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Super Bowl XLVI Final Prediction: Keys to Victory, Preview, and Pick

Michael NargiSenior Analyst IFebruary 4, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Final Prediction: Keys to Victory, Preview, and Pick

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    After two weeks of preparation, it is finally time to declare the champion of the NFL.

    The New York Giants and New England Patriots have played stellar football lately and both enter Super Bowl XLVI on a roll.

    When the teams enter Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, their goal will be to walk off the field in a shower of confetti, wearing Super Bowl champion hats, and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

    This year's Super Bowl might be one of the most anticipated of all time.

    There has not been a lack of story lines coming into this one.

    Tom Brady and the Patriots come into this game looking for revenge after losing to the Giants four years ago in Super Bowl XLII.

    Eli Manning and the Giants are looking to win their second Super Bowl in four years.

    Let's analyze this rematch of one of the best  Super Bowls of all time.

How They Got to Indianapolis

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    Championship Sunday lived up to its expectations. We could not have asked for more thrilling games.

    The Patriots held their breath as Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. The Patriots were able to hold on to a 23-20 lead against the Baltimore Ravens

    The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers in an overtime thriller, 20-17.

    New York benefited from muffed punt returns and took advantage of the opportunities it was given. The Giants played the cleaner, crisper football and were rewarded with a trip to Indianapolis.

    New York has won five must-win games in a row in a streak that started on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets.

    New England has won 10 games in a row and has not lost in nearly three months.

    Something has to give in Super Bowl XLVI.

Eli Manning's Role in the Pursuit of Another Super Bowl Victory

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    If Eli Manning wants to win his second Super Bowl ring, he will have to be the Eli Manning who has shown up in Giants wins.

    In New York's 12 wins this season, he has thrown 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Those staggering numbers include eight touchdowns and one interception in the playoffs.

    In New York's seven losses, Manning threw 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. It would be unfair to say Manning is the sole reason they lost games, but he certainly did not have good numbers in the Giants' losses.

    Most importantly, Manning has the ability to rally a team when it is trailing.

    In Super Bowl XLII, he led a stunning drive that resulted in a game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining.

    Earlier this season, he started a drive that started with 1:36 remaining  and finished it with a touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds remaining.

    This game might be decided by the team that last has possession of the ball.

    If he avoids interceptions by scanning the field for his second and third options, Manning will be able to pick apart the flawed New England defense.

Tom Brady's Role in the Patriots Attempt at Redemption in Super Bowl XLVI

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    Tom Brady finished the regular season with 5,235 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He added six more touchdown throws in his first playoff game this season.

    Brady was off his game against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game, throwing two interceptions. That kind of performance will not cut it on Sunday.

    Brady has the ability to pick apart defenses, and the Giants are going to have to do their best to avoid being his victims.

    Brady has special motivation for this game. He is pursuing his fourth Super Bowl ring and first since losing to the Giants four years ago. And it is hard to imagine him having a game similar to last week's against New York in the Super Bowl.

    He is going to have find his receivers quickly. It is important that the Giants do not get to him before he can make smart, clean throws. 

    Brady will have to recognize the coverage quickly and evaluate his available options.

    Brady has to utilize the two big tight ends and also include Wes Welker. The Giants will focus a lot of their defense on Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, leaving Welker to weave in and out of the defense.

What the New York Giants Must Do on Offense to Win the Super Bowl

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    The Giants and Patriots each have three lethal weapons for their quarterback.

    The Giants have the trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victory Cruz and Mario Manningham.

    Victor Cruz had 1,536 receiving yards in the regular season and had 10 receptions for 142 yards in the NFC Championship game victory over the 49ers.

    Nicks has been a key contributor in the postseason as well, with 335 yards and four touchdowns in three games. In the regular season, Nicks had 76 receptions for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Manningham also has been electrifying in the playoffs, scoring a touchdown in each game.

    The three wide receivers will need to match the production of the big three on the New England side of the ball. 

    Both team's backfields will be used sparingly, at least when it comes to running the ball. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will be more productive in the passing game than they will be in the running department.

    New York leads the league in big plays this season. In the regular season, the Giants had 67 plays of 20-or-more yards and a league-leading 18 plays of 40-or-more yards.

What the New England Patriots Must Do on Offense to Win the Super Bowl

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    The most dynamic part of the Patriots offense is their duo of tight ends.

