It used to be no team strolled into Lambeau Field and defeated the Green Bay Packers in the postseason. Then, in January, 2003, Michael Vick and the dome-homed Atlanta Falcons came to town on a chilly Wisconsin evening and walloped Brett Favre and the Packers, 27-7. That marked the first time in Lambeau Field history the home team lost in 11 postseason games at the fabled stadium.
The loss hardly ended the Packers playoff mystique. Since then, Green Bay has won eight playoff games, four at home, as well as a Super Bowl. But drawing the Packers at Lambeau Field for a postseason game is no longer a death sentence. In fact, including the Falcons win in early 2003, the Packers boast an unconscionable 3-4 home record in the playoffs since 2001.
Quite remarkably, half of those losses came to one club, the New York Giants, who twice defeated a rested Packers team that won far more games during the regular season.
In a 2012 divisional playoff game, the 9-7 Giants, who barely snuck into the postseason with a Week 17 victory, trounced the 15-1 Packers in arguably one of the greatest playoff upsets of the decade. And that wasn’t even the most thrilling Giants postseason road upset of the Packers in recent memory. In early 2008, the Packers hosted New York with a trip to Super Bowl XLII on the line. Brett Favre’s last throw as a member of the Green Bay Packers was infamously picked off in overtime setting up the Giants’ game-winning field goal.
Nine years later, the Packers and Giants square off again this Sunday at Lambeau in the marquee matchup of Wild Card Weekend. And once again, fans should expect a nail-biting finish that showcases two of the era’s most decorated quarterbacks.
Great offense, especially in the final minutes, is what burns a playoff game into the memories of every fan who watches. Even if they don’t include huge points totals, the most cherished playoff games featured signature moments and/or magnetic drives on offense: Dwight Clark’s catch, Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception, David Tyree’s helmet grab, Larry Fitzgerald and Santonio Holmes trading last-minute touchdowns, Dave Casper’s Ghost to the Post, Johnny Unitas famed two-minute drill against the Giants, John Elway’s 98-yard touchdown drive against Cleveland, etc.
And while the Giants and the Packers have each went through long stretches of offensive inefficiency this season, both should flourish Sunday afternoon.
Painfully unimpressive running games are largely to blame for the Packers and Giants struggles: The Giants finished with the fourth worst rushing total while the Packers went nearly three quarters of the season without a rushing touchdown by a running back. And even though Ty Montgomery and Paul Perkins have each provided their respective teams a spark on the ground, in a playoff setting, with so much on the line, neither team will have any illusions about “dictating the tempo” or “keeping the defense honest” or “controlling the clock” by running the ball.
Abandoning the running game will open the door for each team to let their quarterbacks cut loose. And given the defense that Eli Manning will survey Sunday afternoon, that’s easily the Giants’ best chance at victory.
To say the Giants offense has underperformed this year is an understatement: They finished 25th in yards, 26th in points, and despite a 3-1 finish during the stretch run, they only scored 5 offensive touchdowns in four games. Sparring with the Packers defense is a tremendous remedy to their recent woes. Allowing 269 yards per game, only the New Orleans Saints had a worse pass defense this year. Couple how thin they are in the secondary due to injury with the mayhem Odell Beckham is capable of once he catches the ball and the Giants should snap a rare streak of five straight games scoring less thanr 20 points.
One of the chief reasons New York was able to reach the postseason despite serious offensive deficiencies was their unexpectedly stingy defense. A year after finishing last in total yards surrendered, the Giants allowed the second fewest points of any team in the league this year. And while they struggled to score in December and January, they didn’t need to in order to win: The defense allowed less than 12 points per game during the last quarter of the regular season.
But as good as the Giants have been this year, they haven’t faced a quarterback as hot as Aaron Rodgers, who has been near flawless for the last seven weeks. And regardless of whether it’s the cause or simply a byproduct, Davante Adams has become a reliable threat downfield, Jordy Nelson continues to be as dangerous in the red zone as any receiver in the league and in Randall Cobb’s absence others have filled the void: Geronimo Allison and Jared Cook have each made plays downfield after Rodgers has escaped the pocket.
So while the Giants are playing top notch defense, especially against the pass (an average of 224 yards through the air since Week 10) no one in the NFL throws downfield on the run better than Aaron Rodgers. The Giants may contain him through the first half or three quarters but expect him to make a handful of plays late.
Each of these clubs are considered “sneaky” contenders for the Super Bowl, or at the very least a foil to the NFC’s favorite, the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams, and more specifically both quarterbacks, have a history of turning a late-season run into a four-game playoff sweep. The Packers did so in 2010, while the Giants did so in both 2007 and 2011. But only one of these two teams will advance and keep that hope of repeating the “long route” to the Super Bowl alive. And Sunday is the first step.