GREEN BAY, Wis. — All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul thinks the New York Giants are going to beat the Green Bay Packers in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
And if they do, Pierre-Paul likely will be in the middle of it all.
While there is no proven formula for stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, getting pass rush pressure without blitzing and dropping more players into coverage would be a good start. So a big day by Pierre-Paul and his fellow defensive linemen could go a long way toward helping the Giants knock off the Super Bowl champs.
Facing one of the best defensive lines in the game, Rodgers said he still needs to be patient and go through his progressions — to a point.
"You have to know that they've got the ability to get to the passer," Rodgers said. "It starts with protection any week, regardless of who we're playing. This week it's a tough front. Those guys are relentless in getting to the passer, they're playing really well as a whole. There hasn't been those occasional holes that we saw a few weeks ago when we played them, we kind of hit them when they dropped a couple coverages. There hasn't been those kinds of mistakes in their defense.
"They've been playing really sound together and it's going to be a challenge."
The Packers faced a different kind of challenge this week.
The team has been mourning the death of Michael Philbin, the 21-year-old son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Michael Philbin's body was pulled out of an icy river in Oshkosh on Monday, and police said a preliminary autopsy indicated he drowned. Several players and coaches attended his funeral Friday.
Philbin was away from the team and with his family this week, and the rest of the Packers' offensive assistants divided up his responsibilities. Accounting for the Giants' deep, talented defensive line certainly played a prominent role in their game plan.
"They're as fine a group of seven that you're going to face," offensive line coach James Campen said.
That didn't seem to bother the Packers in their Dec. 4 victory at New York. Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns while being intercepted once and sacked twice.
"I mean, he's kind of like Houdini out there a little bit, he avoids pass rushes, he avoids that initial surge," Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "He can get out of the pocket and make plays downfield with his wide receivers, or he can extend it, he can run the football with his legs, he's a tremendous runner in his own right. You just have to be very disciplined when you're rushing."
New York's defense didn't put up much of a fight when it really counted in that Dec. 4 game, when Rodgers quickly drove the Packers to a winning field goal at the end.
But Osi Umenyiora didn't play that day because of an ankle injury, and he has three sacks in two games since he returned. Is he the main reason the Giants' defense is playing to its potential?
"They were playing better when I wasn't there so I can't attribute that success to me," Umenyiora said. "I think, for some reason, everything is coming together at the right time now."
Pierre-Paul showed his confidence after the Giants beat Atlanta on Sunday, attracting attention all this week for essentially guaranteeing a victory over the Packers. He backed down later in the week, but only slightly.
"I think we are going to go out there and win," he said.
Having given up 38 points to the Packers their last time out, the Giants are turning to Kansas City for a winning formula. The Chiefs dealt the Packers their only loss of the season Dec. 18, sacking Rodgers four times in a 19-14 victory.
"The Chiefs did a great job of being physical," Canty said. "They tried to slow the game down as much as possible and contain Rodgers in the pocket as much as possible. Rush him as a group with their front four, they rushed him as a group."
For the Packers on Sunday, the biggest unknown will be veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, who played 25 snaps in the regular-season finale against Detroit. Before that, Clifton had been out since Oct. 9, when he injured his hamstring and subsequently hurt his back during the rehabilitation process.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy immediately gave Clifton his starting job back for the playoffs — but then made it fairly clear that if Clifton underperforms, he'd be replaced by capable backup Marshall Newhouse.
Clifton did not practice Friday, but McCarthy said he was on the same rest schedule he would be on during a typical game week.
"He looks ready to go," McCarthy said.
Beyond Clifton, the rest of the Packers line will be challenged, too.
"They have a good rotation of pass rushers," guard Josh Sitton said. "Most teams only have one, two good pass-rushing defensive ends. They have four, and then they have those defensive ends that kind of play inside. It's a challenge for us."
The Packers could use their no-huddle offense in an attempt to disrupt the Giants' substitutions.
And while a strong pass rush will be critical for the Giants on Sunday, Umenyiora said that by itself won't be enough.
"It is a team game," Umenyiora said. "We can get all the pressure we want but if they are not covering, it doesn't matter and if they are covering and we are not getting pressure, then it doesn't matter. Everything has to work hand in hand. So it is not on the d-line, it is all on the defense."
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report from East Rutherford, N.J.