It is comforting to have continuity in your life. The leaves change color and the weather gets more frigid; fall turns into winter; Thanksgiving ends and the Christmas season immediately switches into gear; everyone begins to wear more layers to stay warm; and the New York Giants play an absurdly hard second-half schedule and limp through it.
How hard? According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, in the previous six years the Giants’ opponents in the second half of their season have had a winning percentage of .577, in contrast to their first-half’s slate which had .440. That is an absurd differential.
An NFL season for a team is like life; it has ebbs and flows and refuses to be linear. The Giants have burned me in back-to-back predictions, and the Packers have won five consecutive games. Winning six games in a row is very difficult in the NFL, and even made more difficult considering the Packers have no running game to speak of and will be again without Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. Here are four reasons why the G-men will extend their lead in the NFC East, and allow Giants fans the chance to exhale again.
REASON NUMBER 1:
There are lots and lots of statistics highlighting how, during his last few games, Eli Manning is playing some of the worst football since his rookie year, but all of them miss the more important point. It won’t last. Eli is one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, and like all superb athletes is susceptible to a rough patch or two. Ultimately, he has all the tools in his belt of a great quarterback, and has some very skilled wide receivers to throw to. The bye week allowed those receivers to get healthy and mentally prepared for Sunday night’s game.
Eli always rises to the challenge in big games, and this game is in the national spotlight. Sometimes after a dud, Eli will play a game that reminds everyone why he is the best Giants quarterback ever. That will be this game, and it will be against the team that won the Super Bowl before the Giants did last year. Eli has more Super Bowl rings than Rodgers, is better at playing from behind and in the fourth quarter than Rodgers, and is much closer to Mr. Discount Double Check in signal-caller aptitude than many people give him credit for. Eli won their last head-to-head, and he’ll take this one.
REASON NUMBER 2:
When the Giants’ defensive front four is properly channeled, it can still be a wrecking ball. Jason Pierre-Paul is a freak athlete who is faster and stronger than anyone the Packers’ woeful offensive line has faced this season, and that unit will be completely overmatched. Rodgers, after all, is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL.
Suggestions on how to keep Rodgers away from punishment have generated a lot of the early noise this week (more 3-step drops, more jumbo sets with maximum and slide protections). But with Green Bay posing no threat to run, every additional blocker that is needed will decrease the Packers’ ability to spread the Giants out with maximum receiving targets. Pittsburgh successfully ran against the G-men’s rush defense, but the reality is that the New York rush defense has been iffy all year.
Green Bay has no ground attack, so Rodgers will unquestionably be flinging the ball all over the field on Sunday hoping to properly exploit the Giants secondary. However, despite the Giants’ weekly ritual of conceding a lot of yards through the air, often their cornerbacks and safeties help them win the turnover battle.
REASON NUMBER 3:
Victor Cruz is due for a big game. His last three games have understandably mirrored Eli’s struggles as he only has been able to accrue ten receptions and 116 yards receiving with zero Salsa dances. Teams have done a much better job at limiting him as a deep vertical threat and not allowing him to make a catch in too much space (because he has proven time and time again that he has the speed to burst past defenders), but with Hakeem Nicks healthy, Cruz is set to explode.
REASON NUMBER 4:
Coach Tom Coughlin has had a whole extra week to challenge and motivate his players, and underscore the importance of this game. Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in his last seven games, but the Giants will be able to drop seven players into coverage and let their pass-rushers disrupt Rodgers without any fear of the Packers running the ball effectively. It is time for the Giants to get back on track, at least for this week.
Giants 31, Packers 20