We’re just days away from Super Bowl XLVI (46 for those of you non-Romans) and everyone has had an extra week to digest, dissect, and diagnose the matchup of the Giants and the Patriots. It’s the biggest sporting event of the year in the US and advertisers are lined up and paying primo prices to get ad-time during the game… There’s no pricing at all here so get your free analysis, pick and preview in this post.
Last week, I gave you my initial impressions of the game, but after being able to watch and listen over the last week I’ve changed my perspective on a few things. There’s also a FantasyCPR group set up for Super PickEm on ESPN where we’ll be picking the prop bets posted in the mini-game. You’re welcome to jump in and join us to show off your powers of prognostication in picking all kinds of different smaller picks beyond just, “Who will win?” although that is 1 of the 20 questions.
I’m still picking New England as you’ll see at the end. I’ve picked them since the pre-season, and I’m not going to turn on them now. Here’s the key players in each facet of the game and how I see the game playing out:
Giants offense: The Giants offense was inconsistent during the regular season, but had flashes which showed the potential that it has realized in the playoffs. Statistically, QB Eli Manning didn’t rate with Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady this year, but the Giants passing offense did rank 5th overall in yards per game and Eli finished in the top 10 in just about every major passing category except for completion percentage where he ranked 14th and INT’s where he threw the 7th most in the league.
The Giants vertical passing game thrives due to their 3 excellent Wide Receivers. Hakeem Nicks tore up the first 2 rounds of the playoffs with 2 TDs against both Atlanta and Green Bay. Victor Cruz finished 3rd in yards receiving during the regular season and had a 99 yard TD against the cross-town Jets which will go down as one of the most exciting plays of the year. Cruz also finished 3rd in yards-per-catch and scored 9 TDs on the year, good enough for tied for 6th. Eli loves to find Cruz deep and only Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson had more catches for over 20 yards than Victor. Don’t forget about Mario Manningham either as he has 3 TDs in 3 playoff games.
Another receiving threat to notice is Tight End Jake Ballard. It was Ballard that caught the game-winning TD in the regular season matchup between these 2 teams. Ballard has been realtively quiet since that game, however; and recently has struggled with a knee injury. He sounds like he’ll be able to play but if he’s limited the G-men may not have a matchup they exploited in the Week 9 showdown.
The Giants running game was awful during the regular season finishing dead last in rushing yards per game, partially due to injuries to their 2 RBs. Both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have stepped it up in the playoffs to this point with Jacobs getting the better yardage in the Wild Card game against Atlanta and Bradshaw dominating carries in the last 2 games (32 v 14). Look for Bradshaw to be the feature back since the Giants will be in passing packages most of the game and Bradshaw is the superior receiver of the two.
Patriots Defense: The Patriots defense has been their weakness all year. The nay-sayers to the Pats Super Bowl chances have pointed at the incredible amount of passing yards allowed (2nd worst only to GB). There have been times throughout the year where the PAts have played WR as CB and had to hold together with duct tape and chewing gum on the defensive side of things. They found a pass rusher in Andre Carter and lost him to injury against Denver the first time the teams met. They’ve been thrashed by QB’s like Chad Henne, Dan Orlovsky, and Rex Grossman at different points throughout the year, and some would say they have no shot at slowing down Eli…
The Patriots defense has improved. They played their best game of the year in shutting down Tebow in the Divisional round and then had another very solid effort against Baltimore in the AFC Championship. The Pats have 8 sacks in those 2 games and have held down 2 of the better rushing attacks in the AFC with Tebow/Broncos and Rice/Ravens. The key to the rush defense has been Vince Wilfork playing at an incredibly high level from the NT position. Watch the matchup between him and Giants C David Baas who struggled with injury in the NFC Championship game.
The Pats should be able to stop the run if they play like they have been. The passing game, however, might be another story. Joe Flacco threw for 30o+ yards on them and had the game-winning TD in the hands of Lee Evans before Sterling Moore (who no one had heard of) ripped it out and preserved the Patriot victory.
History tells us: When the 2 teams met in week 9, the Giants offense struggled at times to move the ball. Part of that was due to the absence of Ahmad Bradshaw who was inactive When it mattered most though, the G-men marched down the field and scored the game-winner. The Patriots lost key LBs Brandon Spikes and Gary Gutyon and S Patrick Chung during that drive to injury and their replacements were right where Eli wisely attacked. The Patriots defense is vastly improved, but they won’t win the game for them. Eli and Victor Cruz should be in store for big games and the offense should put up a big number if Eli can avoid INTs like he has so far in the playoffs (just 1 vs GB) .
