The New England Patriots and New York Giants square off for the right to be called champion in Super Bowl XLVI. In a game that doesn't lack for intrigue or storylines, who will be the victor?
The stage has been set, and one team will sit atop the NFL mountain tonight. How does the tale of the tape look in our expert breakdown?
When New England Has the Ball
The New York Giants secondary was not good this season when you look at the big picture over the course of the regular season and playoffs. The G-Men were even worse covering elite tight ends.
During the regular season, the Giants lost three key games to the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers and were exposed by great tight end play in each contest.
While Vernon Davis didn't explode statistically, his touchdown was the difference in a close game. Add in Davis' playoff performance in an overtime win by the Giants and you see that this is a defense ill-prepared to cover an athletic tight end.
|49ers||Vernon Davis||3 catches, 40 yards, 1 TD||L 27-20|
|Saints||Jimmy Graham||5 catches, 84 yards, 2 TD||L 49-24|
|Packers||Jermichael Finley||6 catches, 87 yards, 1 TD||L 38-35|
|49ers||Vernon Davis||3 catches, 111 yards, 2 TD||W 20-17 OT|
The Patriots have not one but two elite tight ends. Tom Brady will key on throwing Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez the ball early and often.
The two teamed up for 12 catches, 135 yards and two touchdowns when the Giants surprised the Patriots with a comeback win in Week 9, but the table is set for the play of the two athletic ends to be the difference in this game.
Not only will the tight ends be the biggest contributors in this game, they will open up the defense for Wes Welker to work his magic in the slot. Welker excels at moving around before the snap to expose what the defense has planned.
Brady uses him to flush out blitzes and coverages and then lets Welker find openings in the soft spots of the defense. Find Welker covered by Antrel Rolle, and big yards are guaranteed to be coming.
New York was successful at getting to Tom Brady through the B gaps in the first contest, forcing guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters to give up uncharacteristic sacks.
The focus in the Super Bowl will be to work Jason Pierre-Paul off the edge, drawing the attention of the guards to help on the edge and allowing defensive tackles Chis Canty and Linval Joseph to make plays up the middle.
If Brady has a weakness, it's his ability to slide laterally and remain on target. New York will look to pressure Brady up the middle and force him to move left and right instead of up in the pocket.
Keys to Victory: Tom Brady protected, Rob Gronkowski getting free and Wes Welker moving the chains.
When New York Has the Ball
Eli Manning has had a brilliant season, but even more so when you consider the New York Giants had the NFL's worst pass-blocking unit during the regular season. What's more, Manning played well under pressure, tossing seven touchdowns when under duress.
Manning will rely on a patchwork offensive line to protect him against the brilliant schemes of Bill Belichick's defenses. Expect to see plenty of one-, two-, three- and four-man defensive lines from the Patriots at numerous points in the game as they try to fluster Manning into interceptions.
The New England Patriots can take one lesson away from their Week 9 loss to the Giants, as well as their 2007 Super Bowl loss, and that's to play the man and not the ball.
Too often, in both games, Patriot defenders would leave their man to make a play on the ball, resulting in big catches downfield by David Tyree and Jake Ballard. New England must play disciplined football if it hopes to beat the Giants.
The Giants seemed to get lucky at the right times during the regular season and the playoffs. They will need to execute better today in every aspect of the game if they hope to keep this one close against a team built to win a shootout.
Keys to Victory: Eli Manning's jersey staying clean, Brandon Jacobs picking up tough yards and wide receivers running after the catch.
A close game should be expected, but this contest comes down to more than who executes better. This is a legacy game. If Brady and Belichick can win today, they can tie Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw as the winningest quarterback-coach duo in Super Bowl history and can cement their seats on the all-time great lists.
With the pressure of history on their shoulders, Brady will rise to the challenge and deliver the New England Patriots their fourth Super Bowl win.
Prediction: New England 31, New York 27