So much for the 15-1 regular-season mark posted by surefire NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the explosive offense of the Green Bay Packers.
And so much for the 18-3 record of the NFC’s #1 seed in the NFL Divisional Playoffs since 1990.
The defending champion Packers, listed at even-money to win Super Bowl XLVI at Cantor Gaming properties in mid-December, will not repeat as world champions.
The Packers looked more like the underdog than the favorite in yesterday’s 37-20 loss to the relentless and rejuvenated New York Giants, a team that split its first 14 games of the regular season before rattling off four straight victories in convincing style.
The Giants’ defense created four takeaways and recorded four sacks in holding the high-powered Packers 15 points below their season average before a stunned crowd of 72,000-plus at Lambeau Field.
Tom Coughlin’s team is looking a lot like the 2007 edition of the New York Giants, the one that captured Super Bowl XLII featuring a clutch quarterback and a fierce pass rush.
The seeds of this New York revival were planted four weeks ago when the Giants routed the Jets, 29-14.
On the day Coughlin and the Giants quieted loudmouth Rex Ryan, the Giants’ defense delivered two interceptions, five sacks, six quarterback hits, seven tackles for losses and 12 passes defended.
Disregard the miserable defensive numbers of the Giants earlier this season, the G-men — led by pass rushers Osi Umenyiora, Jean Pierre-Paul and Michael Boley and pass defenders Antrel Rolle, Aaron Ross and Corey Webster — are now healthy, hungry and hard-hitting.
Quick notes about the other three survivors advancing to Championship Sunday:
SAN FRANCISCO……Score another victory for defense over offense. The 49ers were tough physically and mentally in their 36-32 victory over the Saints. For 55 minutes, San Francisco controlled the pace of the game and the points on the board. In the final five minutes, all hell broke loose and the 49ers were forced to rally not once but twice to defeat Drew Brees and the most prolific offense (statistically) in NFL history. The game-winning touchdown featured Alex Smith firing a dart to tight end Vernon Davis from 14 yards out to send the loud crowd at Candlestick Park into a frenzy. It was fitting Smith and Davis connected on the game-winning score as those two players failed to produce under former head coach Mike Singletary but since have flourished under first-year head man Jim Harbaugh.
NEW ENGLAND…..The Patriots sent a message to the Denver Broncos and the rest of the NFL with a resounding 45-10 victory Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The statement win saw Tom Brady pass for six touchdowns (five in the first half), including three TD strikes to 22-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught 10 passes for 145 yards. Gronkowski appears ticketed for a Hall-of-Fame career, especially with Brady tabbing “Gronk” as his favorite receiver. Here’s all you need to know about New England’s near-perfect performance this past weekend: the Patriots put 42 points on the board with 11:53 remaining in the THIRD quarter. New England is searching for its fifth Super Bowl appearance and fourth Super Bowl title over the past 11 seasons.
BALTIMORE…..Credit the Ravens for their workmanlike 20-13 victory over the hard-trying Texans and Arian Foster. But now Baltimore steps up in class, from rookie T.J. Yates to three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady, and they must play outside the friendly confines (9-0 at home this season) of M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The Ravens historically struggle against the Pats (1-6 in seven overall meetings) but Baltimore will draw on their wild-card win in 2010 when the Ravens handed the Patriots a 33-14 beating, the first home playoff loss for New England in 30 years. Eight-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed suffered an ankle sprain (severity unknown) on Houston’s last play from scrimmage. Reed has eight interceptions in ten career playoff games, including an interception at the goal line yesterday with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
MONDAY’S BEST BET…..Play 719 OKLAHOMA CITY -2.5 over Boston. The betting marketplace has been slow to recognize the decline of the aging Celtics, losers of four straight games straight up and against the spread. The young Thunder (11-2) is ripping through the condensed schedule, starting the season with a five-game winning streak and currently riding a run of six straight victories. OKC exits a romping home victory over the New York Knicks in which Kevin Durant, Ryan Westbrook and James Harden did not play in the fourth quarter. Look for a focused effort from the Thunder as former Celtic Kendrick Perkins returns to the place where he spent seven productive seasons.
COMING TUESDAY…..A review of Week 1 in “The SportsOptions Showdown” featuring EOG contributor “dsethi” and Mark Simons, the in-house handicapper at SportsOptions.
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