When the Giants and Patriots met back in Week 9 of the regular season, the Giants were missing their starting running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, yet they managed to rush for over 100 yards without him. Eli Manning also threw for 250 yards without his No. 1 receiver, Hakeem Nicks.
Through the year many analysts began calling Victor Cruz Manning's No. 1 target, in terms of pass attempts, it was true. If you watch Giants games week by week though, it is clear that when Nicks is in the game the defense treats him as the rightful No. 1.
With Nicks back, the Patriots will have to roll help to his side, while also paying special attention to Cruz. If the Pats decide to use linebackers to come underneath Cruz's slot routes, the Giants will combat that with runs, off tackle with Bradshaw, to hold the linebackers in place.
With all of these moving pieces, there is an unaccounted for piece to the Giants puzzle, and the Patriots have no answer for him.
That puzzle piece is Mario Manningham.
The best option for the Patriots is Julian Edelman, a natural wide receiver who struggled against the Ravens as a cornerback. Manningham has sure hands, makes great catches on the sidelines, he's often looked at on fades within the 40-yard line and, in this game, he will be the difference maker.
The Patriots have improved their pass defense through the playoffs but they have not played a team that has the kind of talent the Giants have on the outside. Eli has become a quarterback who looks to all of his receivers, he rarely stares down anyone like in years passed and if he has time to keep his head up field, he will see Manningham sneaking behind the safeties at least two times before the end of the game.
Unlike Joe Flacco in the AFC title game, Eli Manning will not miss when his receivers get behind the Patriots.
The biggest surprise of the Super Bowl will be Manning to Manningham linking up for a pair of touchdowns. Manning will spread the ball, all the receivers will have their respective fun. At the end of the day, Manningham will be the second person reporters run towards after the final whistle is blown...it is a quarterback league after all.