Any way you slice it, Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI match-up between the New England Patriots and Giants is one much of the whole civilized world will probably stop to watch (along with those million-dollar commercials, of course). And there’s no shortage of storylines as to why. Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady in Peyton Manning’s house. Eli possibly earning one more Super Bowl ring than his Hall of Fame-bound brother. Boston vs. New York. Patriots seek revenge against the NY Giants from four Super Bowls ago. And on and on.
Yet, this is also the story of two teams on similar kinds of hot streaks. The Patriots are on a 10-game streak that has seen some dramatic second half comeback wins (led by Brady, of course), while the Giants are on a five-game stretch that needed a combination of clutch quarterbacking from Eli and clutch kicks from veteran kicker Lawrence Tynes to get to this point.
The difference is that while the Pats earned home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs as the #1 seed with a 13-3 record, the 9-7 Giants, due to a slow start and tough NFC schedule, needed wins against Dallas and the Jets to get into the playoffs, and then to win three playoff match-ups against Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco to get to the Super Bowl.
All this makes predicting a winner a tough task, of course. The Giants defense is strong and physical, and Manning has an explosive offense he didn’t have four years ago (though one lucky catch by David Tyree late in SB XLII proved he didn’t need star power to win the big game and rob the Pats of a perfect 19-0 season). Meanwhile, the Patriots have one of the NFL’s best offenses and a once terrible but now decent defense to complement it.
The Giants’ path to this Super Bowl has more than a few people comparing them to last year’s champs, the Packers. It’s almost a worthy comparison, since the Packers were a #6 seed last postseason and caught no breaks along their ride to the big game much like the #4 seeded Giants this postseason.
But for that comparison to mean anything, they have to contend with a relentless Patriots offensive attack that helped Brady throw for over 5,200 yards this season (which in any other year would’ve set a new all-time single season record had Drew Brees not topped that mark with over 5,400 yards passing).
The best tight end in the NFL, New England’s Rob Gronkowski is no longer walking with a limp or with a boot on, so that is bad news for Tom Coughlin’s squad. He will most likely play Sunday. How effective he will be remains to be seen, but even if he has to catch and run with practically one good leg, he’ll still be harder to tackle down to the ground than most other guys in his position. The other NE weapons, TE Aaron Hernandez and wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch are ready to go and make game-changing plays, whether Gronk is healthy or not.
Brady, of course, is the most important Patriot on the field and needs to at least perform somewhere between the 6 TD-outing against Denver and his admittedly sucky 0 TD and 2 INT game against Baltimore in order to give the team a real chance to win its fourth Super Bowl in five tries since the 2001 season. But Wes Welker and Branch could be x-factors, since the latter individual has the experience of winning two rings with the Patriots and a Super Bowl MVP award several seasons back.
The weakness on NE’s offense is the running game, but young backs like rookie Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis could provide a surprise spark every now and then to keep drives going strong.
On the other hand, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are the real deal, and have largely helped Eli Manning to have his best year as a pro, with the latter two truly shining this postseason. Together, with a top tier pass rush, one that sacked Brady five times the last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, it would be logical to predict that Brady will once again get hit and knocked around harder by this defense than Manning will be by the Patriots’ defense front. That is, unless Vince Wilfork has another career game like he did against Baltimore a couple of weekends ago.
So, what does this all boil down to as far as a prediction on who will win the biggest game on Earth this year? If you’ve read my two previous preview pieces on my Patriots’ playoff chances, you know that I am superstitious. Thus, I will do what I’ve previously (and painfully) done and pick their other NY rival, the Giants to hoist up the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and do so in non-dramatic fashion this time.
Credits: Brady photo: thirtysecondsurveys.com; Manning photo: operationsports.com.