Whenever the Giants need to see how they measure up against strong competition, whenever they come to a fork in the road to the playoffs -- or in the playoffs, for that matter -- and whenever they are on the verge of establishing an identity, it always seems as if the Packers pop up.
It's almost as if Green Bay is the personal barometer for the Giants, the best way for them to project what they are and where they are going.
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That will be the case Sunday when the Giants host the Packers at MetLife Stadium. A Giants win could mean that they will play for a share of first place in the NFC East when they face the Cowboys next Sunday. A loss will sink them to the cellar of the division.
The last five times the two teams have met pretty much has defined the fate of their seasons. That trend began in January 2008 when the Giants beat the Packers in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. It continued in 2010 when the Packers beat the Giants late in the regular season, virtually knocking the Giants out of playoff contention and securing their own bid before a run to a Super Bowl title. In 2011, the Packers beat the Giants in the regular season, 38-35, and although that loss was difficult to digest, it showed the Giants that they could play with an unbeaten team that seemed invulnerable at that point. They beat the Packers in the playoffs that season on the way to another Super Bowl title.
Last year's meeting was the only one that did not give a true projection of the future. The Giants creamed the Packers, 38-10, but lost three of their next four games and failed to make the playoffs.
So why do these games against the Packers always seem to come at these crossroads of the season? You'd have to ask the NFL schedule-makers that question. But the Giants know that how they play against the Packers generally is an indication of how their season will turn out.
"I think the best teams in the league should bring the best out of you,'' Justin Tuck said. "The last five matchups, we've pretty much brought the best out of each other. They always are games that go down to the wire, for the most part. You have to be excited about playing an opponent like that.''
After wins over the Vikings, Eagles and Raiders, none of whom has a winning record or had a fully functioning quarterback at the time of their meeting, the Giants finally face a team with more victories than losses and championship aspirations as robust as their own. Once again, however, they're going against a team with problems at quarterback. Third-stringer Scott Tolzien, not Aaron Rodgers, will be running the Packers' offense.
For the Packers, that means this game is important to keeping their postseason hopes afloat. It could be a gateway to the playoffs for both squads.
"Obviously, we're in a situation where we need as many wins as we can get, and I think they're in a similar boat over there,'' guard Kevin Boothe said.
Boothe compared the Packers to a division rival because they have played each other so regularly and with such high stakes in recent years. That brings with it a sense of familiarity.
The Packers are a little different from past incarnations this season, though, and not just because of Rodgers' absence. They have become a strong running team with the addition of Eddie Lacy in their backfield. The rookie figures to be an even larger part of the Green Bay game plan with Tolzien at quarterback making his first NFL start.
"The best thing we can do is stop Lacy,'' Terrell Thomas said. "Even when Aaron was playing, they've been running behind him . . . That's the number one focus, stopping him and putting all the pressure on the quarterback.''
In this game, all the pressure is on both teams. Neither is in a position to absorb a loss, and a victory will keep the team in contention for another week.
A win could have the Giants peaking, but they insist that they're not peeking. Boothe said the Giants are treating the rest of the schedule like the playoffs, not worried about who looms or what's behind them but focusing only on the opponent of that week.
"That's Green Bay,'' he said. "So let's play our best game and go on from there.''
Against the Packers, when they do the first of those things, they typically manage to do both.