Super Bowl XLVI Preview: Comparing Patriots, Giants at Key Positions

Matt OveringContributor IIIJanuary 31, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview: Comparing Patriots, Giants at Key Positions

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    Comparing Super Bowl XLII to Super Bowl XLVI is like comparing your teenage years to adulthood. Some similarities remain, but there are differences in maturity and abilities.

    The same goes for the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Both quarterbacks have matured, but their supporting casts have evolved in the four years after their Super Bowl XLII meeting.

    The Patriots aren't 18-0, nor are they 12.5-point favorites. This time around, New England finished the season with three losses and comes in at a 3.5-point favorite. Bill Belichick and the Patriots have proven they don't need Randy Moss, Tedy Bruschi or Rodney Harrison. Behind Tom Brady's arm, the Patriots have made their fifth Super Bowl appearance in the past decade.

    The New York Giants, on the other hand, have been underdogs the entire season. At the start of the year, trendy NFC Championship picks were the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Some would even throw in the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions or Atlanta Falcons. Who would pick a New York Giants team that hadn't made the playoffs since 2008?

    These Giants defied all odds and snagged the NFC crown despite a 9-7 regular season record, proving that only one thing matters in the playoffs—winning.

    This game is looking like it will be just as close as their matchup in the regular season, a game the Giants won, 24-20, in Foxborough.

    Here's an in-depth look at how each team compares at key positions.

Quarterback

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    When asked by ESPN 1050 if he was in the same class as Tom Brady, Eli Manning replied with a very controversial "yes." Not very many people could make the argument, let alone agree with him that he was in the same class as the three-time Super Bowl champion from New England.

    Now, people can start to make that argument. 

    Manning has proven that he belongs in the conversation of "elite" quarterbacks in the NFL. However, Brady's consistency (New England has made the playoffs every year that Brady has been quarterback since 2002), coupled with his dominance over Manning in every statistical category, shows that Eli can't supplant Brady quite yet.

     

    Advantage: New England

Running Backs

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    New England's backfield has been surprisingly superior to the New York Giants backfield. Anchored by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots averaged 4.0 yards per carry this season compared to the Giants league-worst 3.5 yards per carry. 

    During the regular season, the Patriots averaged more rushing yards per game (110.3 to 89.2), scored more rushing touchdowns (18 to 17) and fumbled the ball less (3 to 6, 0 lost to 1 lost) than the Giants.

    Even in the playoffs, where the Giants have seen a resurgence in their running game, New England has more yards per game (121.0) than their Super Bowl counterpart (117.3). New England has a balanced offensive attack and can win through the air or on the ground.

    New York has relied on their rushing attack in previous seasons. But this season, it is obvious that Eli Manning and their wide receivers have carried the load. 

     

    Advantage: New England

Wide Receivers

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    In case you didn't know already, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have been the best tandem of receivers this postseason. Apologies to Wes Welker, but alone, he pales in comparison to New York's duo.

    Mario Manningham, the "other receiver" for the Giants, has quietly scored three touchdowns this postseason—matching New England's stud tight end, Rob Gronkowski.

    Wes Welker is the only New England wide receiver with more than six catches in the playoffs. Deion Branch has five and Julian Edelman has two. When compared to the 18, 17 and eight catches of Nicks, Cruz and Manningham (respectively), the Patriot wide receivers are outgunned. 

     

    Advantage: New York 

Tight Ends

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    This pick is more obvious than the last. New England's tight ends are head and shoulders ahead of New York's.

    While Rob Gronkowski is officially listed as questionable, Aaron Hernandez alone statistically dominates New York's tight ends.

    With that being said, the Giants tight ends aren't called on to go out and catch a touchdown pass every night. Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe are there to block. Their 11 combined catches this postseason reflect that.

     

    Advantage: New England

Defensive Line

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    New England's offensive line is one of the best in the game and has only given up one sack in their two postseason games. 

    That statistic will be put to the test when New England's offensive line meets New York's front seven, led by Jason Pierre-Paul. They fluster the quarterback as good as any unit in the game, as seen in their Nov. 6 meeting.

    Tom Brady was out of sync the entire game because of the pass-rush, posting a 28-for-49 performance with two interceptions (it was also his worst passer-rating of the year at 75.4).

    New England's defensive line isn't a pushover, either. Through two postseason games, the Patriots have accumulated eight sacks, an impressive mark for a unit that finished a mediocre 14th in sacks during the regular season. 

    Watch the tape, and you'll see why this New York Giants team is dominant at the point of attack. Chris Canty is the unsung hero of this New York squad. He is a force in the middle of the line, stopping runs and creating openings for guys Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck to make plays in the backfield.

     

    Advantage: New York

Secondary

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    The defensive secondary for both of these teams will be tested early and often. Both of these offenses finished in the top five in passing yards for the season—4,734 yards for the Giants (fifth) and 5,084 yards for the Patriots (second).

    Both of these secondaries capitalize on mistakes made by opposing quarterbacks. New England finished the regular season with 23 interceptions, and New York had 20.

    Unfortunately, that didn't deter teams from throwing the ball. New York finished the season ranked 29th in opponent passing yards per game (255.1 yards per game) and New England ranked 31st (293.9 yards per game).

    In their Week 9 meeting, New York managed to intercept Tom Brady twice while the New England defense intercepted Eli Manning once. It should be noted that the Giants were without Prince Amukamara, a solid corner that provides depth behind Aaron Ross and Corey Webster.

    Although it is unclear which secondary will have more success in this Feb. 5 meeting, it is clear that the Giants secondary has been slightly more consistent this year.

     

    Advantage: New York

Summary

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    Super Bowl XLVI will be the first Super Bowl rematch (within 15 years) since the Dallas Cowboys played the Buffalo Bills in back-to-back Super Bowls in 1993 and 1994. These teams play each other every preseason and have played against each other as recently as Nov. 6.

    Tom Brady and Bill Belichick rarely lose to opponents twice in a single season, but this Giants team has shown resiliency unlike any other team this year. Tom Coughlin went from hot seat to hero, and Eli Manning went from "Peyton's little brother" to unquestionably "elite."

    Will Brady and Belichick cement their legacy together as the best coach/quarterback duo of all-time?

    Or will Eli Manning continue his improbable run to stardom?

    Be sure to check out Jeff Grant's recent articles if you are in the betting scene or simply go here for all things related to the Super Bowl.