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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Giants vs. Packers

The NFC was just chockfull of surprises in the Divisional round, as the defending Super Bowl champions fell on the same weekend as the high-powered Saints. Here are quick-hit reactions from the Giants’ highly impressive 37-20 victory over the Packers on Sunday.

New York Giants outside linebacker Michael Boley (59) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) for a 6-yard loss during the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff at Lambeau Field on January 15, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Giants won 37-20. UPI/Brian Kersey

- The Giants proved something back in 2008 when they beat the Patriots and reminded everyone of it again today: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can beat any opponent. It doesn’t matter how much offense a team has or how good the opposing quarterback is: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can win the game. The Giants’ defensive line absolutely took over this game, much like it’s done the past four weeks now. People who said that this New York defense is an entirely different unit when Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are all healthy were 100-percent right. It seems like such an obvious statement but consider how bad the Giants’ secondary has looked at times this season and yet Aaron Rodgers and the mighty Green Bay offense was out of sync the entire night. It’s not just the secondary that those three pass rushers help either: It’s the entire defense. Michael Boley is freed up to make plays. Rocky Bernard has a presence from the interior of the defensive line. Even Antrel Rolle makes plays. The Giants are one of the few teams that built their entire defense around one philosophy: Get to the quarterback and we’ll be successful. And once again they’re getting ready to play in another NFC title game despite all of their injuries and inconsistent play during the regular season.

- Of course, we can’t kneel down before the Giants’ defense without criticizing Ryan Grant and the Green Bay receiving corps. Grant looked like he was trying to hold onto a flaming pile of Jello and the Packer receivers dropped seven passes by my count. Rodgers wasn’t the razor sharp MVP we saw all season but this loss hardly falls at his feet. I thought the death shot for the Packers was when Jermichael Finley dropped that third-down pass early in the fourth quarter when Green Bay was only down by a touchdown. Once he let that pass hit the ground and Rodgers was sacked on Green Bay’s fourth-down attempt, you could feel the seed out doubt set in for the Packers. Of course, it didn’t help that Grant fumbled for the third time on their next possession, which set up an immediate touchdown for the Giants, but the Packers’ fate seemed sealed long before that. Simply put, Green Bay’s offense saved its worst performance for its biggest game.

- Man, talk about a complete 180; Tramon Williams was the defensive star for the Packers last postseason and today he got absolutely served by Hakeem Nicks. I haven’t seen a corner get beaten that badly by a receiver since Demaryius Thomas abused Ike Taylor all the way back to last Sunday. Nicks caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, making Eli Manning’s stats all the more prettier by his run-after-the-catch ability and jump-ball skills. You could have heard a pin drop at Lambeau when he hauled in that Hail Mary pass right before halftime. What an absolute pain he was for Green Bay tonight.

- Green Bay’s defense did a pretty nice job with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, but they both saved their best runs for last. Bradshaw’s 24-yard scamper and Jacobs’ 14-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes remaining in the game were beautiful. Both runs should have been stopped the way they were designed, but both Bradshaw and Jacobs showed great vision bouncing the plays outside. Of course, they were aided by some poor tackling/angles by B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson.

- Packer fans likely want him tarred and feathered right now but I do feel bad for Grant. He just hasn’t been the same player after essentially missing the entire 2010 season. He was on the sidelines last season when the Packers won the Super Bowl and he was one of the key factors in why they won’t get back to the title game this year. Just 29, Grant’s burst is gone and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to Green Bay in 2012.

- I thought it was nauseating how the media in New York kept drawing comparisons between the 2007 Giants team that shocked the Patriots in the Super Bowl and this year’s squad. But I’m sold now. You got me, Giants. I’ll buy. You win. This team is so eerily similar to the one in ’07 that I honestly believe that they’re going to win this year’s Super Bowl. For realsies, no foolin’ – I honestly believe that the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl. It’s like they’re on some kind of quest from the land of hey-haven’t-I-already-watched-this-before?

