It's no secret that the Patriots secondary is their weak link. There is no Asante Samuel or other elite corner anchoring their secondary this go around vs. the Giants. Combine that with Eli Manning playing at the highest level of his career and one of the deepest sets of WR's in the NFL, and that doesn't bode well for the Pats.
Hakeem Nicks has one of the best combinations of size, power and speed of any receiver in the NFL. When he isn't among the league leaders in drops he can be considered a top NFL receiver. Typically, one would think that Devin McCourty, a second year corner back coming off a pro bowl in his rookie season would be the one assigned with the task to cover Nicks.
However, McCourty has been atrocious and a nagging shoulder injury presents the question if he's even playing at 100 percent. McCourty even split time last week in the secondary, so it would be doubtful to expect him to shadow Nicks.
The Patriots do have Kyle Arrington, who recorded seven interceptions during the regular season and earned his first career trip to the pro bowl. Yet, Arrington's picks can be attributed to being in the right place at the right time, often being the beneficiary of deflections. His undersized frame and subpar coverage skills are things Nicks could easily take advantage of, but he is the leading candidate to cover Nicks.
On to the next one, we got Victor Cruz, an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Massachusetts. He managed to eclipse the 1,500 yards receiving mark this past season in his rookie year. I'd imagine the Patriots would split time between McCourty and Sterling Moore on the coverage. Moore is coming off a confident performance in last week's AFC championship. Neither McCourty or Moore can be expected to lock down a possession receiver like Cruz who has a knack for finding space and making plays.
Then we come to Mario Manningham, who figures to draw attention from a fellow wide receiver. Julian Edelman was primarily known for his special teams play and being a slot receiver, but this year Belichick tried him at defensive back. On the last drive of the AFC championship game, Joe Flacco abused Edelman's coverage of Anquan Boldin and came up a play short of escaping with the victory.
Why the Ravens didn't throw at Edelman earlier is the real question. Regardless, he figures to be in on nickel and dime packages and will attempt to make plays in coverage, most likely with no real success.
Realistically speaking, if the Patriots have trouble stopping the run or don't get any pressure on Eli Manning, the Giants are going to pick their secondary apart. The Patriots just don't have the talent to stick with the Giants receivers. This has to be the main concern entering the game for the Patriots. Expect soft shells and loose zone coverage, as I'm sure the Patriots will concede the underneath routes to the Giants in hopes of covering up the big play. The game is going to come down to their play inside the red zone, or as Bill Belichick calls it, the "red area."
If both quarterbacks have time to go through their options down the field, this is going to be a track meet. Keep an eye on the Patriots secondary and how they matchup against the Giants receivers and watch how the Patriots isolate their tight ends against the Giants linebackers, for high percentage matchups.
I think Brady will get the time he needs to move the chains and the Patriots defense will get a couple of key stops when needed, therefore I'm predicting a very close 31-27 Patriots victory.