Who is going to be the MVP of Super Bowl XLVI? That is the million-dollar question we want to address today.
While the usual rule of thumb is that the MVP comes from the winning team, it doesn't necessarily have to be the case. The MVP can easily come from the usual group of suspects, but it can also come from an unlikely source, which has happened in the past.
We will take a look at a total of 17 players that we think have a realistic shot at winning the MVP and power-rank them accordingly. On the next slide, we break down the MVP award by position, and look at some of the more unique MVP award winners in Super Bowl history.
On to the presentation where we power-rank the MVP odds for the top New York Giants and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
In case you were wondering who are the previous winners of the Super Bowl MVP awards, here is a link that will provide you with an updated list.
Here are some facts about Super Bowl winners you might not be aware of.
Chuck Howley of the Dallas Cowboys was the MVP of Super Bowl V, even though he was on the losing team. Howley is the only player that won the MVP though his team lost the game.
Harvey Martin and Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys were co-MVPs of Super Bowl XII, the only time the award was shared by two players.
The MVP award has gone to the winning quarterback a total of 24 times, which is by far the most times that the award has gone to any position player.
The MVP award has gone to a wide receiver six times, a running back seven times, a defensive player on the winning team six times and to a special teams player once (Desmond Howard), assuming we can call Howard a special teams player due to his return skills.
Osi Umenyiora has experienced a strange year. He was unhappy with his lack of a re-negotiated contract from the New York Giants, and the Giants put him on the trade market but nobody was willing to come up with the asking price of a first-round draft pick.
Umenyiora battled some injuries and then finally got healthy in the final portion of the season. When the dust had settled, Umenyiora was second on the Giants with nine sacks, finishing second to sensation Jason Pierre-Paul.
When the playoffs began, Umenyiora stepped up his play, and he leads the Giants in the post-season with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
According to the NYDailyNews.com, it appears that the Giants are willing to put Umenyiora back on the trade market again when we reach 2012 free agency, so this game could very well be an audition for the rest of the NFL. If Umenyiora winds up having a good game, that would mean that Brady is hit, harassed and sacked.
All of those things would increase the Giants' chances to win.
For the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, their secondary will have to do a good job of trying to contain the New York Giants pass receiving quartet of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard.
Of the many members that have been tried in the secondary this season, the Patriots player that has stood out is Kyle Arrington, who is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this season with seven. When these teams met in the regular season, Arrington was able to snag an interception off of Eli Manning.
If Arrington can come up with a couple interceptions, he stands a good chance to come up with some MVP votes.
Jason Pierre-Paul finished the regular season with 16.5 sacks, which allowed him to be No. 4 in that category in the league. When the Giants defeated the Patriots in the regular season, the Giants picked up two sacks on Tom Brady, and Pierre-Paul had one of those two.
It is imperative that the Giants force Brady to scramble around and make him move before he has the chance to get set, survey the field and then find his open target. The more that they can harass Brady and get him to take some hits, the better the odds are that they can force him into some key mistakes.
If there is any New York Giants defensive lineman that is in position to make a difference in this game, and disrupt the Patriots' offense, it will have to be Jason Pierre-Paul. If the Patriots are able to contain him, it could be a very long day for the Giants' secondary.
Jerod Mayo has turned in a solid season for the New England Patriots. In the regular season, he led the Patriots in tackles. In the playoffs, more of the same, as Mayo is once again leading the team in tackles.
Not only was Mayo solid in run support, but he came up with two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack during the season. If any linebacker winds up making any key plays that can turn the momentum of the game around, my educated guess is that it would be Jerod Mayo.
While Kyle Arrington of the Patriots is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with seven, it is Cory Webster of the Giants that is right behind him, with six interceptions, tied for No. 2 in the NFL.
Webster has been a very solid performer this year for the Giants and he will have to come up big to try to slow down Wes Welker and the Patriots' talented tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Antrel Rolle should be more involved in making tackles while Webster is the guy that should be involved in contesting passes and trying to come up with interceptions.
Brandon Jacobs has turned in an uneven 2011 season. Some games he is great, some games he is banged up and has a hard time getting loose. When the Patriots played the Giants in the regular season, Jacobs turned in one of his better games of the season.
He rushed the ball 10 times against New England for 72 yards and he scored on a 10-yard rush. That is a great average. He also caught four passes for 28 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw wasn't involved in that game, so naturally Jacobs assumed the workload out of the backfield, but he proved that he can be effective against the Patriots.
How will that translate to the Super Bowl game? The Giants' running game seems to be performing at a higher level since the playoffs started, but the Giants clearly prefer to move the ball through the air than on the ground.
