NFC Championship Game Preview

Packers fans had two victories over Divisional Playoff weekend: The obvious one came on Saturday when Ryan Grant rushed for a Packer postseason record 201 yards en route to a pasting of the over matched Seahawks. But the second one, the Giants upset of the Cowboys on Sunday, was almost as sweet.

The Cowboys being eliminated not only meant that the Packers could stay home, thus avoiding a trip to Texas Stadium where Brett Favre has never won, but it cemented in the minds of many that this Packer team, picked in most preseason polls to be mediocre at best, was a team of destiny.

The problem is, the Giants — overcoming an 0-2 start and intense media scrutiny that comes from playing in the country’s biggest media market with a quarterback named “Manning” with a coach that’s on the last year of his contract — feel that they’re a team of destiny as well.

But only one team can be right. So will the Packers or the Giants prevail on Sunday to become the NFC representative in Super Bowl XLII (featuring, we’ve been reminded ad nauseum by FOX, a halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sponsored by Bridgestone)? Despite what you might think, a pretty good case could be made for either. So let’s look at five reasons why each could win, starting with the favorite.

Five Reasons The Packers Will Beat The Giants:

1. The Packers employ a quarterback by the name of Brett Favre. Well, this one’s easy. Favre only holds NFL records for career touchdown passes, career passing yards, and career victories as a starting quarterback. Oh, and in case anyone wants to argue that he’s not as good in the postseason, he holds the mark for consecutive playoff games with a touchdown pass and is one of only two quarterbacks (the other being Joe Montana) to throw for more than 5,000 yards in the postseason. And he’s led a team to a Super Bowl championship. Other than that, the guy’s overrated.

2. That Favre guy has some pretty good receivers. Even without the offseason signing of Randy Moss, Green Bay managed to amass the second best pass offense in the league, behind only the New England Patriots. Even if the Giants secondary wasn’t beat up — which it is — they would have a hard time containing the likes of Driver, Jennings, Jones, and Lee, to name only a few. And once they catch the ball (and drops are few), no team is better at the YAC than the Pack.

3. Ryan Grant. Forget that the Packers ranked 21st in the league this year in rushing. Anyone paying attention knows that since Grant took over the starting backfield job after the bye week, the Packers have had the most balanced attack in the NFC.

4. The Packers offensive line. Led by right tackle Mark Tauscher, the Pack’s O-line has dominated the line of scrimmage all year long. Even though the Giants have a mean pass rush and led the league in sacks this season, look for the line to give Favre enough time to hit his slant routes or enough time for Grant to find a seam. This is a great group.

5. Even the computer says it’s true. Something called AccuScore has punched in all the Giants players, all the Packer players, all the matchups, and all of the players’ stats. Somehow out of that the program predicts that the Packers will win 62 percent of the time by an average score of 25-21. So it’s close, but we all know computers are never wrong. Except when they’re evil, like in 2001 or WarGames.

Five Reasons The Giants Will Beat The Packers:

1. Tom Coughlin. This is not meant as a dump on Mike McCarthy, but Tom Coughlin has simply had more postseason experience than the Packers coach. This time of year, you can’t overestimate playoff experience — even mediocre experience, as Coughlin’s has been.

2. Two-headed backfield. Whereas the Packers have Ryan Grant, the Giants have been the more successful at developing the dual backfield system so crucial to success in today’s league. And what’s impressive is that as runners have suffered injuries, others have seamlessly entered: Currently rookie Ahmad Bradshaw and team rushing leader Brandon Jacobs are the favored tandem and they’re a good one. And Reuben Droughns and Derrick Ward are also available. It’s a solid attack that should have the advantage, particularly on the frozen tundra.

3. Special teams. One of the many reasons the Giants knocked off the Cowboys was the field position that Domenik Hixon put his offense in, averaging 31 yards per kick return. Also, the Giants have the services of veteran punter Jeff Feagles, who excels at pinning teams deep in their own territory. If the game is a close one — and many indications are that it will be — the old cliche that special teams could make the difference could hold true. And here the Giants have the advantage.

4. The game’s not at the Meadowlands. How else can you explain the Giants’ bizarre nine-game road winning streak except to conclude that the team obviously plays better on the road, where the “us against the world” mentality that Coughlin has programmed into his team can be used to maximum effect? That the Packers are playing at home, where they had a 7-1 record this season, can’t be seen as a disadvantage for them, but it appears the home turf advantage will be neutralized at least some by the draw of a cold-weather, road warrior team like the Giants.

5. The revenge factor. The Giants are eager to prove that they are not the same team they were earlier in the season. They were embarrassed by the Packers in week two by the score of 35-13 and then immediately turned things around, winning six in a row. They’ll be eager for some payback.

Bottom line: The Packers have more talent, have the veteran leadership with Brett Favre, and have the game where they want it. Fans looking for a repeat of the Seahawks rout will be disappointed, but the Packers should prevail. Final score from a bitterly cold Lambeau Field: Packers 27, Giants 17. The Packers will be the true NFC “team of destiny”; unfortunately this year’s NFC “team of destiny” is destined to become the final victim of the 19-0 New England Patriots. But more on that later.

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