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Know Your Enemy: The Packers

Another date with Aaron Rodgers and company

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012  |  Updated 6:40 AM EDT
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The Giants will have to stop Rodgers from beating them for the second time this season.

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It's going to be very cold when the Giants stroll into Lambeau Field for a playoff date with a favored Packers team on Sunday afternoon.

That should sound familiar to those of you who followed the Giants on their run to the Super Bowl in 2008.

Before the Giants knocked off the Patriots, they had to beat the Packers under very similar circumstances to advance to the big game.

The round is different this time around, but it's an otherwise very similar state of affairs. A defense that's playing at a high level facing off against a star quarterback on his home field, a strong Giants running game trying to control time of possession and everything in the world riding on the final score.

Of course, you don't even need to look that far back for a classic between the teams. They played a pretty good game back on Dec. 4 that the Packers won 38-35 because the Giants defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers when it counted.

Can they get that stop this time around? Let's take a look at the Packers and find out what the G-Men are up against.

The Record: A shocking Week 15 loss to the Chiefs is the only thing that keeps this from being another Giants postseason date with an unbeaten opponent. As it is, the Packers have won 21 of their last 22 and that kind of run negates a good bit of the momentum advantage that the Giants might have over another opponent given their run of three straight convincing victories.

The Coach: Mike McCarthy is never going to be a media darling and he doesn't even reach the Tom Coughlin-level of being an interesting personality who is above pandering to the public. He's something of a cipher who seems to be concerned only with the next play call.

Those play calls tend to be spot on, though, which makes McCarthy's lack of personality little more than an afterthought to the task at hand. Over the last two years, he has dealt with a slew of injuries and kept the Packers on a path to glory so things should be a little more balanced on the sidelines this time around.

The Offense: Rodgers is the biggest reason why the comparisons to 2007 fall short. Back then, Favre was at the end of the line and plagued by his need to throw game-killing interceptions.

Rodgers is a great quarterback in the prime of his career, so the Giants can't really rely on much help this time around.

The Packers don't run the ball all that much, but it didn't hurt them in December's game or at any other point this season. Rodgers has so many receivers to choose from that his biggest problem might be choosing which open one gets the toss on any given play.

If he has time to throw, that is. The Packers held up well against the Giants pass rush last time, but Osi Umenyiora didn't play and Justin Tuck was in his mopey stage a month ago.

Their line doesn't have many big names, but they've done a fine job giving their gifted quarterback time to make plays down the field.

The Defense: In December, the Giants showed that they could score with the Packers, but there is a difference this time around. Linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk missed that game and their return gives the team a much better chance of slowing down the Giants run game.

In general, the Packers defense on the field looks much better than their numbers. With the offense laying beatdowns weekly, there was a lot of late points and yards that look good on the stat sheet without mattering a bit in the actual outcome of the game.

The Intangibles: Rest vs. rust figures to be on a lot of people's minds this week. The Packers had a bye last week and rested many key players in Week 17, which plays into the idea that they might be a bit sluggish against a team that's been fighting for its life over the last three weeks.

But the time off also gets Greg Jennings back in the lineup, which is a pretty huge win for the Packers passing game. We can't know how the time off will affect the Pack until Sunday, but it's certainly something worth watching.

The other, much sadder, unknown is how the death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son will wind up impacting the Packers. Monday was an awful day for the team and it could have an impact on their preparation for the game.

Unsung Hero: Randall Cobb has returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season, something that should keep the much-maligned Giants special teams on guard this week. We know what both offenses are capable of doing, but a big play on special teams is much more likely to come from Green Bay and that could swing the game in their direction.

Key Matchup: We won't know until later this week if Aaron Ross is going to be able to play after suffering a concussion against the Falcons, but Prince Amukamara is going to be a big part of this game either way.

The rookie has not played well this season, but he needs to come up with something extra in order to keep the Packers receivers from getting everything they want in the passing game. If he starts, that's a very dangerous spot for the Giants defense.

The Bottom Line: It's the 15-1 Packers at home with Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and all of the other stars that won the Super Bowl last season. The Giants can certainly win this game, but it is going to take their best effort of the season and they'll need to play even better than they did against Atlanta last Sunday.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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