Packers, Giants get boost from history
Athletes and coaches don't live in the past. They do get enlightened and, sometimes, uplifted from it.
The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have good memories from recent postseasons. Green Bay went from sixth-seeded NFC wild card to Super Bowl champion a year ago. New York used a similar route to win the 2007 NFL championship — winning at Lambeau Field on the way.
They meet Sunday in the final game of the divisional round.
In going 15-1, including winning all eight home games, the Packers established themselves as the cream of the NFL this season. They have gotten healthy during their bye. They beat the Giants 38-35 in the Meadowlands on Dec. 4.
Most significantly, they discovered how to win in last year's surge to the title.
"I think we learned a lot last year being a six seed and having to go on the road," star quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "You take on a different attitude as a team as the road team going into a hostile environment. I think that prepares us for the mindset that the opposing team is going to have. It is a different feeling, and last year we just got in and this year we had a run and got a bye. So it is a different feeling, but last year really helped."
Just as 2007 certainly helped the Giants. They fell to New England in the season finale that year, completing the Patriots' undefeated record, but gained so much confidence from that loss that they were not intimidated when they met up with the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants won 17-14.
That defeat five weeks ago to the Packers also brought confidence. New York fell to 6-6 with that fourth straight loss, but won three of its last four to take the NFC East, then easily handled Atlanta 24-2 in the wild-card round last Sunday.
"We're extremely excited to have all of our key guys intact that we're going to ride with going through this postseason," safety Antrel Rolle said, noting that defensive end Osi Umenyiora and linebacker Michael Boley didn't play against Green Bay but will this time.
"We're excited. We're excited about the opportunity that's ahead of us and we're excited about playing together and understanding the defense, understanding each other, understanding that this guy is going to be next to us and he's fighting with everything he has."
Also fighting to get into the conference championship games were New Orleans (14-3) and San Francisco (13-3), who open the second round of the playoffs Saturday afternoon.
That NFC matchup will be followed by Tim Tebow and Denver (9-8) at New England (13-3).
Before the Giants and Packers renew their rivalry, Houston (11-6) will be at Baltimore (12-4) on Sunday.
No visitor has won at Lambeau Field since Miami managed the feat on Oct. 17, 2010. The Giants were blown out 45-17 in Game 15 of that season when they were in position to make the playoffs.
But coach Mike McCarthy knows there is more to be learned from this edition of the Giants, the team that challenged his Packers as much as anyone in 2011.
"There is a reason why we are both playing in this game. We are two of the last four teams in the NFC," McCarthy said. "They are playing well and they wouldn't be here if they were not, so to me, that is to be expected. I think they are playing better than when they played us and earlier in the season they had some tough defeats also. It is playoff football and they are a very good football team."
Baltimore has been very good in each of John Harbaugh's four seasons as coach, but this is the first time the Ravens are playing a home game after three successive wild-card appearances. The Ravens were 8-0 at home, including a 29-14 victory over Houston in October.
"If you look at wild card weekend, I don't think that there was one home team that lost the whole weekend," Lewis said. "When you get into that, it plays a big momentum. It's a big momentum swing for you. It's just hard to win on the road. I don't care who you are, I don't care how good you are, it's hard to win on the road.
"For us to work as hard as we did, get 12 wins, do the things we were supposed to do, and now get this home playoff game, we have positioned ourselves to be in the right place. Now we have to go finish it."
Houston is 0-5 in meetings with Baltimore, but its first postseason game, in its 10th season, was a strong victory over Cincinnati last Saturday.
"It's been pretty one-sided so, we've got to get on the board," tackle Eric Winston said. "At the same time, you've got to look back on it and I don't think a lot of that stuff is going to have a lot of bearing on this game either, though.
"So, there's different guys, there's a different situation and we all know from past experiences that playoffs, funny things happen in the playoffs and games turn out a lot different than they did in the regular season. So hopefully we can hold true to that."