Super Bowl XLVI Preview and Prediction

In what might be the most anticipated Super Bowl rematch in its history the Patriots and the Giants will square off in a rematch of their Super Bowl battle 4 years ago in which the Giants defeated the Patriots for their first and only loss of the season.  The Patriots will no doubt have revenge on their minds but like 4 year ago the Giants match up extremely well with the Patriots.  Like the Championship games I expect this one to be close and maybe another game that comes down to the last possession.

Super Bowl XLVI – New York Giants (12-7) vrs. New England Patriots (15-3) – Sunday, February 5, 2012, 6:30 PM at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, to be broadcast on NBC and announced by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth

Both the Patriots and Giants have had a fair deal of roster turnover since their Super Bowl meeting 4 years ago but the schemes that both teams run are by and large the same.  The Patriots run more out of the 4-3 than the 3-4 on defense these days but they have basically been a hybrid team for years.  Obviously the Patriots use the middle of the field more than the edges now on offense with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez replacing the production of receivers Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth from 2007.  Offensively the Giants were more of a ball control offense in 2007 with possession receivers like Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer.  They can stretch the field more now with speedier receivers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham.  Here’s how the two teams match-up

Giants pass offense vrs. Patriots pass defense

Hakeem Nicks and the Giants' receiving corps could present match-up problems for the Pats

Eli Manning had a pretty good game 4 years ago but this time around both he and his supporting cast are improved.  The Patriots have struggled in one-one-one match-ups on the edges all year.  They’ve done a decent enough job getting to the quarterback but the loss of defensive end Andre Carter was a big blow to the Pats’ defensive line.  Outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich has stepped up for the Patriots towards the end of the season and in the playoffs and he’ll need to have a big game if they want to harass Eli Manning.  If they don’t put pressure on Manning it could make for a long afternoon for the Pats’ defense.  Cornerback Devin McCourty has struggled in one-on-one match-ups all season long and could have a long night if he’s put on an island with Cruz or Nicks.  Another match-up that may be problematic would be a potential match-up between cornerback/receiver Julian Edelman and one of the Giants receivers.  They all have a pretty good height advantage on Edelman and Edelman has been dealing with the likes of Lee Evans and Matthew Willis in the first two weeks of the playoffs.  The Giants are 3 deep at receiver and are likely to present a match-up problem in the slot that the previous two playoff opponents were not able to exploit.  One game plan that the Patriots could revisit is the one Bill Belichick used in 1990 with Bills’ receiver Andre Reed.  He could line up a linebacker opposite Cruz when he’s in the slot and chip him on every passing route.  Reed caught 8 balls for 62 yards in that Super Bowl but he said that was the hardest that he had ever been hit in a game.  I’m not sure that the Patriots have the personnel to do that, particularly if they are playing with 4 down linemen and only 3 linebackers.  I think Eli Manning has a big game.  The Patriots don’t have the personnel to slow down this offense enough.

Edge – Giants

Patriots pass offense vrs. Giants pass defense

Hernandez will need to step up with the ankle injury to Gronkowski

The biggest weapon in Brady’s arsenal is Rob Gronkowski and he is hobbled.  I think he may be slowed a bit in this game but that just means he won’t have as many yards after the catch.  I am guessing that between Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels they can come up with something to offset that.  The Giants weakness is at the back of their defense.  On paper they should have a pretty good secondary but cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have struggled at times this year.  The Giants also have a weak spot at middle linebacker.  Starter Chase Blackburn was picked up off of the street halfway through the year after rookie Mark Herzlich went down.  Herzlich was replacing veterans Clint Sintim and Jonathan Goff, both of whom landed on IR.  Herzlich might be back for the game but he is coming off of a broken ankle and did not have much experience to begin with.  The key guys for the Giants defense will be safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle and how they match up with Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez.  Rolle and Phillips have also struggled at times this year.  Look for Hernandez and Gronkowski to possibly switch roles and Hernandez will be the one to stretch the field and Gronkowski will be used more underneath.  The Giants, like all other teams will try to keep Wes Welker in front of them.  I like the guy so I hate to say this, but don’t expect Chad Ochocinco to be a factor.  He’s just not that guy anymore.  The big elephant in the room here is the Giants pass rush.  Obviously it’s one of the best in the league.  The way I see it Bill Belichick had one major priority above all others in the past two weeks – slow down the Giants pass rush and keep Tom Brady upright.  Bill Belichick is one of the best game planners in league history and I’m guessing that he’ll have something in mind to protect Brady on Sunday night.  The Giants will get sacks but I don’t see them repeating their performance from 2007.

