Despite the obvious storyline of a Super Bowl rematch between two of the best quarterbacks in the game, Super Bowl 46 has a significant impact on the world of football. Will Eli Manning surpass the amount of championships won by his brother Peyton in Peyton’s home stadium? If Eli does win, does he cement himself as one of the great quarterbacks of our era? Of all time? Will Tom Brady join boyhood idol Joe Montana and Steelers' great Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls? Can Brady bounce back from a poor performance against Baltimore? Will the Giants front seven cause problems for him? These are only a few of the questions people are asking as we count down the days to the Super Bowl.
My take? The Giants will win it all against the Pats. It will be close, circa 2007, but we will have the same result. Here’s why.
Although Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback to have on your side of the field late game, Eli has slowly crept into his tier. The Patriots didn't find themselves playing from behind much this year, but Brady was still able to churn out two game-winning drives against Miami and Dallas. Eli? Six game-winning drives or fourth-quarter comebacks, including one over Dallas late in the season when the Giants were fighting for a playoff spot. This isn't to discredit what I believe Brady does best, but rather to show that if the ball is in either quarterback’s hands at the end of the game you can bet that they’re going to make some plays.
As we all know, the weakest point of the New England Patriots is their defense. A defense that has stepped up in the playoffs, but is still the weakest link on an otherwise strong team. This defense made life miserable for Tim Tebow and the Broncos a few weeks ago, but were handled nicely by Joe Flacco, who threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns, and played exceptionally well late in the game. The Patriots defense was able to get one interception, but unfortunately the offense couldn't capitalize and turned the ball over on the next play. This is where Eli Manning will shine, as he has worked the Patriots defense nicely before, in Week 9, in route to a 24-20 win for the Giants. The Giants forced 4 turnovers and were only able to score 10 points as a result of those turnovers, but that game showed his clutch-ability in the fourth, as well as the ability of the Giants' defense to step up and create opportunities for the offense.
The Giants' defense is absolutely loaded with talent; from a front seven that includes Most Improved Player-lock Jason Pierre-Paul, Pro-Bowlers Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, and sure tacklers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka, to a secondary with veterans like Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster, the defense for the "Boys in Blue" can make plays (as evidenced by their 48 sacks during the regular season and their 31 takeaways). But the Patriots' defense is no slouch in this department either, with 34 regular season takeaways and 40 sacks. Both defenses have play makers, so who has the edge? Give the edge to the Giants, who have stopped their opponents on every fourth down in the playoffs, only allowed their opponents to convert 28 percent of their third downs, and have recovered five fumbles this postseason. The Giants' defense also has the slight edge on sacks (9 to 8), points scored (39 to 30), and yards allowed per game (321 to 325). But the number that really stands out for me? Third down conversions. The Giants convert 44 percent of their third downs, compared to the Patriots’ 47 percent. The Patriots' defense, however, allows their opponents to convert on 46 percent of their third down attempts, compared to the aforementioned Giants percentage of 28. Late game, that spells trouble for the Patriots defense. If there is something for Eli Manning to exploit, he will exploit it.
Ultimately, though, the game will come down to turnovers. The Giants used their four turnovers in the last game to stifle the Pats, and their +5 turnover margin so far in the playoffs in nothing to scoff at. The Patriots, however, have a -3 turnover margin this season, with their saving grace being the fact that they were a +17 during the regular season. When the Giants lose, it’s almost always all on Eli, as he’s thrown 12 picks and posted an 82.3 QB rating in his seven losses this year. When the Patriot’s lose, Brady isn't too hot either, throwing six picks across three games and sporting an average 86.3 QB rating. You can be sure that this game will be won and lost in both the third-down conversions column, and the turnover column.
Given the Patriots’ inconsistency on defense, I give this one to the Giants, in a 27-21 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.