NFC East: A.J. Hawk
1. So soon? The Giants and the Packers played each other Dec. 4 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was one of the more entertaining games of this NFL season. The Giants tied the game at 35-35 with 58 seconds to go on a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks, but Aaron Rodgers marched the Packers right down the field and into range for a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby. The Giants’ takeaway from that game is the knowledge that they can score with the Packers, which is no small thing. The key will be to get more pressure on Rodgers than they did last time, because that game also proved that Green Bay’s excellent receivers can burn the Giants’ secondary if given any time at all.
2. Rest vs. repetition. The Packers finished 15-1 to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and earn a first-round bye. That means they will have had two full weeks off since their last game by the time Sunday’s game kicks off at 4:30 pm ET. Rodgers, who sat out the Week 17 victory over Detroit, will have had three full weeks off. The Giants, meanwhile, had to win their final two games just to get into the playoffs and have therefore effectively been playing under postseason pressure for three weeks in a row. Will the Packers be rusty? Will the Giants be worn out? It’s an age-old debate as to how much rest helps at this time of year. Historically, teams that get first-round byes perform very well in their first playoff games. But last year, the No. 1 seeds in both conferences lost their first postseason games -- Atlanta to the Packers and New England to the Jets.
3. Packing more punch? The Giants rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries in the December game -- one of their most successful rushing efforts of the season. But the Packers that day were without linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. The Giants ranked 32nd in the league this year in rushing yards, but have been far more effective on the ground over their last six games. We’ll see if the return of those Green Bay linebackers makes it more difficult for the Giants to run the ball, or if they really did something in that Dec. 4 game that has been working since.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I just spent an hour participating in a live ESPN Radio mock draft in which callers made the selections. The Redskins lucked into former Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo at No. 13, the Eagles took Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and the Giants selected Rutgers wide receiver Kenny Britt. I know the Redskins are in love with Orakpo, but it's hard for me to imagine him dropping to 13. I think the Eagles will be tempted to trade down a few spots and take Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew. And I wouldn't have any problem with that. Pettigrew will be a starter in this league for the next 10 years.
The Giants know Britt really well because they've been watching him closely at Rutgers. I read where Peter King called him flaky, but then, have you ever met a wide receiver who's not a bit flaky?
Anyway, Newark Star-Ledger Giants beat man Mike Garafolo, who usually has the pulse of the team, chose Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis with that No. 29 pick. He made the pick for an NFL.com mock draft, and he did so after several wide receivers went off the board. Here's his explanation for taking the middle linebacker.
Laurinaitis seems to be a consistent player, an excellent tackler who doesn't shy away from contact, a "student of the game" (sorry for the cliche) and a guy who simply loves to play footbal. If that's not a description of exactly what you want from a middle linebacker, I don't know what is. And if that's not the description of a Tom Coughlin player, again, somebody needs to point me in another direction.
I also heard Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer on Sirius/XM NFL Radio yesterday saying Laurinaitis is as good as anyone at reading and diagnosing the play, knowing what's coming and putting himself and his teammates in the right spot to make a play. Sound like anybody you know? Anybody that currently wears No. 58 for the Giants?
Look, I don't think Pierce's 2008 season was nearly as bad as many believe. He was highlighted and seemingly exploited by Brian Westbrook on a few plays, but I've spoken at length about those plays being total team breakdowns, not individual mistakes by Pierce. And I also think he did a good job keeping a banged-up defense together. The big problem with the '08 Giants down the stretch was not the defense. No way.
Garafolo goes on to say that Laurinaitis could be an effective backup until Antonio Pierce's career with the Giants ends. But I'm not sure you need to worry about drafting Pierce's replacement in the first round. Especially when you could draft a receiver such as Britt or Hakeem Nicks who could eventually become No. 1 receivers. I know it's a popular theory, but count me among the group that fears the Ohio State linebacker. Just ask the Cowboys and Packers about taking those guys in the first round. Bob Carpenter is a backup in Dallas and A.J. Hawk hasn't really turned into anything special. Anyone remember Andy Katzenmoyer?
Anyone agree with Garafolo's pick? Disagree?