    Rob Gronkowski, who is nursing a high ankle sprain, has accounted for 1,559 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns this season.

    Aaron Hernandez has 1,031 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this year. He also has rushed for 70 yards this postseason.

    When the Patriots lost to the Giants earlier in the season, Gronkowski had eight receptions for 101 yards. Hernandez added four catches for 35 yards. Both had touchdowns as well.

    While Hernandez did not put up huge numbers, having him as an option allowed Wes Welker to grab nine catches for 136 yards. The Giants know it is impossible to shut out all three.  At least two of the three should have great games once again.

    The key will be getting enough production from all of them to win the game.

    The Patriots will likely not have a running back approach 100 yards rushing. But  just like the Giants, they will use them in the passing game. 

    New England's offense depends on Brady's right arm.

What the New York Giants Must Do on Defense to Win the Super Bowl

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    The New York Giants will look to break down the Patriots offensive line and get to Tom Brady.

    The Giants have a couple different looks on the defensive line. 

    The defensive line combination of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka has played 74 snaps in the regular season.

    The highest number of snaps they played together in one game this season? The 26 that came against the Patriots in the Giants' 24-20 win.

    The Giants as a whole had 46 sacks this season, good for fifth in the NFL.

    Along with the sacks, the Giants are sixth in the league with 20 interceptions.

    New England, which led the league in points per game with 32.1 had difficulties against the Giants defense.

    The Patriots will likely rely on the passing game in this matchup.  But if the Giants are able to get to Brady and rattle him, mistakes might be made. 

    It is going to be important for the Giants to attack on defense and take advantage of any opportunity they have to create a turnover.

    The more times they hit Brady, the more likely the Giants win this game.

What the New England Patriots Must Do on Defense to Win the Super Bowl

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    Although the Patriots are second in the league in yards allowed per game, they are opportunistic. New England's defense is second in the league with 23 interceptions.

    Eli Manning leaves the ball in the middle of the field at times and the Patriots certainly have the ability to take advantage of it.

    The Patriots defense gives up a lot of yards, but they do not allow many points. In 18 games this season, they have allowed 25 or more points only twice.

    The Giants offense is so explosive that it will be a huge task for the Patriots to not allow the big play. 

    During the regular season, the Patriots ranked last in allowing plays of 20 or more yards.  They allowed 79 such plays, and nine of 40 yards or more yards. 

    This kind of lackadaisical defense is not going to get it done against the Giants. This is one of the most crucial matchup problems facing the Patriots.

    If they control the number of big plays that they allow, it will be feasible for them to control the Giants' stellar offense. 

    Leading the way for the New England defense is Vince Wilfork, has been playing at another level. He has 2.5 sacks in two games in the playoffs.

Importance of Winning the Turnover Battle

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    In Super Bowl XLII in 2008, the Patriots and Giants each committed one turnover. The final score was 17-14. It is fair to say that a turnover for either team could have proved costly.

    In the NFC Championship game, turnovers decided the Super Bowl representative.

    A bounce one way or the other could have resulted in a different outcome. Eli Manning was almost intercepted numerous times. Who knows what would have happened if the 49ers defense had been able to pull in one of the passes that deflected off their hands.

    And if Ahmad Bradshaw had not been  the beneficiary of a controversial quick whistle, the New York Giants might not be in Indianapolis today.

    In the AFC Championship, the New England Patriots lost the turnover battle, 3-1. The Patriots allowed the Ravens to keep the game close and almost lost a trip to the Super Bowl because of turnovers. The Ravens kicked a field goal after a Danny Woodhead fumble. 

    The game would have gone to overtime if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Baltimore at the end of the fourth quarter.

    When a game is that close, a fumble could lose the game.

    Footballoutsiders.com estimates a turnover in an NFL game contributes to four points on average.

    If we use that math, another New York turnover and the Giants would have lost to the Patriots in 2008.

Super Bowl XLVI Pick

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    This game will come down to which quarterback has the ball last. It will be close, but in the end, Eli Manning and the Giants come out victorious again. 

    If New York has the ball last and the Giants are winning, Manning will be able to ice it and convert a few times to keep the clock running. 

    If the Giants are trailing, there is no reason to think  Manning won't lead the Giants to victory again.

    Final Score: 27-24, New York Giants.

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