Super Bowl XLVI: The biggest game of the year will be played Sunday evening with roughly 100 million viewers, some watching for the commercials, some watching for the half-time show, but most watching for the final 60 minutes of smash-mouth, heartbreaking, champion-making pigskin of the 2011-2012 NFL Football Season.
This season has displayed some incredible story lines; from the undefeated Green Bay Packers faltering late in the season, opposite to their prowess that they displayed last year, en route to the franchise’s 11th National Championship, to Tebowmania. The playoffs began with storylines from both leagues with Tom Brady leading his New England Patriots to 10 straight victories (8 to conclude the regular season after falling to their now Super Bowl opponent New York Giants on November 6, and 2 in the playoffs over Denver and Baltimore), and the New York Giants, led by Eli Manning’s potent offense and the smash-mouth defense, winning their final 2 gut-wrenching games of the regular season to make the playoffs, and eventually winning 3 straight, unlikely playoff victories over The Falcons, Packers, and 49ers. This Super Bowl has some of the most intriguing storylines we have seen in recent memory of the big game due to the rematch factor from Super Bowl XLII where Eli Manning brought the Giants up against, the highly touted New England Patriots and defeated them.
This analysis will break down each team by aspect of the game, defense, offense, special teams, coaching, and finally Super Bowl outlook and history for these two teams. After all of the analysis is complete we will get to the predictions (at least my predictions).
DT Vince Wilfork (9 tackles, 2.5 total sacks in Postseason)
MLB Jerod Mayo (17 tackles in postseason)
OLB Brandon Spikes (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT in postseason)
DE Osi Umenyiora (8 tackles, 3.5 sacks in postseason)
FS Antrel Rolle (21 solo tackles in postseason)
SS Deon Grant (13 tackles, 1 INT, 1 Fumble Recovery in postseason)
Both teams have had struggles on defense this season, with the Giants giving up 6022 (27th in NFL), and the Pats giving up 6577 (31st in NFL, only in front of Packers). Each team gave up other 375 yards per game in the regular season. Use caution with these numbers because both teams over 30 total take-aways on defense (NE-34, NYG-31) and they are the top two teams in the NFL in total tackles (NE-1216, NYG-145).
Each team has play-makers on the defensive side of the ball that can make a huge impact in this game. The Patriots have a lethal pair of defensive ends in Andre Carter and Mike Anderson who combined for 20 sacks on the year (10 each), but the Giants also have some intense back-field disrupters in Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks (4th in NFL) and Osi Umenyiora, who recorded 9 on the season. These are the guys that will have to play well for each team to get disruption in the back-field and get Brady and Manning moving to force passes, and cause turnovers.
When the two play-callers force throws in this one, the guys that will need to come up big are a couple cornerbacks that were right at the top of the NFL in interceptions. The Patriots, Kyle Arrington was tied for the league lead with 7 picks on the year and the Giants, Corey Webster recorded 6 pass snatches in the regular season as well.
It is no secret that turnovers can dictate the outcome of a big football game and these guys could play a huge part of that outcome.
When picking the ball out of the air does not work, picking loose balls off the ground will become important. On the year Jacquain Williams and Michael Boley of the Giants combined for 6 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble, while New England’s Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork combined for 5 recoveries.
Each defense has struggled this season, but each also has some big time play makers and the defenses will need to stand tall against two of the best offenses in the NFL.
The Edge: At face value, the edge seems to go to the Giants, but thus far in the playoffs the Patriots have shown signs of life, holding The Broncos to 10 points and the Ravens to 20 in both wins.
The Giants have been sparkling in the points allowed category as well, only giving up 39 total points combined in the first 3 playoffs games, only 2 against the Falcons potent offense in the Wildcard round.
Going into the Super Bowl, Antrel Rolle and Chase Blackburn of the Giants have combined for 41 tackles, each in the top 3 for the postseason, while Michael Boley has recorded 17 as well. For the Patriots, the postseason tackle leaders are MLB Jerod Mayo with 17 total tackles, but only 5 of those were solo. No matter how you look at it, each defense will be tested in this game, but each has demonstrated very quality play in the postseason. The edge, although slight, goes to the Giants in this game because of the big names up front in Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora, coupled with the veteran guys behind them like Boley and Kiwanuka.
Offense: It comes as no secret that the two Quarterbacks featured in this game are two of the best statistical QB’s this season. Arguably the biggest single position match-up of this game will be the QB match-up because of how solid they each played this year and in the past. Each team also has displayed an interesting dynamic in the running game.
Giants: The Giants have been known to run a 2 RB system. Ahmad Bradshaw is the lightning and Brandon Jacobs is the thunder. Thus far in the postseason, Ahmad Bradshaw has been the hero in the running game. He has been able to control the ball and dictate the offensive tempo for the Giants when Eli Manning isn’t throwing. Between the two of them, they have rushed for 327 postseason yards, which is an average of 100+ yards. The running game for the Giants isn’t the prolific deciding factor as to how well they play, but it plays a huge role in determining how the defense will line up to open up the passing game.
