When Super Bowl XLVI is over, and the winning team has accepted the Lombardi trophy and the MVP award has been announced, the victors will finally work their way back towards the locker room. The head coach will have a few words of wisdom for his team, and then he will announce who is going to be awarded with a game ball for their efforts to help secure the win.
Which name or names will be announced? Will it be just one player, or a couple players, or will one game ball be awarded to the entire team? It could go to somebody as expected like Tom Brady, to somebody that is totally unexpected, like Chad Ochocinco.
It is with that thought in mind that we look ahead to Super Bowl XLVI, and figure out the odds of who is going to receive a game ball this Sunday.
I was asked earlier in the week to power rank the Super Bowl MVP candidates and to establish what their odds are for winning the MVP award. While I consider the MVP award to be reserved for a player that was playing a solid game for the majority of the contest, the game ball award comes at the discretion of the head coach and that can be awarded to a player for a number of different reasons.
The game ball could go to a guy that had a miserable game, but stepped up and made a couple key plays when the game was on the line and changed the momentum of the contest. Maybe it was a guy that was slugging it out in the trenches and nobody noticed the game that he played. Maybe the coach gives the game ball to a player that is feeling underappreciated and needs a little morale boost.
With that being the case, I am going to treat the players featured in these two articles as different groups. The more popular stars, Tom Brady and Eli Manning and all the key offensive players were covered in the article yesterday that I referenced to at the top of the slide. To make sure I don't duplicate my effort, I am going to nominate some different players to allow for the possibility that some players that are under the radar can step up and play a huge role in the Super Bowl.
Based on the results of his first regular season with the New England Patriots, Chad Ochocinco is as unlikely a candidate to receive a game ball from the Super Bowl as any player on either roster. To think that he only came up with 15 catches for the entire season pretty much says it all.
However, it is because of how minor a role that Ochocinco had in the offense that he might be more important in the Super Bowl. Rob Gronkowsi still has not practiced all week, and if he tries to give it a go the day before the Super Bowl, or the day of the game, and he can't play, somebody else will have to step up and take over a portion of the production. Could Ochocinco be that guy?
I suspect that the Giants secondary won't be paying much attention to him if he plays. Stranger things have happened.
Mathias Kiwanuka led the New York Giants during the 2011 season with 12 tackles for a loss. He had 3.5 sacks during the year, to go along with an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In addition to that, he was fourth on the team in tackles.
Kiwanuka is one of those Giants defenders that is hopeful that he will be able to find a way to get to Tom Brady during the game on Sunday. If he can, and can make some big plays happen, he could easily find himself being rewarded with a game ball.
When the New England Patriots lost their best pass-rusher, Andre Carter, to the injured reserve list, somebody had to step up to take his place. The guy that answered the bell was Mark Anderson.
Anderson and Carter wound up being tied for the team lead with 10 sacks each. Everybody is talking about the New York Giants pass rush and how they plan to attack Tom Brady, but nobody is really talking about the Patriots pass rush and getting to Eli Manning. If anybody is capable of doing that, it will be Mark Anderson.
He would have to pick up multiple sacks to get a game ball, or at least be in on some big plays that helps to change the outcome of the game.
Michael Boley is an important cog in the New York Giants defense. He was No. 2 on the Giants in tackles this year with 93. He defended three passes, came up with one sack and was tied for the team lead with three fumble recoveries (tied with Jacquian Williams).
Boley is going to be involved in trying to slow down the Patriots tight ends and to also lend support to stopping the run. If he can come up with a couple key blitzes and help to put some pressure on Tom Brady, that would be another way that he could make a key contribution to the game.
If Super Bowl XLVI winds up being decided by a field goal at the end of the game, then either kicker would be in a prime position to receive the game ball, assuming that they make the kick. Of course, it is not out of the question that some of the Patriots might have wanted to give a game ball to Billy Cundiff.
Stephen Gostkowski appears to be the more accurate of the two kickers playing on Sunday, as he converted on 84.8 percent of his kicks in the regular season, while Lawrence Tynes converted on 79.2 percent of his kicks.
The last thing we would want to see is a kicker miss the winning kick and have that be the final play for his team. Just a terrible way to end the year, been there and done that. No thanks.
There has not been a kicker that has ever won a Super Bowl MVP award before, but we aren't sure if a kicker has ever won a Super Bowl game ball.
If the Giants need Lawrence Tynes to step up and nail a game-winning kick as some Giants kickers have been required to do in the past (Matt Bahr comes to mind from Super Bowl XXV), it may not be the greatest idea. Tynes was only hitting at a 79.2 percent clip in the regular season and that number has now gone down to 75 percent in the playoffs.
Hopefully the Giants ask him to convert a chip shot, but if it is from 40 yards or further, I am thinking that Scott Norwood will finally have some company.
Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington led the Patriots secondary in passes successfully defended in the regular season. McCourty had 12 and Arrington had 13. While I had listed Arrington as a possible candidate for the earlier MVP article, I will list McCourty as a possible candidate for a game ball.
