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Giants relishing role as underdogs heading into Green Bay

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This New York Giants team wasn't supposed to win 11 games in the regular season. It wasn't supposed to go down to Washington and win the regular-season finale with little to play for in Week 17 either.

Sense a pattern here? These Giants are not favored by the majority to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in their wild-card game. The Packers are 4.5-point favorites.

The Giants are the underdogs, and that's just fine with them.

"It's football. No matter where we're at, Green Bay, Dallas, Houston, wherever, it's football. Same sport," wide receiver Dwayne Harris said. "We just do what we’ve been doing, play our game, play football."

Quarterback Eli Manning has been here before ... and won. The Giants have won seven times as road underdogs with Manning as their quarterback. They've been underdogs on the road in the playoffs against the Packers (twice) and won both times.

Even a veteran with the impressive pedigree of Manning uses the underdog mentality as fuel. Bring it on, he says.

"I think that you like to prove people wrong. That is always kind of an exciting thing to do," Manning said. "I try not to read too much into it or read the headlines or buy into it too much. But I think that it is not about that -- I think the most important thing is just going out there and being there for your teammates and wanting to step up for your teammates and for the organization and everybody who is working their tail off every week to go win, and you want to go out and do your part to help them get that victory."

This is the Giants' first playoff game in five years. They're on the road against a red-hot team -- the Packers have won six in a row -- that they already lost to this season.

Nobody expects the Giants to be the favorites. They're OK with that. Even their best players plan to use it as motivation.

"That's kind of how it's been for me all of my life," said wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who attended LSU and was a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. "I've always been the underdog, going into college, when you had the little Rivals ratings. Even going into the league, I always felt as if I had a chip on my shoulder.

"I don't think it'll ever leave. That's just how I was raised, how I grew up, as the underdog. You thrive on these moments. Like Eli said, you thrive on being the underdog. You thrive on these special situations knowing that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that's what we all need to do."

Being the underdog just might help on Sunday.

Giants playoff cheat sheet

Who starts?: The Giants have several positions (right tackle, running back, free safety) where the starters could vary. Here is how it will likely play out:

Running back: Paul Perkins started the season finale and became the first Giants running back to top 100 yards in a game this season. That should earn him a second start, with Rashad Jennings still receiving snaps as well.

Right tackle: All indications throughout the week were that Marshall Newhouse would start at right tackle over Bobby Hart. Newhouse was an asset as a run-blocker against the Redskins, and his veteran presence in a loud atmosphere on the road should help. Newhouse spent the first four seasons of his career in Green Bay.

Free safety: Veteran Leon Hall has received more playing time in recent weeks. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he starts against the Packers. Regardless, Hall and rookie Andrew Adams will play. Nat Berhe was cleared from the concussion protocol but has missed the past five games. It's unlikely he'll play a role on defense if he dresses.

Beckham's coldest game yet: Temperatures in Green Bay are expected to be near single digits at kickoff. This will be uncharted territory for Beckham, who has never played a college or professional game where the game-time temperature was below 32 degrees, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The second-year receiver played his college football at LSU and missed last season's Week 16 game in Minnesota.

Perkins and defensive end Olivier Vernon also said this week that they haven't played in freezing temperatures. So this will be a first for them as well.

Helping Flowers: Left tackle Ereck Flowers had a rough game the last time the Giants were in Green Bay. He allowed three sacks (although one was negated by a penalty) as the Packers relentlessly pressured Manning. Flowers also pushed a reporter after the contest. It's going to be imperative that the Giants use their tight ends and running backs to help Flowers as much as possible since the Packers will likely try to maximize the matchup with top defensive lineman Mike Daniels or outside linebacker Clay Matthews against Flowers.

Where’s the experience?: The Giants are clearly the more inexperienced team. Sixteen of their 22 starters have never played in a playoff game. Only four Packers starters have never appeared in a postseason contest.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo doesn't think it'll be a factor. "None. Zero," he said.

McAdoo said he would rather have a prepared player than an experienced player.

Guessing the inactives: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Owa Odighizuwa, RB George Winn, S Nat Berhe, OL Will Beatty, LB Deontae Skinner, LB Ishaq Williams

Prediction: The Giants run the ball just enough, make just enough big plays and keep QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in check just enough to escape with a dramatic last-second victory. Beckham (112 receiving yards and 1 TD) makes a big play, as does receiver Sterling Shepard. That, plus the latest strong defensive outing, is enough despite another rather uninspiring offensive performance. Giants 24, Packers 23