Patriots: The Patriots run the ball quite a bit less than the Giants. The G-men have run the ball 74 times in the playoffs, whereas the Pats have only run the ball 45 total times, not including the 9 scrambles by Brady. The leading rusher is Benjarvus Green-Ellis with 28 postseason rushes, totaling 96 yards and 1 TD. He, much like the Giant’s backs is responsible for just keeping the defense honest, but plays a lesser role in the run game than the Giants tandem does.
Tom Brady: Brady maintained a 105.6 QB Rating this season (3rd in NFL) while completing 65.6% of his 611 attempted passes , 39 of them resulting in TD’s, while only 11 of them resulting in defenders catching the football. Brady was second in total passing yards on the year with 5,235, only trailing the Saints, Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record. Brady is one of the most discussed players in the sport because of his ability to make plays and lead his team. His uncanny ability to dictate the tempo of a game and possess the ball for 40:00 minutes allows him to put himself in a position to win football games, and because of Brady you can never count the Patriots out of a game.
Eli Manning: Manning may not have sparkled as much as Brady did throughout the entire season, but the 31 year old still had an incredible season, arguably the best in his career. The younger Manning threw for 4,933 yards (4th in NFL) with a 61% completion percentage on 29 TD’s and 16 INT’s. In the regular season meeting between against the Patriots Eli played solid going 20-39 with 2 scores and an interception. Eli will need to repeat that performance, and ultimately eliminate any mistakes because the Pats will jump all over any mess-ups.
Each QB had a couple stud WR’s running routes and making big, game-changing plays all season this year. The Patriots, Wes Welker, not surprisingly, had another quality season, leading the NFL in catches with 122 total, with 9 scores, and 1,569 total receiving yards (2nd in NFL). Not only was Welker outstanding, but Brady threw to his TE’s a great deal as well. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have combined for 26 catches for 354 yards and 4 touchdowns in the playoffs. This TE tandem will prove to be a big factor in the contest on Sunday. Rob Gronkowski has been battling an injury to his left leg, in which the Patriots are looking to possibly combat by having him wear a special booted cleat, but his impact could be lessened. If Gronk is forced to sit, the Pats may need Brady to rely on contributions from other guys like veterans Deion Branch or Kevin Faulk out of the back-field. Regardless, the Pats receivers will need a strong showing if they want to win rings on Sunday afternoon.
The Giants had a break-out year for WR Victor Cruz who was 3rd in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,536 on 82 catches. Cruz was only targeted 131 times to Welker’s 172 because of the other quality, proven WR on the Giants, Hakeem Nicks. Nicks, despite becoming Eli’s second favorite target for Touchdowns, still hauled in 76 catches on 133 targets, with 1,192 receiving yards. The Giant’s tandem teamed up for 16 total receiving touchdowns and proved to be one of the best in the NFL in 2011-2012, if not the best.
Each offense will look to force production through the air by dictating a solid tempo on the ground. The Patriots will try to hit Benjarvus Green-Ellis hard on the ground early to set a tempo and create time for Brady in the pocket to get the ball to his play makers in Welker and Gronkowski. The Giants will look to do the same with the duo of backs in Bradshaw and Jacobs, but will continue to rely on Jacobs late in the game to continue to bump and bruise and wear down the defense. Each team will throw the ball 40+ times in this one.
The Edge: Choosing who has the advantage in this game on offense is comparable to pulling teeth or attempting to find a needle in a hay stack. These offenses are very similar and that is cause for issues in choosing who has the edge. On the surface it seems easy to default to saying that Brady is the better QB and is one of the all-time greats because of what he has been able to accomplish, but at the same time, Eli has somehow figured out how to beat the Patriots. When deciding which offense has the edge here I think we need to go back to defense. Whichever defense is able to get the ball back into the offense’s hands, that will allow the offense to dictate how the game unfolds. Eli Manning has been known to go on stretches of 7-12 passes without throwing an incompletiong, but Brady is also known for the same.
I think the slight edge has to go to the Giants because they are more experienced than the last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl. Brady is very good, but is Gronk comparable to Randy Moss in 2007? Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will be able to pick apart the Pats secondary with extraordinary routes and should be impactful. Brandon Jacobs will need to run hard and bruise inside to wear down the defense. The slightest of slight edge goes to the Giants on the offensive side of the ball.
The Super Bowl is notorious for Special Teams playing a big part in the outcome because of how influential field position is for a big game like this. If you have not figured out yet that field position is extremely important for these two teams, it is going to become very clear in this section.
The place kickers for each team are both very good and have been very good in the postseason. Patriots Kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, was 59 for 59 on extra points this season, while posting an 84.8% field goal percentage, making a long of 50 yards. The Patriots leg has also gone 4 for 4 in the postseason. For the Giants, Lawrence Tynes had a long of 50 yards as well this seson, and was also perfect on extra points. Tynes was the hero in the Conference Championship over the 49ers, hitting from inside 40 yards twice, one being as time expired.
