NFL Playoff Scenarios: 5 Matchups That Could Change the Super Bowl Outcome
The Super Bowl is set, and on Feb. 5th a new champion will be crowned. It will be a rematch of epic proportions between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
It will be the fourth matchup between the two teams in the last four years. The three previous matchups have been decided by a total of four points, with the Giants taking two of the matchups, including the all-important Super Bowl XLII.
Eli Manning versus Tom Brady. Bill Belichick versus Tom Coughlin. New York versus Boston. These are all reasons why this is one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in history and has a chance to be its most fascinating.
New York Giants Defensive Line Versus Tom Brady
Arguably, this could be called the matchup of Super Bowl XLVI. They key to defeating the New England Patriots is simple, if not always easy, to execute: Put Tom Brady on the ground.
Tom Brady is soft. There, I said it. Even by a quarterback's standards, this guy does not like to be hit. Knock him around a few times, and he is not so cool in the pocket, not so confident to stand tall with bodies flying around him, and those throws that were on point in the first quarter start missing their targets in the third and fourth. As Brady is rattled by those hits, so is his team. The Patriots know each time Brady hits the dirt, the odds of escaping with a victory decreases proportionately.
While the Patriots go as Brady goes, it could be argued the Giants go as their defensive line goes. When their line dominates, they win. In their two wins against Brady, the Giants' line came up with seven sacks, forcing two interceptions and two fumbles, while holding the Patriots to an average of 17 points. In their one loss, they sacked Brady once, did not force any turnovers and gave up 38 points.
With every hit of Brady, the Giants put themselves in a better position to win Super Bowl XLVI.
New York Giants Running Game Versus New England Patriots Rush Defense
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After finishing the regular season dead-last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, have the New York Giants re-discovered their running game in the playoffs?
Long a staple of the Giants' offense, neither of their former 1,000-yard backs, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, eclipsed 700 yards on the ground this season. Then, the duo busted out for 155 yards in their Divisional Round win against the Atlanta Falcons.
After that performance, "Earth and Fire" went back to mediocrity against the Green bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. They picked up just 85 yards as Eli Manning did most of the work in the upset win against the Green Bay Packers. They rushed for another 87 yards against the San Francisco 49ers' top-ranked rushing defense.
The best way to beat Tom Brady is to keep him on the bench. If the Giants can establish their running game, it will make it that much easier to pick up their third straight win against the Patriots.
Eli Manning Versus New England Patriots Secondary
For years, the knock on Eli Manning was his inability to protect the football. This criticism of his game was evident all the way up to last season, when the he led the NFL with 25 interceptions.
This year, he cut the picks back to 16 en route to the best season of his career. Manning has thrown just one interception to go with his eight touchdowns thus far in the postseason. However, the New England Patriots have the kind of defense that could force Eli back to his old habits.
The Patriots gave up an astonishing amount of yards in the regular season, but finished second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and took two back to the house. The Patriots have forced a turnover in both of their postseason games against the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens.
I would be shocked if Manning did not throw for at least 300 yards against the Patriots' porous secondary. However, one interception could be the difference between winning and losing on Super Sunday.
Bill Belichick Versus Tom Coughlin
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About the only thing Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick have in common is they are Super Bowl-winning head coaches in the NFL.
Belichick is ever-stoic, stone-faced and unmoving. Coughlin storms ups and down the sideline, swearing and kicking the air. While Coughlin is the fireball off the field, it is Belichick that will throw a wild card on it. He is a gambler, and is never shy about going for it on fourth down. Coughlin is as passive as they come. He will seldom take a risk or leaving anything to chance.
A crazy move from Belichick (remember Sean Payton's momentum-swinging call to open the second half with the onsides kick?) could change this game in his favor, or the Giants'. Conversely, could we be talking on Monday about Coughlin not pulling the trigger on a crucial fourth down?
Eli Manning Versus Tom Brady
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If this game is as close as the previous three matchups between the New York Giants and New England Patriots have been, then whichever quarterback has the ball last will likely find himself holding up the Lombardi Trophy.
Tom Brady and Eli Manning have authored some of the biggest plays in NFL history. Manning had the epic sack-avoiding, chuck-it-up-and-hope-for-the-best play in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Brady marched his team down the field for game-winning field goals to win championships against both the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers.
In Super Bowl XLII, Brady put the Patriots ahead with 2:42 left in the game by tossing a clutch touchdown to Randy Moss. Manning outdid him by following the Tyree catch with a touchdown pass of his own to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left.
This season, Brady appeared to finally have bested his foe by putting the Pats up with just 1:36 left on the clock. That was still too much time for Manning, as he out-Brady-ed Brady again, this time finding Jake Ballard in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning score.
If Brady wins, he will strengthen his claim as the greatest quarterback of all time. If Eli bests him again, he will enter the discussion of greatest big-game quarterbacks in NFL history. No pressure, fellas.