Patriots Offense: The Patriots offense has been one of the best in the league throughout the season. They were somewhat overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers pursuit of perfection and Drew Brees pursuit of Dan Marino. Tom Brady had a spectacular year as well, finishing at or near the top of most major QB categories. On the other hand, he did not look good at all last week against the Ravens finishing with a passer rating of 57.5. He threw 2 picks and 0 TDs. There’s little chance that Brady has 2 stinkers back-to-back, but obviously the Pats will need more from him than his performance last week if they hope to win the trophy.
The big question for the Patriots is the availability of TE Rob Gronkowski. Gronk teamed with Aaron Hernandez to form a dynamic TE duo that dominated almost every game they were in. Gronkowski set records for Tight Ends in receiving TDs and receiving yards while finishing among the leaders even among WR in many receiving categories. He appeared yesterday at media day with no walking boot on his high-ankle sprain but is considered day-to-day headed into the Super Bowl. If he’s out, New Enland will rely even more on its #1 WR coming off a great year, Wes Welker. Welker had a good game against the G-men the first time these teams met and I expect him to find the end zone at least once in the Super Bowl.
Look for Gronk’s cohort Aaron Hernandez to spend quite a bit of time in the backfield on Sunday as the Patriots use him as a rusher, extra blocker, and a general causer of confusion for the Giants D. With his and Danny Woodhead’s ability to line up so many different places and be effective, Bill Belichick will do all he can to confuse, bemuddle, and keep off-balance the Giants defense. Hernandez in the backfield will be something you hear about heading into the game, but might be the deciding factor as we look back at the game.
The running game of New England is also important, although usually it’s overlooked due to their prolific passing game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and Stevan Ridley will all see time in the backfield. My gut says Woodhead could be the one the Pats use given the success or backs receiving against New York; but with an extra week, Belichick might have a new wrinkle in his offense so be prepared for the unexpected.
Giants Defense: The Giants D was one of their liabilities throughout the year as well, but has turned it on during the late season and into the playoffs. Everything New York does defensively is predicated on getting a big rush up front from their 4 DE type players they use on the line. They use a rotation most of the time, but if the Pats fall behind and are in obvious passing downs they will have to deal with the “4 aces” package which features Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora as a ferocious straight pass rush.
The Giants secondary has played well in their playoff run after a rough first part of the season. They could have been beaten by Green Bay if their receivers held the ball and didn’t drop of fumble it, but came through strong against Alex Smith taking away his WR options and limiting Smith to just one complete pass to a wide receiver. Corey Webster is their best CB and will most likely be on Welker or Deion Branch most of the day.
History says: The Giants picks Brady twice in week 9 (Mathias Kiwanuka and Deon Grant) and had 2 sacks as well. Brady is used to the big stage, and will need to perform much better than last week (or the first time these two teams met) if he wants to be holding the Lombardi trohpy.
Special Teams: Both these teams made the Super Bowl in part due to special teams mistakes by their opponents. The 49′s Kyle Williams muffed a punt which set up the Giants winning FG, and the Ravens K Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot which would have sent the Patriots’ game into OT. So where might the mistake be that decides this one?
During the year both teams had solid if not spectacular special teams. Danny Woodhead did fumble away a kickoff last week against Baltimore and you could argue both that he’ll be more or less likely to do so this week. Both kickers are solid as well although the Pats Stephen Gostkowski has a better percentage than Lawrence Tynes (86 to 78) and does average both more attempts and more FG made per game than Tynes.
The nature of special teams game-changers is that they’re unpredictable and after playing such a large roll last round special teams should be fairly uneventful in this one.
The Giants Win If: They get pressure on Brady and force turnovers. The Patriots have lost 3 games this year (one to NY) and in those 3 losses Brady has 6 picks… Eli will have to play well and his receivers take advantage of the thin NE secondary. Manning could throw for 400-450 yards and win this with a spectacular performance if the Patriots defense is as bad as it has been at times this year.
The Patriots Win If: Tom Brady plays like Tom Brady of past super bowls (not against the Giants) and Tom Brady of the 9-game winning streak before the Ravens game… The Giants D can’t cover all the weapons on the Pats offense and the Gronk-Hernandez show goes global as they trounce the G-men LBs… The Patriots defense isn’t as bad as it has been and the D-Line gets another great game from Wilfork allowing Jarod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to reek havoc in the backfield.
My Call: This will be the anti-LSU-’Bama rematch as these two high-powered offenses move up and down the field with ease. Manning and Brady will both have good games, but in the end the Patriots will play just enough bend-don’t-break defense to get the win by a final of:
NEW ENGLAND 35, NEW YORK 27
Against the 3 point spread, I would take the Pats and give the points.
Come back tomorrow for all my prop picks based on this analysis….
I seriously just can’t wait for the football. This should be an exciting, competitive game and there should be plenty to talk about on the field. The pre-week hype is just not my scene; get me to the game.
Kickoff can’t come soon enough…