Two contributors give their take on the rematch of Super Bowl XLII by identifying the key offensive and defensive matchups while giving their own X-Factors …
The talk about quarterbacks leading up to the Super Bowl will undoubtedly favour the prowess of Tom Brady, but the fact of the matter is, Eli’s no slouch either, and he doesn’t wear Uggs to the office. He was ranked fourth over the regular season in passing yards and sixth in touchdowns. His post-season stats have been even better, amassing almost 1,000 yards to his name and an NFL leading eight touchdown passes, albeit over three games to the Patriots’ two. Statistics aside, Manning has something that can’t be quantified: his mental and physical toughness. With him, it’s always a war of attrition, and he always finds a way to come out on top. Last week alone against the 49ers, he was sacked six times, hit while throwing an additional 20, knocked down, and rushed countless more times en route to his second NFC championship. Conversely, the Super Bowl will see Eli and the simply spectacular Victor Cruz up against the second worst defence in yards/game this season. The passing attack, coupled with the dynamic rushing duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, will lead to a huge game for the G-men’s offence.
If nothing else, the 2011-2012 post-season has lent considerable credence to the age-old adage “offence sells tickets, but defence wins championship,” and Super Bowl XLVI will be no different. Entering the playoffs, offensive juggernauts like the Saints or Packers seemed destined to emerge from the NFC, but both eventually fell prematurely to more defensively-sound teams like the Giants. Moreover, the G-men’s defence appears to be peaking at exactly the right time. Following a frustratingly inconsistent regular season, the Giants now possess the lowest points per game in post-season play along with the second lowest yards per game average. And although the Patriots’ offence at times appears prodigious and untouchable, they are not, in fact, an exception. Building a 13-3 season around man-handling mediocre defences, they have often failed to stack up against stronger defences, with last week’s somewhat fortunate besting of the Ravens seemingly an exception. The game marked the two teams’ only meeting of the season, and the Patriots managed only 20 points—their second worst performance of the year. Additionally, Tom Brady was picked off twice—a sixth of his yearly total. Given that New York’s defence has already subdued the Pats once—during the 2008 Super Bowl—and that it’s now firing on all cylinders, it’s not hard to imagine a repeat performance next Sunday.
X-Factor? The Giants ARE the X-Factor. Toss it up to pure dumb luck or an insatiable desire to win, whatever you want to call it, New York never ceases to come up with a helmet catch (remember that? The Pats sure do) when it’s needed most. This season alone, the Giants have six fourth-quarter comebacks, including one of 15 points and one against these Patriots. They limped into the playoffs toting a modest 9-7 record and then dominated the seemingly unbeatable Packers before out-grinding the gritty 49ers. And, most notoriously, who can forget the 2008 Super Bowl, where a sticky helmet and a sensational comeback drive rocked the Patriots and dashed their hopes of an undefeated Super Bowl season. The Giants live for the David versus Goliath scenario, and it’s that determination that wins championships.
New York 27, New England 24
This year’s version of the most successful NFL franchise of the new millennium has mastered what thousands of Madden players have been doing for years: throw the ball A LOT and treat your tight ends like other receivers. The result: an offence that scored 30 or more points in 12 out of its 16 regular season games and a tight end in Rob Gronkowski who caught more TD passes in one season than any other tight end in history. Although Tom Brady looked mortal against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, the Pats’ success handing the ball off to Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis against Baltimore should help open up the pass. Brady should turn it around, however, as the dome in Indianapolis will be easier to throw in than the crisp Foxborough air. The Giants held New England to 20 points in their meeting in November, but look for New England’s offence to get back on track in Indy.
Heading into the AFC title game, Patriots fans were hoping that the old adage that “offence sells tickets, but defence wins championships” would become a thing of the past. New England was able to win the game, but surprisingly the young defensive corps played a large part in the victory. The late-season return of Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes revitalized a unit that ranked second last in the NFL in total defence. The front seven, led by Vince Wilfork were dominant against the Ravens, sacking Joe Flacco three times, hitting him another seven, and I’ll refrain from mentioning the way they toyed with prodigy-turned-laughingstock-turned-miracle-worker-turned-laughingstock Tim Tebow. Although New England’s defence is vulnerable over the top for big passing plays, they epitomize the notion of “bend but don’t break,” evidenced by Sterling Moore’s two game-saving plays on the Ravens’ unsuccessful last comeback drive. After all, this team only lost three games all year, the defence clearly didn’t kill them. If the Patriots can prevent Eli Manning from
beating them deep, they should have an easy time with a Giants offence that ranked last in rushing.
X-factor We’re going to cheat here and call the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combination New England’s X-Factor. Since the two Hall-of-Fame locks got together in Foxborough in 2001, the Patriots have only lost twice to the same team in a single season. The evil genius and his golden boy hate losing more than anyone, and will be looking for revenge both for their loss to the Giants earlier this year (the low point of what has otherwise been a banner season) and for the stunning loss in Super Bowl XLII in Glendale. A win would further solidify Brady and Belichick’s places as all-time legends while a loss would extend the Patriots’ Super Bowl draught to seven years and lead to questions about whether the Patriots can still get it done when it counts. Adding to Brady’s motivation will be the fact that he will be getting dressed in Peyton Manning’s locker (the Patriots are the designated home team and will use the Colts’ locker room), and will certainly be relishing the opportunity to hoist his fourth Lombardi Trophy on the turf of his arch-nemesis. Brady still has it, New England still has it, and you can count on the NFL’s greatest duo to let the world know in Indianapolis.
New England 34, New York 27
While the Giants are the hottest team in America, Brady and his wide array of weapons in the passing game will overwhelm New York’s secondary. Eli will put up points against a less-than-mediocre Patriots’ defence, but New England will win a tight contest and gain revenge for their unexpected loss in Super Bowl XLII.