Before we get to this weekend's key matchups, it's worth noting a couple of statistical trends that almost always end up being the key to winning in the postseason:
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, teams that have outrushed their opponents have won 75 percent of the games. The Packers and Patriots led the way by out-gaining their opponents on the ground while also featuring a pair of 100-yard runners (
The Giants' surprising run has been keyed by their sudden reversal of fortunes with turnovers. After finishing the regular season with a minus-9 differential, they have yet to turn the ball over in the playoffs, and have come up with four takeaways.
The Chargers, who led the league with a plus-24 takeaway margin, have advanced in part because of their uncanny ability to come up with critical red-zone turnovers. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who finished the regular season with a league-low 15 turnovers, played turnover-free football during the divisional round.
On to the matchups:
The Chargers' run through the playoffs has been fueled by the explosive plays generated by their receivers. Jackson and Chambers have combined for 21 receptions for 395 yards in their first two games, including nine pass plays over 20 yards. However, the Patriots' secondary allowed the third-fewest receptions (32) over 20 yards. The onus will be on Samuel and Hobbs (if healthy) to slow down the Chargers.
The Patriots held the Jags' second-ranked rushing attack to only 80 yards behind a dominant performance by Wilfork, a Pro Bowl nose tackle. But that won't stop the Chargers from testing a defense that has been vulnerable to the inside run. Hardwick will team with Pro Bowl guard
Webster's play at corner has been overlooked as a key to the Giants' defensive success. The third-year pro has locked down the opposition's best receiver and given defensive coordinator
The Packers have a decided advantage when they utilize their three-and four-receiver sets against the Giants' banged up secondary. But opening up the formation exposes
The Giants' smash mouth running game features a variety of leads and isolations out of two-back sets. Thus, the blocking of Hedgecock at fullback becomes critical to their success. Hedgecock, often assigned to the Mike 'backer, must blow Packers' linebacker Barnett out of the hole to create running room for