With four days until Super Bowl XLVI, a lot of attention is focused on the city of Indianapolis. It's rare to have a repeat Super Bowl matchup in as few as five years, especially when the game is between two highly media-profiled NFL teams.
The scenario is much the same as the 2007 season—the New England Patriots (16-0 in 2007, 13-3 in 2011) as the No. 1 AFC seed and favored as Super Bowl winners, and the New York Giants (10-6 in 2007, 9-7 in 2011) barely making the playoffs, triumph as the postseason underdog. But the Giants, like in 2007, are getting hot at just the right time, and already have a win this season against the Patriots: a 24-20 win in Week 9 at New England.
The Patriots are still favored to win the game, but it is near impossible to count the Giants out given the circumstances. Each side of the matchup has a few factors that will practically make or break each team's chance of a Super Bowl win this Sunday.
For a New England Patriots Win, They Need....
Rob Gronkowski to be healthy. It isn't Aaron Hernandez that gets the team pumped up on the field and the fans crazy in the stands, it's Gronkowski. His size, play and touchdown celebration (Gronking) have been a key attribution to the success of the Patriots 2011 season.
Gronkowski had 17 touchdowns in the regular season, which averages to 1.06 touchdowns per game, and he added three more in the postseason. If Gronkowski is limited, or is further injured in Super Bowl play, it could affect the direct outcome of the game. The Giants beat the Patriots by four earlier in the season, and without that Gronkowski TD, that would have been 11.
The Pats also need their running game to actually show up on Sunday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was one of the most unpredictable running backs in the league this year. Not only did Green-Ellis only rush for over 100 yards once all season, but he also had eight games where he rushed for less than 25 yards.
You can understand how the Patriots are in the Super Bowl when looking at their receiving stats, but their 20th-ranked rushing attack is dismal for a Super Bowl team. Stevan Ridley could be mentioned here as well, but it would be pretty much the same discussion as Green-Ellis.
Lastly, the Pats defense will need to be on their A-game Sunday. The Giants rushing output from Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw was lackluster in 2011, but their receiving squad is one of the best in the league (Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Jake Ballard). The Giants will be keeping the Pats defense busy on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep up. The 49ers couldn't.
For a New York Giants Win, They Need....
Victor Cruz to re-emerge into the spotlight and cha-cha in the end zone. Victor Cruz has been very quiet in the postseason, averaging 81.3 yards per game and has yet to score a touchdown.
Cruz won the hearts of Giants fans during the regular season, stepping in for the oft-injured Mario Manningham throughout the 2011 season. Cruz finished third in the NFL and second in the NFC with 1,536 receiving yards and also scored nine touchdowns, but that flare hasn't shown up this postseason.
Cruz had 142 yards in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, so Giants fans have to hope that he can repeat that but do so with a couple of scores.
The Giants defense will also need to put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady. The Pats rush threat is pretty dismal, so most of the Pats' big plays will come directly from a Tom Brady pass.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will need to continue his great play of the 2011 season as will DE Osi Umenyiora in order for the Giants to succeed on Sunday. The threat that these two pose should keep Brady busy as he may have some trouble staying off the ground on Sunday.
Lastly, Eli Manning needs to play like the Eli Manning of 2011 and like the Eli Manning we saw in Super Bowl XLII. Manning has stepped up this year and picked the perfect time to do so being the only Manning brother playing this year in the NFL.
Eli's postseason play this year has been phenomenal, averaging 307.6 yards per game and throwing eight touchdowns to one interception. In fact, those numbers indicate Manning is outperforming Tom Brady, whose stat line reads 301 yards per game and six touchdowns to three interceptions. Manning also accomplished this playing a harder postseason schedule than the Patriots, facing both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on the road.