Thursday, February 2, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview

It is almost here. The day every football fan waits for. A day where even non-football fans sit down and enjoy the game of football.

Super Bowl 46 is this Sunday, and it is a match-up that at least NBC, and I'm sure the NFL is happy about. The New York Giants and New England Patriots go at it this Sunday in Indianapolis, with the winner being Champions of the NFL. Why does NBC, the NFL and the advertisers love this match-up? It's simple: New York vs Boston, two of the biggest markets in the USA.

I have a lot of friends that aren't particularly happy with this match-up. They didn't want the rematch. They wanted something new. As a Buffalo Bills fan, I naturally dislike the Patriots. But that won't affect my decision making process when it comes to my pick. This should be a very fun game to watch. The Giants are rolling and have played the best football in the NFL in the last month and a half. They are fully healthy and are finally playing as a complete team. The Patriots, meanwhile, haven't lost since losing to the Giants in Week 9 in early November. Tom Brady has quietly had a very good season. While people have been talking about Brees and Rodgers, Brady has been putting up very good numbers as well. And the Patriots defense is finally playing well too.

So how will this Preview work? Instead of my normal type of breakdown or three questions, I will do a position by position breakdown of both teams.

Eli Manning has made the gap between Tom Brady and himself very smaller in recent months. Eli is now the QB of New York, not pretty boy Mark Sanchez. Eli has thrown 8 touchdowns this post-season and finished the regular season with a total of 29. Eli also has a passer rating of 103.1 this post-season. You could make the argument that Eli has put himself into the discussion of being in the Elite group of QBs in the NFL. When you talk about a QB you want leading your team on a late drive in the 4th quarter, why not talk about Eli. He has a ton of late 4th quarter TD drives on his resume, including one against the Patriots in their previous Super Bowl match-up.

Oh, and there is that other guy under center, Tom Brady. You don't think all of the attention Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tim Tebow got this year bothered Tom Brady? Brady quietly again had one of his better seasons this year. He threw for 39 TDs and only had two games in the regular season when he didn't throw for at least two touchdowns. Brady has also been helped by the emergence of his young tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Brady always brings his A game in the post-season, and just like Eli will not fold under pressure.

As I said earlier, Eli has definitely closed the gap between himself and Brady this year. Eli isn't on the level of Brees, Rodgers or Brady, but you could make an argument that he is right behind those three at the #4 position. If Eli is able to pull out a win here, then he might be included in that group. Some people would say it would make him better than his brother Peyton. That's a debate for another time. But in this game, you have to give the slight edge to Brady because he still has 3 rings and constantly performed great the entire year while Eli has just emerged in the last month and a half.

ADVANTAGE: New England

Running Backs
These two teams had very below average running games this year. The Giants ranked dead last in rushing offense, but they 6th in the league with 17 rushing touchdowns. The running game struggled early on. Ahmad Bradshaw dealt with a foot injury and missed some time. Brandon Jacobs struggled early in the season and didn't come alive until Bradshaw went down with an injury. Once both were healthy, they made a very formidable pairing in the backfield. Neither runner will blow you away with their speed, but they are tough to tackle. Jacobs has the ability to knock down would be tacklers when he is running at full force. Bradshaw is a very smart and heady runner and can find a hole when it opens up. The Giants went from averaging 3.5 yards per carry in the regular season to 4.2 in the post-season. This is definitely an improved running attack.

The Patriots only ranked 20th in rushing offense in the regular season, but again finished tied for 3rd in the league with 18 rushing touchdowns. The Patriots main rusher is Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, who had 11 TDs in the regular season. The Patriots also used Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead at times in the backfield. But who could be the key to the Pats running attack here? Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez has been used quite a bit in the backfield this post-season, and he has broken off a couple of nice runs in the process. He has run the ball 8 times for 70 yards in the past two games. Hernandez is a big body and tough to bring down, unlike the Patriots other backs.

