Super Bowl Predictions 2012: The Key Matchups and Score for Giants vs. Patriots
The dust has settled, and the stage is set for Super Bowl XLVI, with the New York Giants and New England Patriots set to do battle in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, which saw New York quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants put an end to the Patriots' hopes of an undefeated season.
One of the great things about the National Football League is all the games that happen within the game.
So let's take a look at the matchups that will be crucial in determining who emerges from the game victorious, as well as my admittedly early prediction as to who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis on February 5th.
Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning
Super Bowl XLVI will feature two of the NFL's elite signal-callers in Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Eli Manning of the New York Giants. Whichever quarterback has the better day will go a long way towards determining the game's winner.
Brady freely admitted that his two interception performance in the AFC Championship Game "sucked," but the fact remains that he's now one of only two quarterbacks to start in five Super Bowls.
Manning, on the other hand, has been very effective in the Giants three postseason games this year, throwing for 923 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception.
Brady's sterling resume aside, the numbers don't lie, and right now, Manning is playing as well as he ever has.
EDGE: Eli Manning
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks vs. the New England Secondary
A great deal of Eli Manning's success this year can be attributed to the sterling play of wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who combined for 2,728 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season.
That play has continued into the postseason, with Nicks exploding in the Giants first two playoff games, and Cruz hauling in 10 catches for 142 yards in the NFC Championship Game.
The New England Patriots ranked 31st in the National Football League in pass defense in 2011, and with top cornerback Kyle Arrington nursing an eye injury saying that the Patriots secondary is going to have their hands full is an understatement.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw vs. the Patriots Front 7
With the New England Patriots possessing a prolific offense that averaged just over 32 points a game this season, the Giants might be well served to pull a page from Bill Parcells playbook in Super Bowl XXV, where the Giants rode over 40 minutes of time of possession to an upset win over the Buffalo Bills and their "K-Gun" offense.
To do so, they'll need big games from running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who both struggled with injuries this season as the G-Men finished dead last in the NFL at only 89.2 yards per game.
The Giants have improved somewhat in that regard in the postseason, averaging just over 117 yards a game, which is coincidentally almost exactly how many yards per game the Patriots allowed on the ground this year.
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and the New England front seven have held two of the NFL's top 10 running games in the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens in check in the playoffs, so Bradshaw and Jacobs are likely to find the sledding pretty tough at Lucas Oil Stadium.
EDGE: New England Front Seven
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. the New York Secondary
As fantastic a season as New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker had in 2011, catching over 120 passes and topping 1,500 receiving yards, the engine that drives the Patriots passing game is the dynamic duo of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who form a one-two punch at the position the likes of which the NFL has never seen.
The pair combined for 178 receptions and 2,237 receiving yards in the regular season, with Gronkowski setting an NFL record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 17.
"Gronk" injured his ankle in the AFC title game, and he's stated that he will be OK for the Super Bowl. I'm fairly confident that he was built from parts in a Transylvanian laboratory and they'll just stitch a rhino's ankle on him or something.
After watching San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis abuse Giants safety Antrel Rolle in coverage Sunday, I'm guessing that New York's odds of covering Gronkowski and Hernandez are slightly worse than no chance in hell.
Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck vs. the New England Offensive Line
One of the major keys to the Giants victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the ability of the New York front four to generate pressure on quarterback Tom Brady, sacking him five times and pressuring him on countless other throws.
This year, with freakishly athletic end Jason Pierre-Paul now in the fold, the New York defensive line may actually be better than the one that gave New England such fits four years ago.
In the two teams meeting earlier this season at Gillette Stadium the Patriots, who allowed 32 sacks on the year, gave up only two sacks in a 24-20 loss to the Giants, and if New England is going to reverse the outcome of that contest, it's essential that they keep Brady's jersey similarly clean.
That will be no easy task against a Giants squad that was third in the NFL in sacks this season.
EDGE: Tuck and Pierre-Paul
Mark Anderson and Brandon Deaderick vs. the New York Offensive Line
Just as the New York Giants will be trying to get in the face of New England quarterback Tom Brady during the Super Bowl, the Patriots will undoubtedly try to put pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning, who threw 16 interceptions this year, has been known to throw ill-advised passes in the past, and while he's improved in that regard somewhat, it's still been his Achilles' heel throughout his professional career.
However, sending blitzers with regularity could be a very risky proposition, as that would leave the New England corners on an island against the talented New York wideouts, and as we said earlier, the Patriots secondary isn't exactly an elite unit.
Things would be a lot easier had the Patriots not lost their best defensive end to a season ending injury earlier this year, but with Andre Carter on the shelf, it will fall to second-year pro Brandon Deaderick and sixth-year veteran Mark Anderson, who combined for only two more sacks than Carter had alone, to try to put Manning on his back.
Against a New York offensive line that allowed the seventh-fewest sacks in the league this season that's going to be a tall order.
EDGE: New York offensive line
Lawrence Tynes vs. Stephen Gostkowski
As last weekend's conference championship games showed all too well, sometimes after 60 minutes (or more) of hard-fought football, it can all come down to one field goal attempt that either leaves a kicker a hero or a goat.
The tale of the tape between New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Lawrence Tynes is fairly similar, with Gostkowski having made 28-of-33 attempts during the regular season with a long of 50 yards while Lawrence Tynes of the Giants was a slightly less accurate 19-of-24, also with a long of 50 yards.
However, Tynes has also twice made kicks that propelled his team to the Super Bowl in overtime, so while I believe that Gostkowski has the better leg, the slightest of edges goes to the kicker that's come through before when the pressure was at its greatest.
EDGE: Lawrence Tynes
Predicted Score and Super Bowl MVP
This game has all the makings of a thriller that will hopefully give us four quarters of action as exciting as the final one was the last time these two teams met with a championship on the line.
Each squad will likely attempt to establish a ground game, both in an attempt to move the chains and keep the other team's potent offense off the field, but as they struggle to do so, the Giants and Patriots will start to take to the air as a very closely contested first half draws to a close.
The second half (assuming that Madonna's halftime show doesn't cause us all to die from aurally induced spontaneous cerebral liquefaction) will feature a display of aerial fireworks, with two great quarterbacks moving their teams up and down the field.
However, in the end, the New York Giants superior pass rush and slightly better secondary will force an errant throw from Tom Brady that will turn the tide, and when the final gun sounds, the Giants will emerge as Super Bowl XLVI champions and become the fifth team to win the National Football League's biggest game four times.
Not only will the Giants win their fourth Super Bowl, but New York quarterback Eli Manning will be the game's MVP for a second time, fueling a debate over whether older brother Peyton is still the Man-ning, or if that torch has now been passed.
FINAL SCORE: New York Giants 31, New England Patriots 27
MVP: Eli Manning: 30-of-49, 356 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception