New York Giants' Eli Manning vs. the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers.
Once again, it's dueling quarterbacks. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes, performs the best in the clutch, will win today's Giants-Packers game. It looks like another shootout, a carbon copy of the Dec. 4 match in New York, which the Green Bay won 38-35.
Most bettors don't give the Giants much of a chance, with the Pack a 7-8 point favorite. Chalk that fat spread up to faith in Rodgers, who's having a spectacular year, with his 122.5 passer rating breaking the mark Peyton Manning set in 2004. When Green Bay was still undefeated, experts were gushing about his phenomenal performance. While Eli Manning wasn't on that level, he elevated his game considerably, having his best year, with a shade under 5,000 passing yards. You can't have a discussion of the league's elite QBs without mentioning him.
Manning, though, isn't Rodgers' primary obstacle. His biggest hurdle may be that dreadful Packer defense. Rodgers spent most of the season dragging the Packers out of holes created by that defense, the worst in the league, surrendering a woeful 412 yards per game. This bad defense does have a good side, though--its skill at takeaways (tied for the league lead with 38) and picking off passes (31, tops in the league).
Aside from the Rodgers factor, another reason the Packers are such lop-sided favorites is their home-field advantage. In Green Bay, they've been on a rampage all season, not just winning every game, but burying the opposition, averaging 41 ppg while giving up just 21.4.
But the Pack will be facing a very different Giants team than the one it edged in early December. Suddenly the New York front four is a monster, spearheading wins over the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons with 13 total sacks. If the Giants are going to win, the front four has to continue its QB-harrassing ways.
Also, the Giants running game, a mess for most of the season, with Ahmad Bradshaw banged up and big Brandon Jacobs an big-time bust, has finally come alive in the last few weeks, peaking with 172 yards against the Falcons.
There's a huge X factor in the game. On January 9, the 21-year-old son of Packers' offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was found dead following a drowning accident in Wisconsin. Philbin, though, will be in the booth today, handling his chores as usual. That tragedy had to disrupt the preparation for this game. How much, it's hard to guage, but count it as a negative.
If you're betting, here's what to expect--Manning will pillage that poor Packer defense and so will the Giant running backs. Meanwhile, the New York front four will make life miserable for Rodgers. Look for the Giants to match the Pack TD for TD, at least beat the 7-8 point spread and, most likely, pull off an upset win.