Deion Branch knows something about the topic of Super Bowl MVPs, since he has already won the award playing for New England, as the was the Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XXXIX.
While Branch was the target of 90 Tom Brady passes during the regular season, the reality is that he is only the No. 4 option. To give you a better idea, Wes Welker had 172 targets this year.
We realize that Branch is capable of stepping up in one game to be the MVP, because he has already done that. But when these teams met in the regular season, Branch caught just two of the five passes thrown his way for only 21 yards, which seems to be in line what we figure he will do in the Super Bowl.
Mario Manningham has been coming up with clutch touchdown catches in the Giants' playoff run, so we are fully aware that Manningham is a player that warrants consideration.
In fact, when the Giants played the Patriots in the regular season, Manningham was the only Giants wide receiver that caught a touchdown pass in that game.
While he doesn't usually rack up huge yards on receptions, he is somebody that you can't sleep on, especially around the red zone.
The New England Patriots rely heavily on their passing offense, and when Tom Brady sees the defense over-commit to stopping the passing game, he will check out and give the ball to a willing BenJarvus Green-Ellis, to take advantage of the opportunity.
When the Giants played the Patriots in the regular season, Green-Ellis rushed the ball 12 times for 52 and caught one pass for 11 yards. He is the type of player you have to watch, because the minute you forget about him, he is running past you en route to a big gain.
Green-Ellis did manage to break off an 18-yard run against the Giants, so you can be sure that the Patriots will likely look to revisit that play.
When the Giants defeated the Patriots in the 2011 regular season, Ahmad Bradshaw didn't play in the contest because he was injured. Bradshaw seems to be running better since he returned and has been the Giants' leading rusher in five of their past six games.
When these met back in Super Bowl XLII, Bradshaw was the leading rusher in the game, picking up 45 yards on nine rushes. The average of five yards per rush would be something that the Giants would be delighted with, if he can repeat that average.
Bradshaw may not be performing at 100 percent, due to his nagging injuries, but he will get enough touches that he could have an impact on the game.
Aaron Hernandez has seen his role and duties expand under Bill Belichick in his sophomore campaign. Hernandez was the Patriots' leading receiver in two of the final three regular season games, and then he pulled off a rather improbable accomplishment of being the Patriots' leading rusher in their first playoff game against the Denver Broncos.
The versatility that Hernandez brings to the game makes him something of a Wild Card. If there is any one specific player that Coach Belichick is able to do something unexpected with, it is either Hernandez or Julian Edelman. Hernandez has proved to be difficult to defend against the pass, and he is proving to be difficult to tackle in the open field.
When these teams met in the regular season, Hernandez caught a touchdown pass. Depending on how healthy or limited the high ankle sprain will leave Rob Gronkowski, it is not out of the question that the two main targets for Tom Brady would be Wes Welker and Hernandez. If Hernandez winds up with 10 or more targets, and gets to run the ball as a running back, he could easily wind up as the Super Bowl MVP.
If Hernandez were to win the MVP award, he would become the first tight end in Super Bowl history to win the award.
When the New York Giants faced the New England Patriots in the regular season this year, Hakeem Nicks sat out that contest due to injury. As such, the Patriots secondary haven't gone up against him to have a true read or sense of how he will react to what they want to do defensively. Yes, the teams played in the preseason, but I place very little stock in the preseason game from earlier this year.
As much trouble as the Patriots have encountered in their secondary in 2011, Nicks looks to have a big game on Sunday. He is the tallest of the Giants' three main receivers. He has a big pair of hands and will look to continue his momentum that started in December, when he turned in two consecutive games where he led the Giants in receiving (163 yards versus Dallas and 73 yards vs Dallas).
Then, Hicks led the Giants in receiving in their first two playoff games (115 yards against Atlanta and 165 yards versus Green Bay). Manning has good chemistry right now in throwing the ball to Nicks, and it would not surprise me at all if he comes up with a big game on Sunday.
Due to the unknown factor of exactly how healthy will Rob Gronkowski be on Sunday, it is difficult to forecast how effective he will be in the game. If we knew for sure that Gronkowski was closer to 100 percent, I would have ranked him higher in this list. Without knowing for sure, I feel obligated to move him down slightly, with the thought that we don't even know if he will make it past halftime.
If Gronkowski aggravates the injury and is unable to continue, I see the Giants doubling up on Welker and Hernandez and will make the Patriots run the ball if they want to beat the Giants. But that is based on Gronkowski getting hurt again.
