Super Bowl XLVI: Examining Tom Brady and the Patriots' Possible NFC Matchups
The 2011 Patriots secured the AFC's number one seed, wrapping up a 13-3 record and setting numerous franchise and league records on the offensive side of the ball in the process.
A successful season, right? No. Not by the Patriots' standards.
For the past two years, the Patriots have had "successful" regular season campaigns only to falter in the home playoff-opener. Every Patriots fan remembers Ray Rice's 83-yard scamper to open the 2009 Wild Card Patriots-Ravens matchup, which led to the Pats being trampled by a final score of 33-14 in front of a shocked Gillette Stadium.
And every Patriots fan cringes when reminded of the abrupt end to the 2010 season filled with such promise, a year in which the Patriots came into the playoffs on an eight-game tear with Tom Brady as hot as any quarterback in NFL history. The 2010 Patriots fielded one of the more dominant teams in the history of football that year, but that was all for naught as they fell 28-21 to the Jets in a contest that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
The Patriots haven't won a playoff game in nearly four years, an eternity for the Foxborough faithful. Their last playoff victory came in the AFC Championship Game over the Chargers in January of 2008. Pats' die-hards know all too well what came after that.
For the Patriots' 2011 chapter to be considered a success, they must make a deep playoff run in the AFC, and some even believe only Brady, Belichick and Co. hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season's end will alleviate any lingering pain from recent postseason woes.
First though, the Patriots will have to go through Tim Tebow and an emotionally-charged Broncos team, and whoever they may potentially face in the AFC title game. Let's take a look at the teams the Patriots could potentially face if they do in fact reach the big dance's finale.
New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers
A Patriots-Packers match-up would be a monumental opportunity for the NFL to rev-up its hype machine and spike the TV ratings. Possibly the two best quarterbacks in the NFL facing off for the Lombardi Trophy—What more could America want? It could go down as one of the greatest QB duels in Super Bowl lore.
The Pats and Pack this past season had (statistically) the two worst defenses in NFL history, giving up 411.1 and 411.6 yards per game, respectively. Both defenses gave up nearly 5,000 yards passing. This bodes very well for the offenses, which both ranked in the top three in the league in the major offensive statistical categories.
Both quarterbacks had historic seasons, combining for nearly 10,000 yards and 84 touchdowns through the air and could light up the scoreboard come Super Bowl Sunday if they happen to meet. They led their teams to a combined 28 wins, demonstrating their superb aptitude for the game.
If the Patriots and Packers do meet in the Super Bowl, get your popcorn ready and expect stellar quarterback play along with a boatload of points, with scores ranging from the 30s to 40s in one of the highest-scoring affairs in NFL championship history.
New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco is the one team from the NFC playoff bracket whose defense could truly pose a threat to the offensive juggernaut that is the Brady Bunch. The Patriots this season tied an NFL record by scoring 30 or more points 12 times in a season (2007 Patriots, 1999 Rams)and racked up over 428 yards per game on offense, good for second-best in the league.
The 49ers ranked second in points allowed and fourth in yards while sporting the stoutest run defense in the league to boot. They did, however, display a somewhat middling pass defense, ranking only 16th in passing yards allowed. Nevertheless, the 49ers seem like the one team from the NFC built to slow down the Patriots' explosive attack to some degree.
While Alex Smith is no Tom Brady, he could put up Brady-like numbers against a porous Patriots defense that, as aforementioned, gave up the second-most yards in the league this year (and in NFL history). Regardless, the much-maligned Pats' D ranked third in the NFL with 34 takeaways and could take advantage of an inexperienced (playoff-wise) 49ers offense.
If these two storied franchises do clash in the Super Bowl, expect a final score in the mid-to-high twenties for both squads and a close game as the teams pit strength against strength.
New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
The Patriots vs. Saints could be just as explosive a showdown as the potential Patriots-Packers matchup, if not more so. The teams ranked second and first respectively in yards per game, and both quarterbacks passed for over 5,000 yards, with Brees setting the single season passing yards record (5,476) and Brady coming in second (5,235). They are the two hottest teams in the NFL entering the playoffs, both riding eight-game win streaks, and it would be no shock to see them continue their torrid pace towards the prize.
With both defenses ranking near the bottom of the league in defending the pass, no one would be surprised to see near or over 1,000 yards of total offense in a game between these two historically potent attacks.
Drew Brees and the Saints' offense showed just how well-oiled a machine they are on Saturday, and the New England's pass defense would be hard-pressed to stop them from putting up 30 or more in the game. On the flip side, no one on the Saints' defense seems equipped to handle Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez or Wes Welker, so Brady and company could easily go blow-for-blow with the Who Dats.
In a duel between two former Super Bowl MVPs, expect a track meet with both offenses scoring in the mid-30s to mid-40s and a new record set for passing yardage in a Super Bowl.
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
Pats followers will be licking their chops if the Patriots do end up in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, a day that will live in infamy for all New England sports fans. The Giants beat the Patriots (in Foxborough) in classic Giants fashion: Eli predictably drove down the field for some late-game theatrics to give his team the win 24-20.
What is already an unfriendly competition would turn into a full-blown championship rivalry with veteran Patriots players looking for revenge for the devastating Super Bowl defeat.
The Giants ranked only 27th in total defense and 29th in pass defense during the regular season, and Brady, despite losing, threw for 342 yards in their rendezvous with the G-Men earlier in the season. However, Manning was no snub, throwing for 4,933 yards in the regular season with a good portion of those yards coming from breakout receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz came out of nowhere to catch 82 balls for 1536 yards, establishing himself as one of the best wideouts at gaining yards after the catch.
Should the Giants and Patriots both make it to Indy, expect another tight game with a score similar to the previous contest this season and the opportunity for the last offense on the field to win the game.