Giants (12-7) versus Patriots (15-3) 6:20 ET on NBC (if we’re lucky kickoff will be before 7)
If you have been paying any attention at all to this weeks upcoming Superbowl game between the Giants and the Patriots there are two things you are probably sick and tired of hearing about. The health of Rob Gronkowski and the sequence of events that led up to David Tyree’s amazing catch in Superbowl XLII.
Revenge. There has been a lot of people predicting that the Patriots have the revenge factor going for them in this game because of the way the Giants ruined their perfect season. While I’m sure there is some serious residual sting from that loss for the Patriots players, it’s a losers lament and something that affects the fan base more than the players. Bill Belichick is not the kind of coach that is going to allow his players to blame anyone other than themselves for getting unexpectedly punched in the mouth by the Giants. The greater motivating factor for this years Patriots team is that the Giants were the last team to beat them this year. The teams are on a combined 15-0 run but as I chronicled before the Pats haven’t played a lot of talented teams and just barely got out of the Baltimore game alive whereas the Giants are gaining momentum at just the right time and have been beating the cream of the NFC.
Rob Gronkowski on the other foot is the other major story of the week. I have no doubt in my mind that the Gronk is going to play in the Superbowl. Whether they numb him up, he just plain guts it out, or he goes out of his mind on cocaine like L.T. used to do in the 80’s, he is going to be on the field this Sunday.The big debate is as to how effective he will be. If the Patriots can drive the field and get into the red zone I feel that Gronkowski with his freakish size will still be an effective end zone threat, a place that he has thrived all season. The Giants should be able to limit his impact on the rest of the field however by jamming him at the line and taking advantage of the fact that his speed should be hobbled.
Vegas has the Patriots listed as favorites giving three points to the Giants however I feel like this is the Gee Men’s game to lose. The Giants are better than the Patriots in every category except Quarterback. The trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham is deadly and doesn’t allow defenses to key on any one guy. Big Blue’s running game has been much maligned all season and just hasn’t been the game-changing strength that it has been in previous years but I’m still taking Bradshaw and Jacobs (Thunder and Lightning) over Green-Ellis and Woodhead (The Law Firm and Mighty Mouse) especially the way the Offensive Line has been coming together for the Giants. Both the Patriots and Giants secondary has been questionable all season but now that the Giants are healthy they have this category in the win column and have the extra edge of being able to use more defenders on the strength of what could possibly be the best front four in the NFL.
That leaves us with the last X-factor of the game being Brady versus Manning. When you think of Brady v. Manning the first image that comes to your head is the Elder Manning, but this year he will again be watching from the luxury boxes as Eli battles on the field. In years past this would be a match up that you didn’t even have to really think about. Brady was the better and more consistent Quarterback with all the experience and swagger to go with it and Eli was the on-again off-again sufferer of the “Manning Face” who could either throw for 350 yards or throw for three picks.
This year we have seen a different Eli. The Manning Face still creeps up from time to time but I have been really impressed with the consistency of Eli’s game this year and last week against the Niners he showed some serious toughness as he shrugged off sack after sack without letting it affect his pocket presence. Tom Brady on the other hand is starting to show a few chinks in the armor and had a self-admittedly horrible game against the Ravens and there is a reason it’s not the same old Brady versus Manning this year. These guys are getting older and with all the hits and injuries you have to endure it’s hard to have a long career in the NFL. That being said Brady doesn’t have bad games two weeks in a row, he has the backing of one of the greatest game planners in the game with Bill Belichick and the Patriots won’t make the mistake they made in 2008 of underestimating the Giants.
So who takes home all the enchiladas on Sunday? Homerism aside, sort of, I am staying with the New York Football Giants. All of the factors seem to be in there favor. The only category the Patriots dominate the Giants in is at TE and their most important TE is hobbled. You can argue successfully that the Pats have the edge at Head Coach and Quarterback but the margin is not that wide. The Gee Men have a great Defense right now and unlike teams who have been carried to Superbowl victories on defense alone, see 2000 Ravens, the Giants also have a great offense. Defense wins Championships but it doesn’t hurt to be able to sling some arrows too. The greatest factor the Giants have going for them is that they are peaking at the right time and that has been the blueprint for winning Superbowls for years now. The Giants rode a similar kind of wave in 2007, the Saints and the Packers did the same thing the last couple years and look for the Boys in Blue to do it again this year. One more thing Patriots fans. Try winning a Superbowl without Adam Vinatieri! The Patriots three Superbowl victories were each decided by three point and two of those were game winners by Vinatieri who has also since won another Superbowl with the Colts.