By Josh Kramer
Coughlin vs. Belichick. Manning (Eli) vs. Brady. New York vs. Boston. It does not get any better than the scenario that has been set up for Super Bowl XLVI. There are millions of storylines floating around about America’s most anticipated sporting event of the year. And 99.9% of the storylines will be moot come Sunday at 6:29PM, when the ball is kicked off in the “House that Peyton Built (Lucas Oil Stadium).” Four years ago to the day, these two teams representing two of the biggest sports markets in the world met in Glendale, Arizona for rights to the Lombardi Trophy. If Sunday’s rematch can be half as good as what America was able to witness four years ago, the game will be a memorable one.
For nearly two weeks, we have been well aware of the matchup on Sunday for football’s biggest prize. And for two weeks, this game has been dissected and analyzed until I feel like there is nothing more to discuss. It gets to the point every year where it is time to just play the game. When the analysis and incite loses its luster. I feel like we have hit that point. Just like any big sporting event, this game will likely come down to one or two key plays. Four years ago, “The Catch” was the play that in essence ended Brady, Moss, and New England’s remarkable attempt at football immortality. Who will make the play this year that changes history?
Keys to the Game:
-Turnover margin is always the key statistic to any football game outside of the final score. Back when these teams faced off on November 6th at Gillete Stadium, New York won the turnover battle. In doing so, they ended New England’s streak of 20 straight regular season victories at home and Tom Brady’s 31 straight wins at home in games he started.
-Pocket protection. Immediately after turnover margin, the question is whether the Patriots offensive line, led by savvy veteran Matt Light can contain the Giants outstanding front seven. They could not back on February 3, 2008 (note it is a different group now). This is why they did not end up with a perfect 19 and 0 record.
-The health of Rob Gronkowski. Sure New England has another great tight end in Aaron Hernandez, but 80% of New England’s offensive sets this season have featured two tight ends on the field. After a strong rushing attack, a sure-handed tight end can be a quarterback’s best friend against a tenacious pass rush.
-Can New England’s secondary contain the three-headed monster that is Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham? New England’s secondary this year set records for their futility, ranking 31st in the League against the pass (they were saved by an even worse Green Bay group).
-Who will get the ball last? It is no secret that Tom Brady and Eli Manning are two of the game’s “elite” quarterbacks. But they are also two of the game’s best in the two-minute drill. Either quarterback would be worthy of the nickname, “The Closer.” In Super Bowl XLII, Eli got the ball last. Who will have the ball in their hands at the end of the game on Sunday?
-New York had a record of 7 and 7 on Christmas Eve. They now have won 5 straight games and are playing for the Super Bowl.
-The Ravens were the first team that the Patriots defeated all year with a record of over 500 (Thank Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff for that)
-The NFC East is 7-1 in the Super Bowl versus the AFC East.
-The team with the best record in the regular season, Green Bay, lost in their first playoff round. It has been nine years since the team with the best regular-season record won the Super Bowl (2003 Patriots).
-Tom Brady and Eli Manning are a combined 23-8 as playoff starters. Older brother Peyton Manning has a record of 9 and 10.
-New York is the first team to participate in the Super Bowl despite being outscored during the regular season (400 to 394). New England outscored its opponents in the regular season 513 to 342 (+171).
-During the 2008 season, Patriots tight ends accounted for 31 touches, 302 yards, and two touchdowns total. In New England’s divisional playoff matchup versus Tim Tebow and the Broncos, the tight ends accounted for 19 touches, 261 yards, and four touchdowns.
-The Giants and Patriots are both playing their best football of the season and will take the field in Indianapolis on a combined 15-0 streak (New England has won 10 straight, New York has won 5 straight).
The Call: Patriots 31 Giants 28
Coaching and game planning are so huge in games with an extended amount of time to prepare for. Tom Coughlin is a great coach in his own right, posting a 7 and 3 postseason record during his eight tumultuous years with the Giants. But let’s be entirely honest. Is there a better coach in the world at preparing his team to win a football game than Bill Belichick? On paper, this game appears to be somewhat even, maybe with a slight edge going to the New York Giants. Once the power of coaching wisdom is added in though, the edge shifts to New England. This matchup in a way is similar to what we got to see in the BCS Championship Game last month (though we can only pray it is far more entertaining). LSU and Alabama had squared off in the regular season. Les Miles and Nick Saban are both great coaches. But does any coach in the collegiate ranks prepare his team better to win a football game than Nick Saban? You knew with four weeks of time to get ready for the title game in New Orleans, Saban would put his team in the best position to win the game. And indeed he did. This is similar to how I feel about Coughlin and Belichick. Belichick has two weeks to get his team ready to play. I trust in the “Cut-Off Sweatshirt Man.”
They say that a strong rushing attack is a quarterback’s best friend. Well neither of these teams have been the best on the ground this year, though both have improved dramatically as of late. In this day and age though, especially this year, a good tight end has become a quarterback’s best friend. New England not only has a good tight end, but they have arguably the two best in the League. Even with a great front four that pressures a quarterback all day and all night, it is very tough to neutralize an effective tight end. Luckily for Brady, he has two great tight ends this time around, unlike in 2008. This is not to say that Eli does not have a good few weapons of his own such as the three-headed monster of Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham. Many have said the Giants front four will be the difference in this game. With great receiving tight ends, the vaunted New York pass rush all of a sudden is no longer as big of an issue for Brady.
If Eli Manning brought New York its second championship in four years, you would think that he would begin receiving the “Derek Jeter Treatment.” The younger Manning brother would forever be an immortal in New York. Though Eli will play great and is an “elite” quarterback, Tom Brady is one of the “All-Time” greats. Back on August 26th, I saw this coming when I predicted that the New England Patriots would defeat the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. I would not bet against Brady after what happened four years ago. By around 10:30PM Sunday, Tom Brady should have his fourth Super Bowl ring. Four rings for a sixth round pick (199th pick overall) that was the fourth string guy back at the beginning of the 2000 would not be too shabby.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.