By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - The Green Bay Packers, led by Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, host the pass-rushing New York Giants in the National Football League playoffs Sunday.
A test of strength against strength, pass attack versus pass rush, will determine which team reaches the NFC title game and moves within one step of next month's Super Bowl.
The Packers are aiming to become the first team in seven years to win back-to-back NFL titles and, after enjoying the luxury of a first-round playoff bye, have all their players ready for the clash between two of the league's oldest rivals.
Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes against just six interceptions to set an NFL season record for best quarterback rating, targeting a sterling set of receivers in Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley.
"You can see the rhythm in which he operates. He has great velocity on the ball. He has great accuracy and good vision," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He moves the ball around and has large contributions from a whole bunch of players."
New York counters with a dangerous collection of sack artists, now that Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are back at full speed to join irrepressible second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
"We have a lot of respect for their defensive line," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "They have an excellent seven-man rotation they've been operating with. There's no let-up in all seven of them."
The Giants' defensive secondary has been a weakness so upsetting Rodgers' timing with a rush by the front four is critical to slowing down Green Bay. But the Packers' signal caller can also confound a pass-rush with his mobility.
"He's kind of like Houdini out there a little bit," said New York defensive tackle Chris Canty. "He avoids pass rushes, he avoids that initial surge. He can get out of the pocket and make plays downfield with his wide receivers."
The Giants, who clawed their way into the postseason with wins against the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, can also put points on the board with quarterback Eli Manning throwing to big-play receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, and using a revitalized running attack.
"Our focus is on putting the ball in the end zone. We've done that better than anybody during the regular season," McCarthy said. "Whether we run it in there or we throw it, I don't really have a preference."
Last month, the then unbeaten Packers beat the Giants 38-35 after Rodgers briskly moved the Packers into range for a game-winning field goal after taking possession with just 58 seconds left.
That victory made the Packers 12-0. Two weeks later Green Bay was ambushed 19-14 by the hard-hitting Kansas City Chiefs for their only loss.
The Giants won the last playoff showdown between the teams, an overtime victory in the NFC title game four years ago in frigid conditions at Lambeau Field. That defeat, however, came with Brett Favre at quarterback for Green Bay.
Rodgers said last year's title run has the Packers ready for anything in a game they have dedicated to offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, whose 21-year-old son Michael was found dead in a drowning incident earlier in the week.
"We know what it is like and we know the pressure that we are going to be under," said Rodgers, who won four away playoff games last season. "We are looking forward to a home playoff game."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
(This version corrects the score in the 13th paragraph to 19-14)