If Gronkowski comes in at 75 or 80 percent, and somehow manages to not get the injury aggravated for the entire game, then the Giants' secondary will probably be in for a long day, because it is almost impossible to contain all three threats (Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker) for a full 60 minutes.
Just to put things in perspective, in the regular season game against the Giants, Gronkowski caught eight passes for 101 yards and a 14-yard touchdown. His ability to play anywhere near top form could very well determine how this game will play out.
How vital is Victor Cruz to the New York Giants offense?
In the 2011 season, Cruz led the Giants in the following areas: average yards per catch (18.7), receptions (82), pass reception yardage (1,536), yards after catch (595), average yards per game (96), touchdown catches (nine), catches of 20 plus yards (25) and first down receptions (59). Consider all of that and Cruz wasn't even the most targeted Giants receiver, as that distinction went to Hakeem Nicks.
When the Giants' backs were to the wall, Cruz stepped up. In the final two regular season games when the Giants had to win or would be eliminated from the playoffs, Cruz led the team with 164 yards in receptions against the New York Jets and then 178 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.
In the NFC Championship game, Cruz led the Giants again, coming up with 142 yards in receptions against the San Francisco 49ers.
In case you were wondering about the regular season game, it was Cruz again that stepped up and led the Giants receivers with 91 yards. He seems to be going against a favorable secondary opponent in the Patriots, so if Cruz failed to hit 100 yards in receptions, I would consider that to be an upset.
Wes Welker has been the favorite target of Tom Brady, from the 2008 season to present. In fact, he was the favorite target of Matt Cassel as well, and that is when Randy Moss was in New England as well. As much as Brady likes to throw the ball to Rob Gronkowski, he still throws it to Welker more.
In 2011, Welker led the Patriots in the following areas: receptions (122), targets (172), receptions yards (1,569), average reception yards per game (98.1), first down catches (77) and yards after the catch (732).
In addition, Welker had 21 catches of 20 yards or longer and led the Patriots in receiving in seven-regular season games, which also led the Patriots this year. Welker turned in the only 200-yard receiving game on the Patriots this year, showing that he is capable of exploding.
Against the Giants in the regular season, Welker caught nine of the 10 passes that were thrown his way, and led the team with 136 yards in receptions. If you knew you were able to successfully get the ball to your favorite target 90 percent of the time, how often would you continue to throw to him?
I expect Welker to have a huge game. It also could be the final game Welker plays in a Patriots uniform, which offers up a little more added incentive for him to have a big game and realize a big payday in 2012.
Eli Manning has made the jump up to the next level in 2011, joining the elite level of quarterbacks in the NFL. If there was ever any doubt that Eli Manning belonged in the upper class of NFL quarterbacks, he has an opportunity to remove all doubt this coming Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI.
From his huge plays down the stretch in Super Bowl XLII against these same New England Patriots, Manning has the national stage front and center to demonstrate how good he is in a high-pressure situation. He has a talented trio of wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. His running back tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs is healthy and the Giants should run the ball enough to keep the Patriots' defensive line honest.
But the key to this game will be how well can the Patriots secondary can contain the Giants' receivers. If the Patriots allowed Joe Flacco to throw for over 300 yards (306 to be exact) than it is not out of the question for Manning to hit the 350-400 yard plateau, unless they have a bigger early lead, which would then encourage them to run the ball more and try to kill the clock, something that the Giants have done successfully in prior Super Bowls.
As we detailed earlier in the presentation, 24 of the earlier 45 Super Bowls have seen the MVP award go to the winning quarterback. When you have two great quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Eli Manning, and line them up against defenses that have been challenged for most of the year, it would be considered a major upset if the quarterbacks didn't have a banner day on Sunday, and walk away as the MVP.
While I believe that the Giants have a better chance to rush Brady with enough pressure to get him to move his feet and scramble in the pocket, the big unknown coming in to the game is the availability of Rob Gronkowski. If Gronkowski plays close to normal, the Giants' secondary will be frustrated by the Patriots' options in the passing game. The Patriots may have to shorten up their patterns if the pass rush is working, but that will be part of the in-game necessary adjustments.
Brady earns my number one spot based on his experience level. This is now his fifth Super Bowl and he will be shooting for his third MVP award and fourth Super Bowl ring. I think he is poised and ready to have a great game, in that he doesn't know how many other chances he will have in whatever is left of his career. He spends more time talking about that aspect of the reality of appearing in Super Bowls, so there may be a greater sense of urgency about him on Sunday.
While it is possible and conceivable for a minor player to walk away with the MVP award, the odds certainly seem to favor Eli Manning and Tom Brady to have the greatest chance to win it. I'm looking forward to watching and see how this all plays out.