By Chris Lehman
At the beginning of the year, NFL fans were eager and hoping to just see a season. Now that the season has come and gone, as have the playoffs, it’s now time for the biggest game of the year. This year we have a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Last time, the Patriots were heavily favored to win and to achieve perfection, but the Giants ruined those plans when Eli Manning made “The Play.” Manning somehow avoided the pass rush and heaved a ball up and David Tyree made the helmet catch, which is considered by some to be the best play in a Super Bowl ever. Soon after, Manning found Plaxico Burress wide open in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. That was then, this is now.
Some aspects of this matchup we will see on Sunday are very similar to what we saw four years ago. In 2008, the Patriots had one of, if not the most dominant offenses we’ve ever seen. Tom Brady led the highest scoring team in NFL history to an undefeated season and the idea of a 19-0 season seemed inevitable. This year, Tom Brady broke Dan Marino’s record for yards in a season (Was overshadowed by Brees, but still broke the record nonetheless). Another important note is the Giants’ defense. The only reason they were able to win the Super Bowl was because of the ability of their front seven to get to Tom Brady. Now, they bring back virtually the exact same defensive line. If Bill Belichick hasn’t done his homework, which I’m sure he has, the outcome will be the exact same.
While there are those similarities, there are some huge differences. First of all, in 2008 the Giants were the clear-cut underdogs. No one gave them a shot, including the Patriots. It’s rare to see Belichick get complacent and comfortable, but that’s exactly what happened. This year, there is no clear favorite to win. Eli Manning is only recently coming into his own as an elite passer. He’s used to having a dominant run game doing most of the work. First it was Tiki Barber. Then for the Super Bowl run Manning’s passing attack was balanced by the three-headed monster of Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward (Earth, Wind and Fire). The trio totaled over 2,000 rushing yards. This year The Giants boast the league’s worst rushing offense, averaging under 90 yards a game. Manning has showed his ability to step up and be an elite quarterback. He threw for just under 5,000 yards which is a huge accomplishment. Against a Belichick defense, however, you cannot be one-dimensional or else he will capitalize on that.
What to watch for
1. The Patriots’ offensive line is a huge key to this game. Everyone knows what Tom Brady can do when given time. He’s a top-five all-time quarterback. Some, including me, would make the argument that he is the best to ever play. But that’s not the point. There’s no debate that when allowed adequate time in the pocket, Brady will shred a defense like few quarterbacks have ever done. But that’s the thing…when allowed adequate time. The Giants’ are best known for their incredibly talented line. Aside from their obvious talent, what makes them so dominant is their versatility. Their four defensive ends (Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka) all have the ability to play any four spots on the line. They even have formations where the four of them play at the same time. Nothing frightens a quarterback more than looking up and seeing four great pass rushers standing on the other side of your line. The only thing that could and will be worse, is when the Giants use that formation, but ALSO blitz linebackers and corners. If the Patriots are to have any chance of winning, the offensive line must be able to protect Brady.
2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead must leave their footprints on this game. The best way to slow down a high-powered pass blitz, is with an efficient run game. The Giants have an average rush defense and a terrible pass defense. While the Patriots will look to capitalize on their soft secondary, in order to attack the front seven to protect Tom Brady, Belichick will have to incorporate a heavy dosage of Woodhead and The Law Firm to keep the Giants honest. When the two teams met in the regular season, the Giants won 24-20. Tom Brady threw 49 times while Green-Ellis and Woodhead combined for 19 carries totaling 78 yards. The two averaged just over four yards per carry, but did not get the ball enough to keep the Giants guessing.
3. Eli Manning will have his hands full this game, but he will have to come up big. Since the Giants have the worst run game in the league, the Patriots will likely back off and leave four to five players in the box for the majority of the game and leave the rest in coverage. You can bet your bottom dollar that Belichick will have plenty of brand new defensive looks implemented to confuse Manning. The Giants will come out passing early and often and if Eli isn’t able to understand what he’s looking at, it will be a long day for him.
This game should be one of the more exciting Super Bowls we’ve seen in a while. Normally when we go into a game, we have an idea in our heads of who we think will win. In this matchup, however, I cannot clearly say one team should win over the other. There are so many parts of this game that must be broken down and must go right for either team to come away with the win. Nothing is guaranteed here.
The deciding factor for me in this one is the Patriots’ run game. The only chance the Giants have of winning is if they are able to shut down Tom Brady with their defensive front formations. But if Belichick gets the run game going, the balance will overwhelm that defensive front, giving Brady the time he needs.
New England Patriots def. New York Giants 31 – 27