While Hernandez has been key to the Pats running game this year, I still give the edge to the Giants here. Bradshaw and Jacobs are two very good running backs, and Jacobs is very tough to bring down. Bradshaw has experience and knows how to find holes while running. I like the Giants running attack and it will be tough for the Patriots defense to stop both of them.


Wide Receivers
The Giants three-headed monster at wide receiver is very tough to stop. Hakeem Nicks, Victory Cruz and Mario Manningham are all very tough to stop. Cruz has emerged as Manning's go to guy across the middle of the field. Nicks is a big play threat as is Manningham. Eli can call on any of them at any time to make a play for him. And while the Patriots defense has improved, they haven't faced a triple threat combo at WR like this all season. The Pats were burned by the Ravens on a couple big plays last week, so look out for Nicks early on if the Giants want  to get an early lead.

The Patriots WRs have been quieted a bit this post-season. Wes Welker has normally been Brady's go to guy throughout his tenure in New England, but that hasn't been the case this year. He's been leaning on his TEs more and more. No one else really stands out for the Pats. Chad Ochocinco has been non-existent, while Deion Branch is barely noticeable on the field. There's no question the Giants have the edge here.


Tight Ends
Again this is a category where there isn't much debate. The Giants have Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum, but they aren't exactly known for their receiving skills and are more blockers than anything else. The Patriots, meanwhile, boast two of the best tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They are very tough to cover one-on-one. Hernandez has turned into a duel threat and has been used as a running back as well. Gronkowski is dealing with a high ankle sprain, but he is playing. There is nothing around that. The Giants shut down Vernon Davis in the second half last week, but they will be hard pressed to shut down both Gronkowski and Hernandez the whole game. Patriots get the edge here.

ADVANTAGE: New England

Offensive Line
The Giants offensive line has been a weak point all year for them. They lost their starting LT William Beatty. They've done a lot of shuffling with that unit. Center David Baas is still trying to get up to speed with everything. Even offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride admitted that the line is still a work in progress this week. While the Giants offense only gave up 28 sacks this year, Eli was still the one of the most rushed and hurried QBs in the league.

The Patriots offensive line has played well this year. Part of it is a by product of having Tom Brady at QB. Matt Light has been solid at LT and Brian Waters has been a good addition at RG. Nate Solder is also playing well at RT. They have done a good job of keeping Tom Brady upright. They could still use some work with opening holes for the running game, but the Patriots like as a whole is a much better unit than the Giants.

ADVANTAGE: New England

Defensive Line
New England's defensive line is playing much better recently. Vince Wilfork is penetrating offensive lines almost at will and looks like the dominant force he was a few years ago. The Patriots have been lining up in a lot of 4-3 looks this year, and Mark Anderson has been a nice veteran addition in free agency. Anderson has proven to be a good pick-up with 10 sacks this year. It is another case of Bill Bellicheck getting the most out of his players.

Now while the Patriots defensive line has improved, it still doesn't come close to the Giants defensive line, which may be the best in the NFL. Jason Pierre-Paul is the best young pass rusher in the league. He had 16.5 sacks this year and is bound to continue improving. Osi Umenyiora is finally healthy and adds another threatening pass rush off the edge. With two dominant pass rushers coming off the edge, it leaves room for the likes of Chris Canty and Justin Tuck to take advantage of one-on-one match-ups. Expect the Giants defensive line to cause problems for Tom Brady. They have the edge here.


Whether they use their 3-4 or 4-3 front, the Patriots best linebacker is Jerrod Mayo. While Mayo's stats aren't the most outstanding stats in the world, he is still the leader of the defense and is arguably the Patriots best tackler. The Patriots missed Mayo when he went down with an injury mid-season. Rob Ninkovich has improved his play over the last month of the season and has been the Patriots best rush linebacker. Brandon Spikes is also a good tackler and mans the middle of the Patriots 4-3 look.