The Giants are running the ball better in the last month than they did all year, but they really prefer throwing the ball all over the field to their trio of talented receivers. If the Patriots are to win, McCourty will have to step up with a big game and either disrupt some passes or come up with an interception. He had two picks in the regular season.
There is no point in trying to make Antrel Rolle to be something more than he isn't. He is not great at coverage, in fact some may say he is the Giants weakest link in coverage. But he has been consistent from the standpoint of finding the ball and finishing off the play.
Rolle led the Giants in tackles in the regular season, and is their leading tackler in the playoffs as well. If he can continue to come up and prevent the Patriots from picking up significant yards after the catch, and limiting their big plays, he might just do enough to warrant a game ball when it is all said and done.
The more you watch the New England Patriots play, the more you realize that Rob Ninkovich is pretty good at what he does. He is fourth in tackles, third on the team in sacks (6.5), leads the team in fumble recoveries and even has two interceptions.
Whenever the Patriots defense needs to come up with a stop, it seems like Ninkovich is at the center of the play. I suspect that he will be needed again on Sunday to come up with another big game, and if he does, a game ball could be presented to him as his reward.
Jake Ballard doesn't get nearly the fan fare of the Patriots dynamic duo of tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but he is somebody that you can't afford to sleep on.
Ballard was third on the Giants team in pass reception yardage with 604, and was actually second on the Giants in average yardage per catch with a 15.9 yards per catch average. That is impressive, as he gained more yards per catch than two wide receivers, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks.
Ballard had some injuries during the season that slowed him up, but he appears to be fine for the Super Bowl. If the Patriots focus most of their secondary on the three wideouts, don't be surprised if Manning finds an open Ballard in the red zone for an easy score.
If you follow the New England Patriots, one thing you learn is that you are never quite sure who is going to wind up being the team's leading rusher for any week. In 2011, it was more of the same. Counting the regular season and the playoffs, here are the running totals of who has led the Patriots in rushing this season:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (seven times), Stevan Ridley (six times), Danny Woodhead (three times), Kevin Faulk (once) and Aaron Hernandez (once). It is such a long list of names, that you are almost surprised that Tom Brady and Chad Ochocinco haven't found a way to get their names in there as well.
Seriously though, Woodhead is capable of making some things happen. He is small enough that he gets buried behind his offensive linemen, and quick enough that when he does make his move, he is able to sprint past defenders that never saw him coming. He is also an effective receiver out of the backfield. If he is neglected by the Giants defenders for any reason, he can do some real damage.
Whenever you sit down to watch all of the myriad of NFL shows leading up to the Super Bowl, you keep seeing sophisticated plays that the New York Giants defensive line executes that enables one of their linemen to find a way to get to the quarterback.
To be able to generate that kind of consistent pass rush without needing to do any additional blitzing is huge. It allows your back seven to fill up more passing lanes, read the quarterback and try to make a play downfield. It also means that the quarterback doesn't have the luxury of going to his third or fourth read, and that allows for a chance to make a play on the ball.
Justin Tuck is one of those Giants linemen that benefits from the stunts and line games that the Giants run. He is able to get free by running an inside stunt and if he can sack Brady or even better, get a sack and strip him of the ball, that is just a huge play. A game ball could be there for Tuck at the end of the game.
Is there anything neater than watching a big guy like Vince Wilfork intercept a pass and then attempt to sprint down the field, using his moves in the open field and trying to throw a straight arm to break a tackle or two?
Wilfork has done a little bit of everything for the Patriots this year. He has registered 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, five tackles for a loss and defended against three passes. If the Giants have difficulty running the ball up the middle, it will be because of Wilfork.
If I was Coach Belichick, Wilfork would be the kind of player I would like to acknowledge with a game ball for the work he does in the trenches every week.
One final New York Giants defender I want to address, and that is Kenny Phillips. If the Giants are to win Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants secondary will have to come up big against Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That is where Kenny Phillips comes in.
Phillips contributed across the board for the Giants in the regular season. He was fifth on the team in tackles with 82, was third in passes defended with 11, tied for second on the team with four interceptions and forced one fumble.
Phillips will need to come up big against Tom Brady and his stable of weapons. I like to watch Webster play and there is something about his game that has me thinking he could very well be getting a game ball if the Giants win.
From wide receiver, to being used as a return man in special teams, to playing in the secondary on special teams, Julian Edelman is in all likelihood the player that is required to be on the field more than any other Patriots player. If he has a good game in two of his three roles, that might be sufficient to lead the Patriots to victory. If he has a bad game in two of his three roles, that might be enough to send the Patriots to a defeat.
There is no doubt that Coach Belichick places a high level of trust in Edelman, but he believes that he can handle it, because this has been going on for many weeks now. Not just a passing fancy. After the Super Bowl has finished, the Patriots will figure out if they want to continue to employ Edelman across the board like they have been doing, or if it would be better for everyone to have him focus on one thing and do that one thing to the best of his abilities.
It would not surprise me at all if Edelman is handed a game ball should the Patriots come out on top.