Giants hoping for different outcome

The New York Giants wanted a rematch with the Green Bay Packers after losing to them in the regular season. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers, however, may have their minds elsewhere leading up to this NFC divisional playoff matchup.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Packers as 7 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 53 1/2.

Green Bay will have heavy hearts heading into Sunday’s home meeting with the Giants after the tragic death earlier this week of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son.

The buildup for a much-anticipated rematch of the Packers’ 38-35 victory at New York on Dec. 4 has taken a back seat after the loss of 21-year-old Michael T. Philbin, who disappeared early Sunday and was reported missing that night.

His body was recovered from the Fox River by divers on Monday, and preliminary autopsy results showed that the younger Philbin drowned.

“We love Michael so much and will miss him dearly,” Joe Philbin said in a statement released by the team. “He loved his family, friends and life. His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of all who knew him. We are appreciative of the prayers and the support of our family, friends and the Packers family.”

Joe Philbin was away from the team all week and it’s unclear whether he’ll be at the game.

“Nobody’s expecting that at all because we know his family needs him right now,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “But we miss him. Of course we miss coach, everybody misses him around the building. But we know his family needs him more.”

The Giants expressed their best wishes to Philbin and the Packers.

“When we first heard this the other night, the whole coaching staff, the room went absolutely silent,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “Many guys know Joe Philbin. You have tremendous empathy, but you can’t (have) anywhere near the feeling that his family’s going through. Just tragic.”

On the field, league MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and fellow Pro Bowl selection Eli Manning will meet in the playoffs for the first time. Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns and Manning had 347 and three scores in last month’s meeting between Super Bowl MVPs.

The Packers improved to 12-0 with that victory before suffering their only loss two weeks later in Kansas City.

Rodgers, 2-0 against the Giants, threw for 45 TDs and 4,643 yards with six interceptions and an NFL-record 122.5 passer rating this season. Manning fell 67 yards shy of 5,000 before completing 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns in last Sunday’s 24-2 win over Atlanta in a wild-card game.

The Packers have won 13 straight at home. This is the first postseason game at Lambeau Field since the Giants’ 23-20 overtime win in the NFC title game four seasons ago, when Manning outplayed Brett Favre in his last game with Green Bay.

“I think anytime you’re in the playoffs, you’re playing a team who’s had a great season and playing in Lambeau Field – it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be conditions – it should be a great environment,” Manning said.

New York is starting to resemble that 2007 team, which knocked off previously undefeated New England in the Super Bowl. The Giants’ pass rush has been led by the emergence of Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul and bolstered by the return of fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora two weeks ago.

After a solid effort against Dallas in a 31-14 NFC East clincher in Week 17, the Giants’ defense held the Falcons’ offense scoreless last week.

A New York defense that ranked 28th in the regular season has gained confidence since being shredded by Rodgers.

“We wanted to see them again, but we realized in seeing them again it would be in a playoff game like this, so obviously we wanted to see them again,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “But yeah, we felt like we let one slip through our hands.

“I am sure Green Bay is saying to themselves, ‘We didn’t play our best game.’ All of that is in the past. We’ll get our opportunity to settle all those question marks on Sunday.”

The Packers have noticed the Giants’ improvement.

“I thought the Giants really had a decisive victory over the Falcons,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it really started up front, on both sides of the ball. I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage offensively with their run game and really gave their quarterback and their passing game the chance to play downhill.”

Green Bay will use a different offensive line than the group that limited New York to two sacks in the last matchup, with left tackle Chad Clifton expected to start. Clifton practiced Wednesday along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is nursing an ankle injury.

New York got good news when cornerback Aaron Ross practiced Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion. Ross will be needed to help slow down a Packers receiving corps led by Pro Bowler Jordy Nelson (1,263 yards) and Greg Jennings (949), who is set to return after missing three games with a sprained left knee.

The Giants (10-7) will be trying to exploit a Green Bay defense that ranked last in the NFL in the regular season, although the unit produced a league-high 31 interceptions.

Green Bay (15-1) figures to be tested by a Giants passing attack that has seen Manning hook up frequently with Victor Cruz (1,536 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192). New York had the league’s least productive running game in the regular season before gaining a season-high 172 yards on the ground last week.

The Giants are visiting Lambeau for the first time since last season’s 45-17 loss, in which Rodgers threw for 404 yards and four TDs. New York could have clinched a playoff spot, but was eliminated the next week while the victory started Green Bay’s 19-game win streak.

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