It’s happened again.
A game featuring a fourth quarter that few will ever forget, the rematch of the 18-1 Bowl, Super Bowl XLVI is set for a 5:25 PM CST kickoff from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN on NBC.
Expect another close one.
The Giants are playing their best football of the season at just the right time of the year. Sound familiar? The Patriots? Well, they’re the Patriots. They played a decent game on Sunday against the Ravens, coaching their way to a close victory. These are two teams, at this point in time, that are very evenly-matched. There will be a few key matchups to watch for when these two teams meet, and they should have a big role in determining a winner.
Giants’ Pass Rush vs. Patriots’ Pass Protection
The Giants’ defense wasn’t very good in the regular season. Dealing with some injuries to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, they were subpar against both the run and the pass. Now, the defense has seemed to hit its stride, masking some of the team’s issues at cornerback.
The Patriots’ offensive line may have allowed more sacks than usual, but their protection, along with Tom Brady’s elite pocket presence, has been amongst the better teams in the league. They’ve allowed only one sack this postseason, Sunday against the Ravens, a team that tallied 48 during the regular season.
The Giants’ standout is Jason Pierre-Paul, the hyperathletic second-year defensive end. Three-time Pro Bowler Matt Light will be matched up against him.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Whoever Is Unfortunate Enough to be Assigned to Cover Him
This leads us to the question that all of the big-time talking heads are sure to be asking: can the Giants stop Rob Gronkowski? Who can?
Another second-year man, Gronk is coming off of arguably the best season for a tight end in the history of the NFL. He left the team’s bout with the Ravens for a few plays, but returned and should be expected to make an impact in the Super Bowl. The Giants, for all the talk of their stout front four, generally blitz as much as the rest of the league. However, expect them to dedicate extra linebackers to Gronkowski.
Mind you, this segment ignores Wes Welker, league leader in receptions and second in receiving yards. Hopefully the Giants won’t make the same mistake.
Quarterbacks vs. Turnovers
I know, I know, the turnover battle is a cliché talking point. But in a game that’s so evenly-matched, this could be absolutely huge, especially considering the players involved.
Neither of these teams fielded a defense in the regular season that could be called good by merely looking at yardage and point totals. Both teams’ bread-and-butter is a high-powered passing offense, and a lackluster defense that forces turnovers. The Patriots and Giants were both ranked in the top 5 in turnovers forced in the regular season.
What the Eli naysayers have said keeps him from being a truly elite quarterback is his propensity for turnovers. After leading the league in interceptions last season with 25, he still struggled with protecting the ball this year, throwing 16 picks. Tom Brady is generally very careful with the ball, but he does occasionally take games off, no matter the magnitude. Don’t forget, the Patriots had lost 3 straight playoff games coming into this season, which featured 4 Brady interceptions.
The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, the Giants were decidedly the underdogs. This year, there is only a 3-point spread, and many expect New York to win. They don’t seem to remember, or want to remember, how potent this New England offense can truly be.
Jason Pierre-Paul should be able to get the upper-hand against Matt Light, and Bill Belichick would be wise to pay attention to that matchup and adjust as necessary. However, Brady still is capable of getting the ball out quick, and no matter what, Pierre-Paul isn’t going to pressure Brady on the majority of Patriot snaps. That’s not how pass rushing works. Brady will get his.
I’m not sure how Tom Coughlin will decide to defend the passing attack. What I do know is that the best head coach in the game, Bill Belichick, will see what the defense is doing, and he will go to whoever is his best option. If somehow the Giants are able to lock down both Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker, which is unlikely, the team still has Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, two dynamic, versatile, and capable receivers to target. This is a dynamic offense, and the Giants don’t have the means to stop it.
Eli will put up some numbers as well. He has an 8:1 TD:INT ratio this postseason, which has certainly attributed to his 100+ QB Rating. However, the Patriots, no matter how slight of an advantage it is, are the better team from top-to-bottom, and should come out with the victory.
Prediction: NE 27, NYG 21