In what should be an excellent rematch of what may have been the best Super Bowl I can remember, the Giants and Patriots will battle this Sunday to determine the world champions.
The Giants will most likely employ the same tactics that worked well against the Falcons, Packers and 49ers. On defense, pressure the opponent quarterback with their front four and drop everyone else into coverage. On offense, the Giants’ fate will fall on the shoulders of Eli Manning and his ability to spread the ball around on an improving Patritots defense.
The Patriots held the Ravens’ Pro-bowl runningback Ray Rice to just 67 yards rushing on 21 carries in their 23-20 victory in the AFC championship game. His 3.2 yds/rush was a full yard and a half lower than his season average. Strong play up the middle by defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Kevin Love along with linebackers Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich made it nearly impossible for the Ravens to rely on their strong running game to control the ball and the clock.
In their first matchup this season, a 24-20 Giants victory in week 9, the Giants relied heavily on the run, even with Ahmad Bradshaw injured. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown and DJ Ware added 23 yards. But with the Patriots rush defense rising to the situation, to keep up with the Patriots offense, the Giants will need to put up a lot of points and most of the weight will have to fall on the passing game. With Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham all healthy and rested, none of their opponents have had much success stopping Manning and the Giants passing game. The Patriots defense which ranked 31st in the league against the pass should not hamper Manning who has thrown for over 300 yards in his past two games. Nicks and Cruz have both had huge game during the postseason, so look for Manning to spread the ball around to all three of his receivers along with his tight ends and runningbacks to find holes in the Patriots defense.
In week 9, the Giants benefited from two interceptions and a fumble by Tom Brady, scoring 10 points off of turnovers. The Giants will need to force Brady to make mistakes similar to how they forced Aaron Rodgers to make mistakes which led to short fields and easy scores for the Giants. Most of this responsibility will fall to defensive ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul. These three combined for 2.5 sacks last week against the 49ers along with 3 tackles for losses and 4 quarterback hits.
The Giants need to get to Brady fast and keep him from looking downfield to his big targets Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker. In the first half of their first game Brady only had 5 passes of more than 10 yards, 3 of which were dump-offs to his runningbacks. In the second half, the Pats had 9 passes of over 10 yards, only one on a screen pass. In that game, the Patriots were shut out in the first half and scored all 20 points in the second half. If the Giants can get to Brady before he can throw downfield, the Giants will win this game.
One major factor that will help determine the outcome of this game will be the status of Gronkowski who compiled the best statistical season by a tight end in history. Gronkowski, who has 3 receiving touchdowns in just two postseason games, is a matchup problem for any defense, but he suffered a high-ankle sprain in the AFC championship game. He has not practiced since that game and has been wearing a walking boot. There is little doubt that he will play in the Super Bowl, but the question will be how well he is able to move around. He will still draw attention from the Giants defense, but if he is not mobile, the Giants defense will have a much easier time holding Brady and the Patriots offense.
In the end this could be another battle of who can score last. Another last second field goal to win is not unlikely.
Projected Score: Giants 34, Patriots 31