The punters, Weatherford for New York and Zoltan Mesko for the Patriots, are no slouches. Each averaged around 40 yards per punt in the regular seasons, have very low touchback ratios and downed the ball inside the 20 more than 20 times in the regular season. The punters will play a crucial role in the tempo and field position of this game.
The return game for each team is not built around a blow-away, Devin Hesteresque type player. The Giants rely on Will Blackmon get them good field position, and the Patriots rely heavily on Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman to get their starting field position further up the turf.
Edge: The edge on special teams really comes down to field position, but Tynes ability to make big field goals at the end of games, under pressure, gives this edge to the Giants as well. This does not count the Patriots out, because if Welker returns punts and kicks, as he has been known to do, we could see a huge swing on the special teams side of things, but for right now it appears as if the Giants have a slight edge here as well.
Coaching:This game will showcase two of the best coaches in the NFL. Bill Belichick for the Patriots is known by many for his tactics as a mastermind with a clipboard, and Tom Coughlin, of the Giants has been known for his sternness that he learned while coaching under Bill Parcells. Each coach is intriguing and will make for a great Super Bowl XLVI.
Belichick: Bill Belichick is on of the best coaches in sports. He has plenty of haters because of spygate, but the fact of the matter is that he is a student of the game, and knows his X’s and O’s. In 26 seasons as an NFL coach, 17 as a head coach, he has maintained a 175-97 record, 15-6 in the playoffs. It is no question the Belichick knows how to coach in big games and develop a system for success.
Coughlin: Tom Coughlin has been the head coach of the New York Giants since the 2004 season, and has only had one losing season in his tenure in the Big Apple. He is 142-114 overall as a head coach, and his style is very distinct. He micromanages everything from players on the field to showing up late to meetings and practices. When Coughlin took the Giants job he fined players for only showing up 2 minutes early to meetings, because the standard that he wanted to instill was that players need to show up 5 minutes early. Although ruthless, Coughlin knows the game, and in Super Bowl XLII his staff actually out-coached Belichick.
Edge: The edge here would go to Coughlin because of the history, but it has to go to the Patriots here. Belichick is near impossible to beat twice in a row, especially in Super Bowls. A characteristic of the Super Bowl is that it needs to be coached with a good balance of conservatism and risk-taking. Belichick is not afraid to take risks that he believes will put his team in the best position to win, and even though Coughlin will do the same, Belichick has a better swagger about him.
Overall Outlook, Media Speculation about the “Rematch” and Other Interesting Tidbits:
Rematch: The biggest storyline hitting the media giants over the past 2 weeks has been the ensuing rematch between thee two squads from the 2008 Super Bowl, SB XLII. This game is much like a rematch of sorts because it holds all the major parts needed. The major players are still intact, with Brady and Belichick vs. Manning and Coughlin, but the defenses are very different. The Patriots defense is dynamically different, playing a much more conservative style of play, just trying to get the ball back to Brady, as opposed to the defense who would go out and get it in the previous game. The Giants are still a solid front with good complimentary players. With Umenyiora, Tuck, and Pierre-Paul, it is a prototypical defense.
The most interesting dynamic set forth in this match-up is the coaching rematch. In big games, coaches matter more than ever because every play call can either make or break you, literally. Both of these coaches know this first hand, and will look to coach as flawlessly as possible. In this sense the edge goes to Belichick and the Patriots.
The edge in these things goes to the Patriots for two significant reasons. The first is Bill Belichick. Belichick is an X’s and O’s guy that will make sure he calls the game the way he wants to call it. He will still take the risks that a lot of coaches in a “rematch” game won’t take, and that gives him an edge over Coughlin. The other aspect that a “rematch” favors is Tom Brady. Brady is a veteran who has played and won in nearly every scenario. Eli Manning has won a Super Bowl, yes, and that Super Bowl happened to be over Brady, yes, but what that does not take into consideration is the learning curve. Eli Manning has been able to evolve as a player who some would consider elite and that is large in part to his ability to learn from season to season. Brady is a guy who will learn on the fly, from game to game, but also from quarter to quarter. He makes adjustments like nobody in the game and he gives the Patriots an edge in that respect.
Prediction: The New England Patriots seem over-matched in the Offensive, Defensive, and Special Team categories, BUT The Patriots will win this game and be Super Bowl XLVI Champions. The most important attribute of a Super Bowl is not who is actually the best team with the best players, as proven multiple times in the past (Heck, see Giants 2007-2008). Both teams are on hot streaks and have not lost in awhile. The last time the Pats lost was on November 6th to the Giants, 24-21. Not only will the Giants have to beat the Patriots twice in a row, but they will have to dethrown the hottest team in the NFL right now. All signs seem to point to the Patriots coming into this one and firing on all cylinders and even thought he defense has been sketchy this season, they still maintained a 13-3 record, winning 10 games to close the seasons. They are as hot s the Packers were going into the Playoffs last season, and we all know how that turned out.
Patriots 35 Giants 24