The Super Bowl is set—it will be the New England Patriots taking on the New York Giants in a rematch of the 2007 Super Bowl. This much you already know, but what you haven't thought about yet is how these two teams match up. In what area does each team hold the greatest advantage?
New England: Tight Ends
The Patriots obviously have an advantage in experience, along with the presence of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick there and attempting to their fourth Super Bowl win together. Brady and Belichick will get the most attention tonight and over the next two weeks, but they are a small piece of the puzzle.
Where New England has the biggest advantage is their tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
No surprise, perhaps, but it's how these two will be featured against a defense that's known for their ability to pressure the quarterback. With linebackers and defensive linemen coming at the quarterback hot and heavy, Brady will rely on slipping the ball to his tight ends in pressure situations as they become his hot reads off the snap.
What Brady does better than any quarterback in the NFL is get the team in position pre-snap and recognizing what the defense is doing. With that in mind he can move his uber-athletic tight ends into position to find the most favorable matchup on each player. Put too much coverage on Wes Welker, Brady will find Gronkowski over the middle. If you put both under the microscope, Aaron Hernandez will tear the defense apart.
The New York Giants are great up front, but what they don't do well is cover tight ends. Look at what Vernon Davis did to them. Look at what the New England tight ends did earlier this year.
New York's safeties are over-aggressive and its linebackers aren't athletic enough to keep up with the New England tight ends. It's essentially game over for New York.
It's win-win for the Patriots offense. Don't expect many runs, don't expect much flash, but do expect Gronkowski and Hernandez to be major factors in the game.
A wild card: Keep an eye on nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who went on a tear during the AFC Championship game. Wilfork is one of the best in the game at his position, and he will easily over-match Jonathan Goodwin at center.
New York: Pass Rushers
The New York Giants defense is great and that's well-known. It's by far the team's biggest advantage. Attacking the quarterback with Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck will put the fear of God in Tom Brady.
A lot will be made of the Giants' inability to cover Wes Welker and the play of the inside linebackers on the tight ends, but the biggest advantage for New York is how successful they are at getting to the quarterback without bringing additional pressure.
New York gets pressure bringing ends Tuck and Pierre-Paul without bringing much linebacker pressure, which gives them more guys back in coverage. Add in Osi Umenyiora and a good defensive tackle rotation and Brady will be asked to move around in the pocket all night.
The Patriots' offensive tackles are very good, but they are also beatable. Look back at games when Tom Brady was pressured and you'll see him as close to mortal as he's been all season. Even in the AFC Championship game, in which Brady played his poorest postseason game in memory, it was because Brady was pressured from all points. The Patriots didn't succeed at neutralizing Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the outside pressures of Paul Kruger and Jarrett Johnson. That ability to hit Brady is what kept Baltimore's secondary in play for tipped passes and interceptions against a quarterback many consider one of the best of all time.
So who will win? We have two weeks to break down film and make an opinion, but my early money is on New England. It's hard to bet against Tom Brady.