When the Giants are running: The run offense that resurrected late in the 2011 season has trailed off a little in the postseason. Despite scoring 81 points in their three postseason games and only turning the ball over once, the Giants running game only hit 100 yards vs. the Falcons. Part of that is the fact that they played a 49ers defense #1 in ypc allowed in #1 with just 3 TDs allowed. Part of it is that teams bring the intensity up in the playoffs. Part of it is that it makes more sense to attack the Packers in the pass game. The Patriots are a bend, not break defense, Edge: Giants, slightly.
When the Giants are passing: The trio of Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz is going up against a Patriots defense that has had nine different starting line-ups this year. Nicks wasn’t there the first game (neither was Bradshaw), and Eli was still able to pass on them a lot. Edge: Giants, strongly.
When the Patriots are running: It’s hard to tell- with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels – who was behind that deep shot Brady attempted against the Ravens in the Championship Game. It was mind-boggling because they had run the ball pretty well against Baltimore, and taking time off was important. The same mystery persists about the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Why didn’t they try the field goal in the first quarter? We see this grandstanding with the Saints sometimes. They are running the ball well, but their coach – or somebody – convinces them to get away from it. Edge: Patriots, if they commit to it.
When the Patriots are passing: The Giants have only twice, in 19 games, failed to force a turnover. What has changed from the four-game span where they allowed 391+ yards from scrimmage every week is that the front four have been getting a little better and the young corners are also improving a bit. The Patriots have one of the fiercest, most meticulous passing games, which is why Chad Ochocinco has been on the sideline learning. However, the match-ups they generate are often Gronkowski on a LB or safety and all the match-ups that spawn from that. Gronkowski is finally practicing in limited form. I don’t see him as being above 75%, and that means other players have to step up. That said, the Patriots did churn up 24 first downs in the first meeting, and Brady is going to do everything in his power to reverse the trend of his last three appearances in the playoffs. He’ll be ready, and he won’t be the reason they lose. That said, if Gronkowski is less than 75% or if the offensive line does merely a pretty good job, then the Patriots passing game will get shut down. Interestingly, the Giants were ranked 25th against the “no huddle”, and struggled in the first meeting when Brady summoned it. Edge: Patriots, slightly.
Intangibles: Let’s be honest. In terms of history, this game is about Spygate. Age, Brady injuries, Rex Ryan’s 2010 divisional round gameplan (and execution by the players), and other elements have kept the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl since they were caught cheating in week 1 of 2007.
Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL, but his drafting skills have been questionable recently (though I thought he did well in 2011). His postseason legacy will be connected to Spygate if he doesn’t win another Super Bowl.
Right after they were caught, they went on a daunting 17-game campaign that left opponents shell-shocked, but led to a shocking title game defeat. A lot of coaches try to coach each game as if it is their last, but sometimes having all the pressure on – the pressure of tainted rings and public hatred – brings out the best in competitors.
The other intangibles – the surprising cut of Tiquan Underwood, the accidental Super Bowl victory post on the Giants website – are ultimately not a big deal. Bill Belichick knows his team has weaknesses, but I think he’ll bring a great gameplan with many looks on defense to try to bridge the talent gap.
PREDICTION: If Gronkowski is his old self, this game will be much tighter. That said, I think the Giants and Patriots both have adjusted to the players they have since they met in week 9. But, I believe New York has the better roster as I think both teams have great pass-to-set-up-run offenses, but the Giants’ most important unit – the defensive line – is the healthiest it’s been all year. Tom Brady is certainly still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and capable of single-handedly winning this game, but I’m going with the team with more talent and I don’t expect Gronkowski to be at full speed. Giants 38, Patriots 17.
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