- Looks like Rodgers and the Packers can now discount double-check their way to their couches. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2012 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview

Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers is chased out of the pocket by New York Giants Jason Pierre-Paul in the first quarter in week 13 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on December 4, 2011. The Packers defeated the Giants 38-35 and remain undefeated for the season at 12-0. UPI /John Angelillo

Saints @ 49ers, Saturday, 4:30PM ET
It’s no secret that the Saints have been a different team on the road this year than at home. As I pointed out in this week’s edition of “Five Questions…,” they’ve outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this season and only 218 to 196 on the road. Sean Payton has seemingly been more conservative with his play calling as Drew Brees has thrown less touchdowns (29 to 17), more interceptions (6 to 8), has a lower average per pass attempt (8.75 to 7.99), and has been sacked more (8 to 16) on the road than at home. Gregg Williams’ defense doesn’t play with the same confidence that it does inside the Superdome either. It’s not that the Saints are a bad road team (they were 5-3 during the regular season), but they’re not the juggernaut they are at home. On the other side, there’s not much that San Francisco doesn’t do well defensively. They’re outstanding against the run, they get after the quarterback, and they’re solid in pass coverage. They also have a great special teams unit so if the Saints are sloppy on Saturday, they will fall. The question is whether or not the Niners will generate enough offense if the Saints start firing on all cylinders. San Fran doesn’t pass protect very well and if it can’t open up running lanes for Frank Gore, that’s when Alex Smith starts to get turnover-happy. It’ll be interesting to see how this matchup unfolds come Saturday.

Broncos @ Patriots, Saturday, 8:00PM ET
Tim Tebow better strap in tight because he’s not likely to see as much one-on-one coverage as Dick LeBeau showed him last week. Bill Belichick will likely keep a safety over top of Demaryius Thomas at all times and force Tebow to go through all of his reads. If he doesn’t and he starts chucking the ball up thinking he can beat New England deep like he did Pittsburgh, he could be in for a long night. On the other side, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s stout defense can rattle Tom Brady. One of the biggest reasons the Patriots lost in their first postseason game the last two years is because Baltimore and New York harassed Brady to know end. But New England’s pass protection has been better this season than it was last year, so if the Broncos can’t generate pressure then Brady could eat them alive. It would behoove Denver to jump out to an early lead like Miami and Buffalo did on New England the past two weeks. But with Tebow running the show, that could prove to be difficult.

Texans @ Ravens, Sunday, 1:00PM ET
This game is all about Houston’s defense. If Wade Phillips’ unit can’t slow down Ray Rice, force turnovers and create good field position for the offense, then the Texans’ season will end in Baltimore this Sunday. The Ravens’ run defense is the best in the league and they were stout in pass coverage as well. The combination of Arian Foster and T.J. Yates isn’t going to get the best of Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. The best Yates can do is not turn the ball over and take what Baltimore gives him. Otherwise, if he’s forced to make plays then the Texans are in trouble. The Ravens were unbeatable at home this season and there are mismatches that they can take advantage of this weekend. As long as they don’t get caught looking ahead, it’s hard to envision the Ravens falling on Sunday.

Giants @ Packers, Sunday, 4:30PM ET
If the Giants play with the same confidence, swagger and determination this week at Lambeau as they did last Sunday versus the Falcons, then they have a shot. In fact, they already have a shot. The Giants have always been a dangerous underdog and when they think everyone is against them, they raise the level of their play ten-fold. It’s no coincidence that the Giants have played their best football over the past three weeks. They’re healthy and the strength of their defense (i.e. their defensive line) is now fully intact. As I’ve written so many times before, the way to beat an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is to pressure him with your front four. If Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Rocky Benard and Justin Tuck play with the same relentless attitude this week as they did the past three, the Giants will have a shot to pull off the upset. Because their offense is certainly capable of matching Green Bay score-for-score thanks to that receiving corps and the Packers’ suspect defense. That said, Green Bay will not hand the game over on a silver platter like Atlanta did last Sunday. The Falcons played not to lose. They were timid – scared even. Rodgers plays with reckless abandon and he’s not going to be afraid to take shots downfield against New York’s vulnerable secondary unlike Matt Ryan, who never once tried to throw deep. Atlanta never adjusted its opening game plan either. You can expect Mike McCarthy to change things up if the Giants are getting the better of the Packers early on. This is going to be a great matchup and a wild ride.

