The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants are on opposite ends of the momentum spectrum. The Packers were riding high into Week 9 at 5-2 overall with sole possession of first place atop the NFC North standings, but Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone during the first series of the game against the Chicago Bears, and the Packers proceeded to lose two straight. The Giants, meanwhile, began the season 0-6, but are currently riding a three-game winning streak and have looked better each subsequent game.
Sunday's game is pivotal for both teams. The Packers need a win to stay in the NFC Wild Card picture and keep the Detroit Lions from pulling away in the division. The Giants can enter the playoff conversation in earnest with a win, and could pull within one game of the NFC East lead if they can get help elsewhere.
Meet the Giants
The Giants are the favorites in Sunday's game and are pulling away in Vegas. The fact that Rodgers is out helps immensely, but the Giants have also looked like a much different team over the last three weeks. Eli Manning has settled down, throwing just one interception his last three games after throwing 15 over his first six. Meanwhile in the running game, Andre Brown has been a revelation. He had 115 yards rushing against the Oakland Raiders last week in his first game back off the physically unable to perform list.
Offensive consistency has aided the defense. After giving up at least 27 points in each of their first six games, the Giants have given up a total of 34 points in their last three games.
Meet the Packers
Say hello to Scott Tolzien, the Packers' latest starting quarterback. He was third-string as of two weeks ago, but injuries to Rodgers and Seneca Wallace have forced the third-year quarterback out of Wisconsin into action. Although the Packers managed just 13 points against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, Tolzien played reasonably well, going 24-for-39 for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He will need to be on point to take out the Giants.
The Packers defense recently got pass rusher Clay Matthews back from a thumb injury. Unfortunately, defensive end Nick Perry is likely out with an ankle injury after returning last week. The Packers have had a bad habit of relinquishing big drives in the fourth quarter the last two weeks. The front seven will need to be better to support an ailing offense.
Local Takes: Giants
1. I think this Sunday is critical for the Giants. With three straight victories, the 3-6 Giants have given themselves reason to dream about becoming the first 0-6 team to reach the playoffs, even if Football Outsiders thinks that is a pipe dream. If the Giants are going to make history, they absolutely have to win Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. True, the Packers will be using third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien, but even with Tolzien the Packers are the most talented team the Giants have faced since their Week 6 loss to the Bears. Sorry, Eagles' fans, that's the truth. A stumble against Green Bay would, in reality, kill the Giants' hopes for a historic comeback.
Local Takes: Packers
People like to cite (1) Dom Capers' schematic deficiencies or (2) that he thought the read-option was what happens when you hit the Closed Captioning button on your TV as some of the reasons why the defense has come up short. The fact is, he's not the one failing to wrap up or getting his ankles shattered by a juke move. Basic tackling fundamentals can certainly be coached and all, but it also begs the question - just why are paid professionals more than halfway through the season still in need of entry-level job training?
And therein lies an even more critical question for the Packers - if it's not a matter of scheme or an abundance of injuries (aside from Clay Matthews), is it possible the personnel the Packers have on defense just aren't very good? It's a question that Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson must've at least considered by now.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
@RVacchianoNYDN -- Giants beat writer
What could a Brandon Jacobs-Andre Brown tandem do to opponents? "One thing about it,"Jacobs said. "That team's going to be sore." #NYG— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) November 14, 2013
@TyDunne -- Packers beat writer
Scott Tolzien: "Things are a little bit more hectic. I think my job right now is to put the blinders on, have some tunnel vision." #packers— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) November 13, 2013
SB Nation's panel experts like the Giants to win by a tally of four prognosticators to two, but the game could be close. Tolzien was much better than expected last week, and the Giants haven't looked THAT impressive the last three weeks, especially considering the competition they have faced. How the Giants offense fares against a reeling Packers defense will be the key. Eli Manning and Co. should be just good enough.
Prediction: Giants 24, Packers 21
The Giants opened the week as 3-point favorites, and the line has moved as high as 6 on one sports book, according to Odds Shark.