This was certainly not the Super Bowl matchup I predicted to see happen, as you could see with a look at my horribly fated 2012 NFL Playoff Predictions.
That said, there are few better matchups with better storylines than the game that will be played tonight.
Four years ago in Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. The New England Patriots came into that game with an undefeated record, and had they won that Super Bowl, they would likely be considered the greatest team in the history of professional football.
Instead, the Patriots’ remarkable season came to an unremarkable end, as the Giants won the Super Bowl by a score of 17-14. From the massive stature of the upset victory to David Tyree’s tremendous catch that goes down as one of the greatest plays in football history, the Giants changed the face of history with their Super Bowl win.
Now, four years later, the Patriots and Giants meet for a Super Bowl rematch. The Patriots and Giants played during this regular season as well, a matchup in which the Giants were victorious again by a score of 24-20.
That game, played during Week 9 of the NFL season on Nov. 6, is the last game the Patriots lost. The Patriots won their final eight games of the regular season and have continued their roll with a strong playoff run.
Following their big win over the Patriots, things surprisingly began to fall apart for the Giants, who lost their next four consecutive games. However, the Giants have also heated up. They won three of their final four games of the regular season, then won three postseason games that included upset victories over the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, the top two seeds in the NFC.
For the Patriots, it is easy to go into the game with the feeling of deja vu all over again. The Patriots were the top seed of the AFC and had a much stronger regular season than the Giants did, but the Giants came into the game on a roll and found a way to upset the better team.
Four years later, I do not expect the Giants to repeat history; rather, the Patriots will rewrite it.
Four years ago, the Giants figured out the formula to beat the Patriots, and they used that formula to beat them again in the regular season. That said, the Patriots went into Super Bowl XLII as a cocky bunch, a team that not only knew they could beat any team but expected to win every game.
The Patriots will not make that mistake again; they know they have to play at their absolute best to beat the Giants and will be much more prepared this time around.
There may be no two men in the National Football League who care more about victory than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. They have experienced winning a Super Bowl championship together three times, so they know how to win the big game. But, most recently, they have suffered heartbreak, losing that game and their perfect season to the Giants four years ago.
Brady and Belichick are going to do everything in their power to ensure that they do not experience such defeat again.
Four years ago, the Giants used their tremendous pass-rush to take Tom Brady out of his comfort zone and became the first team all season to shut down the most prolific offense over a single season in NFL history. The Giants still may be the best pass-rushing defense in the NFL: Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are still on the team, as they were for the first Super Bowl matchup, but the new star of their defense is Jason Pierre-Paul, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers.
With such a terrific defense, the Giants are going to the Patriots' offense problems again, but the Patriots also now know what they are up against, so expect them to much better prepared. Left tackle Matt Light, who had a horrendous game dealing with Tuck and Michael Strahan in Super Bowl XLII, must play much better in this game.
While Tom Brady, top wide receiver Wes Welker, Light and left guard Logan Mankins remain stars and constants from that offense four years ago, this is a different Patriots offense than the one that played in the first contest. The Patriots no longer have a deep threat as they once did in Randy Moss, but they now have the best tight end in the NFL, Rob Gronkowski, and another versatile tight end in Aaron Hernandez.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game. He is expected to play, but it could really limit his ability in this game. If Gronkowski does not make his typical impact, it should really hurt the Patriots' offense. That said, Tom Brady is an elite quarterback, and will utilize the players he has on offense and take advantage of the opportunities they have.
While Gronkowski’s injury and dealing with the pass-rush is a major concern for the Patriots, the biggest concern for the Patriots is their secondary going up against the Giants' passing offense.
Eli Manning has had the best season of his career, and he has a tremendous trio of playmaking wide receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Cruz and Nicks have been among the NFL's best receivers this season, while Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard have also been reliable targets.
The Patriots' defense was one of the worst during the regular season, ranking 31st in yards allowed, but their defense has played much better during the postseason. Their defensive line, led by Vince Wilfork, has been dominant in the Patriots' two playoff games thus far. The Patriots have had eight sacks in two games, including 2.5 from Wilfork.
The Patriots’ secondary has also played much better in the postseason. They struggled mightily throughout the regular season, but the long-awaited healthy return of Patrick Chung, as well as elevated play by cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore, have made things much more difficult for opposing defenses.
While this game can be broken down in and out, the biggest factor to decide this game between these two terrific teams will be preparation and motivation. The Patriots have experienced a loss to the Giants when no one expected them to lose. Now, with the Giants being the hot pick for this Super Bowl, the Patriots are going to be highly motivated to turn the tables and win a championship.
Additionally, there has been an extra source of in-house motivation for the Patriots organization this year.
Prior to the start of the year, owner Robert Kraft's wife, Myra, passed away due to complications from cancer. Myra was a great inspiration to the Patriots players, and all year long they have been on a mission to win a championship for their owner. A team led by two of the NFL's fiercest competitors in Belichick and Brady needs no extra motivation, but they have that source of motivation this season.
Unlike the first two Super Bowls the Patriots won, I do not expect this game to come down to a Patriots field goal. Although he has been one of the best placekickers in the league in his first six seasons, Stephen Gostkowski still has yet to have to make a big game-winning field goal. Even if the Patriots are in a situation where a field goal can tie or win the game in the fourth quarter, it is unlikely that the Patriots will place the fate of the game on Gostkowski's foot.
If there is one team that holds the blueprint to beat the Patriots, that team is the New York Giants. I expect this game to be a very close contest that could come down to the game's final possession. That said, whether Tom Brady leads the Patriots on a game-winning touchdown drive or the defense keeps Eli Manning and the Giants' offense out of the end zone with a big stop, I expect the Patriots to emerge from this game with a four-point victory.
Prediction: New England 28, New York 24