2012 NFL Playoffs: Five Questions for the Divisional Round

Every Tuesday throughout the NFL season I’ll discuss five of the biggest questions surrounding that week’s slate of action. This week the NFL moves into the Divisional Round, where the Saints will hit the road (where they haven’t been as explosive), the Giants will try to slay the dragon known as the Green Bay Packers, and Tim Tebow’s Broncos are still walking on water. (Dah! Get it? Do you get it? Yeah, you get it…)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees kneels on the ground after being sacked by the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of their NFL football game in Atlanta, Georgia December 27, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

1. Can the Saints overcome their issues on the road?
Thanks to their dominating play in the second half of the season, there are many people who feel as though the Saints are now the team to beat this season. But there’s no question that New Orleans is a different team on the road than at home and while that statement is true of most franchises, it really applies to the Saints when you dig into the numbers. Sean Payton’s crew outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this year and only 218 to 196 on the road. At home the Saints were literally and figuratively unbeatable and unstoppable, scoring at least 30 points in seven of their eight games inside the Superdome. But on the road they were more conservative, more cautious, and certainly less aggressive. Two of their three losses this year came at 4-12 Tampa Bay and at 2-14 St. Louis, and they could have easily lost to Tennessee on the road had Jake Locker not inexcusably taken a sack on the final play of the game (when the Titans were at the New Orleans’ 5-yard-line, no less). When you factor in San Francisco’s stingy defense and the fact that New Orleans has to travel cross-country this week, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Saints can survive this weekend…

2. …that said, do the Niners have enough offense to take the Saints down?
The 49ers’ defense ranked fourth in yards allowed this season, first in rushing yards allowed, and second in points per game. But they’re not exactly a Rubik’s Cube on offense. They win by successfully getting Frank Gore in space, by not turning the ball over and by not beating themselves with penalties. While he isn’t the second coming of Trent Dilfer (who had a more limited skill set), Alex Smith has developed into a solid game-manager that is capable of beating defenses vertically when they stack the box hoping to slow Gore. Vernon Davis hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this season but he’s still a mismatch on linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field and Michael Crabtree gives the Niners some semblance of a vertical threat. But while ‘Frisco did finish 11th in points per game this season, this isn’t a team built for shootouts. So if for some reason the Niners’ defense falters, Smith could be pressed into a situation where he has to match wits with Brees. And while Smith has had a good season, that’s a matchup that Jim Harbaugh and Co. don’t want to see play out this weekend.

3. Can the Giants pull off one of the classic upsets?
This is where the New York Giants are most dangerous. When they’re on the road, when the consensus believes that they’ll lose, and when their backs are up against the proverbial wall. While many people are buying into Big Blue’s revival over the past couple of weeks, there’s no question that they get to play the underdog role this Sunday in Green Bay. It’s a role that suits them just fine, as they proved in Super Bowl XLII, as well as in Philadelphia (where they were 9-point underdogs) and in New England (when they were once again 9-point dogs) earlier this season. That said, the Giants won’t be as fortunate this week as they were with their matchup last weekend. They got to face a predictable, conservative, inconsistent Falcons team that played right into their hands and weren’t intelligent enough to have a Plan B when Plan A blew up in their faces. If the Giants stop the Packers early on, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will adjust. If the Giants want to get into a shootout (and they’re certainly capable with that offense), the Packers can match. If the Giants want to go ground and pound with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Packers will then attempt to outscore them. The bottom line is that the G-Men do have what it takes to bring down the Pack. But the Falcons didn’t do them any favors last weekend by rolling over and playing dead because now you have to wonder if Tom Coughlin’s team is a little overconfident.

4. The Broncos can’t do that again, right? I mean, right? Right?!
Okay, so the Denver Broncos took down the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big whoop. The Steelers were contending with a bunch of injuries on both sides of the ball, most notably at quarterback where Ben Roethlisberger was clearly affected by a high ankle sprain he suffered late in the year. In other words, Pittsburgh was ripe for the taking and with a lot of help from Ike Taylor, Denver was able to pull off the upset. The Broncos won’t be able to march into Foxboro this weekend and take down Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. That would be ludicrous. Preposterous, even. Notgonnahappen. Of course…the Patriots don’t have the strongest pass defense. And they don’t always rush the passer very well. It’s not inconceivable that Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas could beat Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty in pass coverage. And certainly James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung. Sure, Denver’s running game will find it challenging to run against Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo Andre Carter, but the Broncos could certainly overcome that hurdle with their newfound passing game. Of course, Tebow will have to go toe-to-toe with Brady and the Patriots’ offense. That could be a challenge. And it’s not like Denver will be able to sneak up on New England like it did Pittsburgh last weekend so…yeah, the Broncos won’t make it two-for-two with huge upsets. Right?

