off, it's him.
This is a near-impossible game to pick. Who wants to pick against that Giants' line? Who wants to pick against Aaron Rodgers? If Rodgers is perfect, the Packers will win. Can he remain perfect? Against that ferocious Giants pass rush, here's guessing … not quite enough.
Giants 27, Packers 24