The overarching storyline for this game is the rematch element. 4 years ago, the Giants knocked off an undefeated New England in Super Bowl XLII at Arizona, preventing the Patriots from being the first 19-0 team in history and denying Brady and Belichick their 4th – and Montana and Walsh equalling – Super Bowl titles.
Unlike Glendale, when the game was a surprising defensive struggle for the first three quarters – 7-3 New England entering the 4th quarter – there is the potential for an offensive explosion in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The Patriots were ranked 3rd in scoring and 2nd in total yardage; the Giants 9th in scoring and 8th in yardage. Additionally, both franchises were in the top 5 for passing yardage but in the bottom 6 for total defense – the Patriots giving up a quite ludicrous 411 yards per game. All signs therefore – especially indoors on the Lucas Oil stadium fast track – point towards an offensive shootout.
Where the game will be won and lost
In 2008 the New York Giants were able to slow the juggernaut Patriot offense by getting consistent, quick pressure on Brady. The New England quarterback was sacked 5 times and hit or hurried countless more. The defensive line comprising Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora caused havoc in the New England backfield that day.
After a difficult regular season, with the nadir a 49 point shellacking in the Superdome against New Orleans, the Giants defense has again stepped up during the playoffs. Tuck and Umenyiora remain from that dominant front four but this time the Giants defensive front has the additional bonus of the freakishly talented Jason Pierre-Paul. With 16 ½ sacks during the regular season, Pierre-Paul is one of the most dominant edge rushers in the league. A key component of the matchup between the Patriots offense and the Giants defense will be whether Left Tackle Matt Light can slow down the relentless Pierre-Paul and stop him getting to Brady for the whole game.
Brady must get rid of the ball quickly to blunt the impact of the Giants front four, but unlike in 2008 his offense lacks the deep threat – Randy Moss – to keep the defense honest. Wes Welker and Deion Branch will catch everything thrown to them but they lack the ability to stretch the field. New England’s best weapons this season have been their Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But with record-breaking Gronkowski (90 receptions; 1327 yards; 17 TDs) questionable with a high ankle sprain suffered against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game, it is difficult to see how Brady can back the pressure off without ‘The Gronk’ to stretch the field down the middle.
Despite these limitations Brady will get his; as one of the greatest of all time he always does. But whether that will be enough to protect his porous defense is another question entirely.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants offense figures to have a field day with that leaky Patriots defense. Eli Manning, unquestionably an elite quarterback, will look to get the ball out early and often to Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, confident in the knowledge that they have the pure speed to beat the Patriots secondary over the top and the sure hands to move the chains at every opportunity. It is difficult to see how Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and the various other members of Belichick’s patchwork secondary can live with the Giants receiving corps.
Always crucial, the ability of the New England defensive front to get pressure on Manning will be absolutely paramount on Sunday in order to protect the secondary. However, the Giants offensive line is solid and the Patriots lack the powerful pass-rush that the Giants possess so this will be difficult. If it comes down to the final couple of minutes, Manning will have full faith in his clutch ability to deliver the big play at the biggest moment – Super Bowl XLII and a regular season defeat of the Patriots in 2011 the prime examples of this supernatural aura.
On special teams, the two ballclubs match up fairly evenly. The game may come down to the kicking abilities of Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Lawrence Tynes of New York. Gostkowski is one of the most accurate kickers in league history and Tynes has two NFC Championship (2008 & 2012) winning field goals on his resume so neither should be fazed by the pressure on Sunday night.
Madonna. Madonna! Dear oh dear. After Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Who, Prince and Paul McCartney in recent years the less said about this the better.
As a non-gambler (take following advice with severe caution!) my one value tip for the game would be Jason Pierre-Paul for MVP. No defensive player has won the award since safety Dexter Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII but Pierre-Paul has the outrageous talent and burning desire necessary to take over this game. Ultimately an offensive explosion will see one of the QBs win the MVP but at 50-1 Pierre-Paul – with his potential to record 3 sacks and force a couple of fumbles – certainly represents good value.
I look at every part of this game – offense, defense and special teams – and see a more balanced and ultimately better football team in the New York Giants. The Patriots can never be discounted because they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick but unless Gronkowski is fully fit I struggle to see how they can compensate for their atrocious defense and the carnage that Manning, Cruz and Nicks will undoubtedly cause. Without The Gronk, New England severely lack explosion, leaving Brady vulnerable to the ferocious pass rush that Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul will bring all night.
Giants 41-28 Patriots