5. Can Yates step up against Baltimore’s defense?
The Texans won’t be able to win this weekend with the same formula they used last Saturday against the Bengals. Baltimore’s run defense is too good to allow Arian Foster to take over the game like he did versus Cincinnati and thus, T.J. Yates will need to step up. As expected, the rookie fifth-rounder was shaky in his first career postseason start. He took shots deep to covered receivers when he had people open in the flats and he nearly threw a game-changing pick-six in the second half that Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker dropped. Given the circumstances, Yates has done a phenomenal job stepping in for Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart over the past month. But he’s also been fortunate on numerous occasions that defenses haven’t made him pay for his mistakes. The Ravens, who are built for the postseason and who are a nasty bunch at home, won’t be as gracious as Cincinnati and other teams (Atlanta, for example) have been to Yates this season. It would behoove Houston to rely on Foster and its defense this weekend. But that doesn’t mean that Yates will be able to sit back and enjoy the ride this time around. He’ll need to make plays.

Giants implode as Packers roll to convincing win

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 26: Aaron Rodgers  of the Green Bay Packers is congratulated by Eli Manning  of the New York Giants after their game at Lambeau Field on December 26, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Here are five quick-hit observations from the Packers’ convincing 45-17 win over the Giants on Sunday.

1. If they make the playoffs, the Packers will be a tough out.
Green Bay still needs to beat the Bears next Sunday at Lambeau Field to make the playoffs, but if they do they’re going to be one of the tougher sixth seeds to have ever made the postseason. Pundits often remark how they can’t run the ball, but they won’t need to run the ball if Aaron Rodgers continues to play at a MVP level. I don’t want to downplay the need of a good rushing attack but Rodgers found Jordy Nelson on an 80-yard touchdown on their first possession on Sunday and the Packers were able to turn the game into a track meet. Then they kept throwing late in the second half even though they were up two touchdowns. With the weapons they have in the passing game, they can be aggressive – that can be their game. Granted, the opposing team won’t always turn the ball over six times but the Packers will be a dangerous matchup for any team in the postseason. People seem to forget how good this team is.

2. Turnovers once again kill the Giants.
It’s pretty simple: Turn the ball over six times against any team, regardless of whether or not they’re a quality opponent, and you’re going to lose. Turn the ball over six times against a good team and you’re going to get your face pounded in. Not all of the Giants’ turnovers mattered because one or two came in garbage time when the Packers already had the win wrapped up. But the majority of them hurt. When teams don’t iron out their issues throughout the season, they can come back to haunt them. The Giants started coughing the ball up in Week 1 and have never stopped.

3. The Giants weren’t over last week’s collapse.
The players said they were over their loss to the Eagles and maybe they thought they were. But it sure looked like the Giants needed a quarter to focus after what happened to them last Sunday. They spotted Green Bay a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when Jordy Nelson caught an 80-yard touchdown on the Packers’ first offensive possession when he got by Antrel Rolle at the line of scrimmage. Then Rodgers hit James Jones for a three-yard touchdown with 1:53 remaining in the quarter and all of a sudden it looked as if the rout was on. Credit Tom Coughlin’s squad for snapping out of their funk to tie the game at 14-14, but the Packers just kept coming. Once they took a two-touchdown lead late in the second half, you got the feeling New York was done. Last week was just too much for the G-Men to overcome.

4. Tom Brady, Michael Vick…Aaron Rodgers.
All week it seems as though the sports radio talk shows have discussed who should win the MVP this year: Tom Brady or Michael Vick. But even though the Packers have yet to clinch a playoff spot, Rodgers should at least be in the discussion – even if his name is only briefly mentioned. This was Rodgers’ 10th career game with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions, which is the most in NFL history for quarterbacks within three years of their first start. Nothing against Matt Flynn (he played well last Sunday night in New England), but take Rodgers off this team and they don’t even sniff a winning record. He has no running game, he lost his tight end in the first half of the season and his offensive line can be very inconsistent. Yet, he continues to put up outstanding numbers. He’s unreal.

5. What now?
The Packers will host the Bears next Sunday in Green Bay and as previously mentioned, if they win they’ll clinch a playoff spot. The Eagles clinched the NFC East with the Giants’ loss and now they’ll fight for playoff seeding. The Giants will wrap up their season next week against the Redskins and they must win. If they win and Green Bay loses to Chicago, then New York is in. The G-Men better not overlook Washington, which has suddenly become pesky.

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