The New England Patriots and New York Giants meet in the Super Bowl on Sunday in a repeat of Super Bowl XLII.
The match is one of the most eagerly anticipated Super Bowls in history, with both teams running into a rich vein of form at the most crucial time of the year. The Giants have won five matches in succession, while the Patriots have won 10 in a row.
Three points separated the sides four years ago, when the wildcard Giants shocked the then 18-0 Patriots. Sunday’s encounter promises to be just as close and a last minute drive by Tom Brady or Eli Manning could win the game. Experts are split, with the Vegas odds-makers narrowly favouring the Patriots (-2.5) and a small majority of analysts seemingly leaning towards the Giants.
The teams are both built around dynamic passing attacks and will be hoping to partly disprove the old adage “Defense wins Championships”. No team with a defense ranked lower than 25th has ever won the Super Bowl and the Patriots (31st total yards) and Giants (27th total yards) struggled on defense throughout the regular season. The Patriots’ scoring defense (15th) shows Bill Belichick’s team may be able to slow offenses down once they reach the end zone, however.
Despite the regular season troubles, both defenses have impressed during the playoffs. The Giants shut down the previously unstoppable Green Bay Packers offense and only allowed two points against the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots defense saved New England during the AFC Championship Game when Tom Brady had an uncharacteristically inaccurate performance.
The Giants’ players have been outspoken in the run up to the Super Bowl and the defense feels it is in Brady’s head. New York has won the last two matches against New England, including a 24-20 win in week nine. After a scoreless first half, the match burst to life in the fourth quarter. The offenses marched up and down the field and Eli Manning won the match with a one yard pass to Jake Ballard.
The key to disrupting Brady is a potent pass rush and the Giants boast a wealth of talented pass rushers in Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre Paul and Justin Tuck. The pass rush is widely regarded to have been instrumental in the Giants win in Super Bowl XLII and the Patriots will have to find a way to slow the Giants’ blitzes. If Tom Brady is given time, he could dismantle the 29th ranked Giants pass defense.
The Giants biggest match-up advantage is in the passing game. The Patriots secondary was porous throughout the season, although they have shown some improvements in the post-season. The Giants have three big-play receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.
Nicks has been one of the post-season’s star performers. The wide receiver already has 335 yards and four touchdowns for the Giants and could have a big day against the Patriots.
Victor Cruz, who was an undrafted free agent, had a sensational season, totalling 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. The slot receiver could also be covered, at times, by wide receiver Julian Edelman. The Patriots man will likely have safety help on every play, but Cruz could torch the converted cornerback.
Mario Manningham is often the forgotten man of the Giants wide receiving trio, but he will be matching up with relatively poor cornerbacks. The Patriots ranked 31st against the pass and their secondary includes Edelman (7th round wide receiver), Kyle Arrington (undrafted), Stirling Moore (undrafted) and James Ihedigbo (undrafted).
The underrated story-line is the Patriots’ defensive line. Led by an inspired Vince Wilfork (six tackles, one sack, three tackles for a loss), the d-line played an instrumental part in the Patriots’ narrow victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. Wilfork, Kyle Love, Mark Anderson and Brandon Deaderick go up against a questionable Giants offensive line.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, who are one of the league’s best defenses, Eli Manning was under pressure all game due to questionable play by his offensive line. Manning was sacked six times and hurried constantly as he somehow managed to throw for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Giants quarterback was lucky not to be intercepted on a couple of occasions, however. If the Patriots defensive front can create a similar amount of pressure as the Ravens game, they could disrupt Manning and help their weak secondary.
Neither team rushes or defends the run particularly well, but the Patriots’ run defense is slightly more stout. The run game will likely only be used by both teams to keep the defense off-guard, but the Patriots’ Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley, if he plays, and New York’s Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs could have success running and play crucial roles.
The Patriots major worry entering the game is the fitness of star tight-end Rob Gronkowski. The 22 year old had the best tight-end season in history, breaking NFL records for touchdowns (17) and yards (1,327). Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain against the Ravens, however, and is questionable for Sunday’s match. The tight-end is almost certain to play, but if he is limited by the injury, the Patriots offense will be a lot more defendable.
(1) Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham against the Patriots exploitable defensive backs, including wide receiver/return man/converted cornerback Julian Edelman
(2) Patriots defensive line, which was instrumental in beating the Baltimore Ravens, against the porous Giants offensive line.
(3) Giants vaunted defensive line against the Patriots steady offensive line.
(4) Tom Brady vs Eli Manning. Whoever exploits the other team’s weak secondary will likely to win the match.
(5) The turnover battle. Interceptions in regular season: Patriots defense (2nd – 23) vs Giants defense (6th – 20)
This match is one of the hardest to call in Super Bowl history. With both defenses improving in the post-season, the game may not be as high scoring as originally predicted. The contest will come down to Tom Brady against Eli Manning and who can better dissect the opposing pass defense, however. The turnover battle will be critical and the match should be decided in the dying minutes. The match could go either way, but Tom Brady and the New England Patriots would be my slight favourites to gain a narrow victory and their fourth Super Bowl.