Linebacker was one of the Giants biggest issues this season. And it wasn't because of poor play, it was because of constant injuries. Chase Blackburn was signed late in the season and now mans the Middle Linebacker spot for the Giants. Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka are the outside linebackers in the Giants 4-3 look. They don't get to the QB that often but are solid tacklers in their own right. There main task in the Super Bowl will more than likely be to find ways to shut down Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. I'm sure they will have safety help, but shutting down those two will be their first priority. These two teams are evenly matched here, but I like the Patriots linebackers just a tad bit better.

ADVANTAGE: New England

The secondary has been the biggest weakness for the Patriots defense this year. Patrick Chung is the leader in the secondary at Free Safety and is capable of making some big hits. Strong Safety James Ihedigbo has been a problem though, as have cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. The cornerbacks have been getting beat one-on-one on a regular basis this year and are capable of getting burned deep in those match-ups. Torrey Smith had his way with the Patriots secondary, as did Lee Evans. Evans was barely used all year and the Patriots still let him get open. The Giants three-headed monster at WR will cause major problems for this secondary group.

The Giants don't have the strongest secondary either, but they are helped out by their great pass rush. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster are decent cover corners, but they are capable of getting beat deep as well. The Giants safeties, Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle, are good tacklers and they will have a huge responsibility in this game with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Giants were burned by Vernon Davis early in the NFC Championship but shut him down in the second half and overtime. It was a big reason why the 49ers struggled on offense late in the game. Well now they have to shut down two big TE threats. That means Webster and Ross will have a lot of one-on-one coverage on the outside. They may struggle with Welker, but no one else is a real threat on the Patriots. The Giants get the edge here. The Pats, while improved, still had the 32nd ranked pass defense in the NFL this year.


Both of these teams have two of the better kickers in the league. Lawrence Tynes has kicked the game winning field goal that sent the Giants to their last to Super Bowls. He isn't afraid of the spotlight. Stephen Gostowski has been very consistent this year and in his entire career. Both teams also have two really reliable punters, Steve Weatherford (Giants) and Zoltan Mesko (Patriots) can pin teams deep. I would say these two teams are even here.


I expect this game to be a close one, just like their previous Super Bowl match-up and Week 9 match-up. If the Patriots are going to win, their defensive front seven needs to make an impact. The Giants offensive line is vulnerable and if the Patriots can get to Eli Manning before he can find an open option then that will cause problems for the Giants. The Patriots secondary won't be able to shut down the Giants trio of WRs, so their pass rush must get to Eli. On offense we know what Tom Brady can do. But can he win the game with his arm alone? You know the Giants will look to shut down Gronkowski and Hernandez, but can anyone else other than Wes Welker step up for the Patriots? Look for the Patriots to try and use their run game a bit more like they did against Baltimore. Their TD drive in the 3rd quarter was primarily a result of a strong running attack.

If the Giants are going to win, they need to get to Tom Brady. Brady struggled against the Ravens because they got in his face and forced bad passes. The Giants pass rush needs to do that. The defense also needs to shut down Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Even if Gronkowski isn't 100%, he is still a big target, especially in the red zone. The Giants will need to be willing to leave their cornerbacks in single coverage in order to shut down the Patriots duel threats at tight end. On offense, the Giants should try to establish their run game early. I expect the Patriots to drop a couple extra men into coverage, which will leave the front of the Patriots defense vulnerable to the run. Eli can find his open targets if he has time, but establishing the run and then throwing in some play action will help Eli even more.

This should be a close match-up. If it is a blowout either way I will be shocked. You know the Patriots still feel the sting of that last Super Bowl loss. And you know the Giants want to say they beat New England in two different Super Bowls. When it is all set and done, I think the Giants defense will be the difference in this game. The pass rush will get to Tom Brady and force him into a couple of bad throws, and the Giants win another close battle.

New York Giants 27  New England Patriots 23

There you have it. While this is the last preview of the year, I will be starting off-season previews in the coming weeks.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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