Surprisingly, I never wavered on my Super Bowl pick for this year. Perhaps I value the regular season more than I should. It isn’t as simple as saying a 13-3 team will always beat a 9-7 team, but if you took the names off the jerseys, looked at the stats and forgot about Super Bowl XLII the crystal ball becomes clearer.
Nameless and faceless, you have a team riding a 10-game winning streak while another one sports a 6-game unbeaten streak as well. Both QBs are playing at a high level, both defenses have “manned up” in the last half dozen weeks to look more middle-of-the-pack instead of in the bottom five in the league, and the offensive weapons on both squads is envious.
Add the names (and hype) and all of a sudden the 9-7 Giants are being revered as if they’re the 2007 New England Patriots. New England, of course, was 18-0 that year heading into the Super Bowl before losing 17-14. I’d be willing to bet had the teams not played in the Super Bowl four years ago that people wouldn’t be expecting the G-Men to dominate the line of scrimmage as much as they do. Nevertheless, the Giants are still living off one of the biggest upsets Super Bowl in history.
This year’s Patriots aren’t close to the ’07 version, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lose to a Giants team playing at approximately the same level. Here’s a quick breakdown and what I see happening:
Tom Brady vs. NYG Defense: Thanks to ESPN’s Eric Mangini, getting Brady “off his spot” has become cliché. Whether it’s stunting or overloading one side, the key to rattling Brady is making him move. If he – or any other QB for that matter – is allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket he becomes dangerous. By mixing in The Law Firm enough (think 16-20 carries), the Giants will have to pick their spots and Brady won’t be drilled as much as he was four years ago. I also anticipate a handful of plays with designed rollouts for Brady. It’ll be a new look, but the new wrinkle is exactly what Bill Belichick will have had time to devise in two weeks.
Eli Manning vs. NE Defense: I expect Manning and his WR trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham to do what most offenses did to the Patriots this season: Move well between the 20s but, unfortunately, be forced to settle for field goal attempts. New England will surrender yards, but it’ll be built to prevent the big play and force Manning into short slant and out routes. While the Giants might want to run the ball 30 times, that wouldn’t be attacking New England’s weakness, so I see Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw being fairly effective but in limited carries.
Special Teams: Both Zoltan Mesko and Steve Weatherford will pin the opposing offense deep in its own territory and neither team has an explosive returner that could really swing the game’s momentum. This will be a push all game. Both punters are elite, if that word can actually be thrown out for punters. However, if for some reason one team’s special teams’ unit is off, it’ll likely play a key role late.
PREDICTION: An interesting fact: All New England’s Super Bowls in the Brady-Belichick era have been decided by three points (three wins and one loss). Don’t expect that to change as the game should be fairly close throughout. However, my gut tells me this game will play out like New England’s last Super Bowl win – a 24-21 victory against Donovan McNabb’s Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Eli Manning will make a few too many mistakes allowing the Patriots to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Eli, like McNabb years ago, will lead his team down for a touchdown in the closing minutes but it will be too little, too late as the Patriots will be able to run out the clock after recovering an onside kick. New England 27, New York Giants 24. --Chris Mackinder