Edge – Patriots

Giants rush offense vrs. Patriots rush defense

Big Vince Wilfork ahs been a monster in the midle during the playoffs

The Giants have the same two running backs that they had in 2007, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Both of these guys are sometimes underachievers and Bradshaw comes into this game hobbled.  I expect that the rushing game won’t be a focal point of the Giants offense but Jacobs and Bradshaw can get the job done when they need to.  The wild card in this match-up is Vince Wilfork who was a monster in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens.  Wilfork wants that second ring and looked extremely motivated two weeks ago.  Worse for the Giants is that center David Baas was banged up in the NFC Championship and has been limited in the practices leading up the the Super Bowl.  That sets up a very favorable match-up for Wilfork and the Pats D-Line.  If the Giants needs to use one of their guards to help Baas expect things to open up for the rest of the Pats front 7.  They’ll need Brandon Spikes and guys like Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick to come up big if the Giants try to take Wilfork out of the game.  Still with Baas and Bradshaw banged up I think Wilfork and co. will be too much for the Giants offensive front.  The Giants will find a little success in spurts but I don’t see a ground game getting established over the course of the whole game.  I don’t think the Giants running game finds a rhythm.

Edge – Patriots

Patriots rush offense vrs. Giants rush defense

Defensive lineman Chris Canty keys the Giants run defense

The Patriots will start BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back.  He is a similar running back to Laurence Maroney who started the game in 2007 for the Pats.  Danny Woodhead will get plenty of time but he has not been as effective recently.  I’m not sure how much you’ll see of the formation with Aaron Hernandez in the back field since Gronkowski is hobbled.  The secret about the Giants’ pass rushers is that they are pretty good against the run too.  Linebacker Mathais Kiwanuka has proven to be very versatile, which is why the Giants moved him from end to linebacker.  Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are pretty good at stopping the run as well and Chris Canty is an addition to the middle of the Giants defense that wasn’t there in 2007.  Defensive lineman Dave Tollefson is another underrated, versatile player on the Giants front defensive line.  Again I see the Patriots failing to get in a rhythm with the ground game because their assets on offense are in the pass game and they will go back to their crutch if they feel that they are not being successful against the run.  The Giants have really stepped up their run defense in the end of the season and the playoffs so I don’t expect the Patriots to run much on the Giants.  This one will be won by air.

Edge – Giants

One of these QBs will add another ring to their resume

So there you have it, as far as match-ups go the tally is New England Patriots 2 and New York Giants 2.  We could bring Special Teams into the conversation but both teams have good kickers, punters, and coverage units.  Like the game in 1990 between the Giants and Bills, this one is very evenly matched.  The game will be won in the air and the quarterbacks will be key in the game.  Both are former Super Bowl MVPs and both enjoyed one of their better seasons to date this year.  This is cliche, and obvious, but the game will come down to whoever protects the ball better.  If there are no turnovers in the game I give a slight edge to the Giants.  However there have only been two Super Bowls in the 45 previous games that have ended with no turnovers by either team.  Considering that the Patriots have Brady, who has been intercepted only once in 155 Super Bowl pass attempts, and Green-Ellis, who has never lost a fumble in his life, I think they are the ones who are less likely to turn it over.  Still, when Eli Manning is bad he is very bad and when he is good he is very, very good.  Right now he is good.  Does he turn the ball over?  Maybe it comes down to Bradshaw and Jacobs?  Either way you slice it this one is a tough game to pick.  I almost want to flip a coin on it.  I hate to do a gimmick prediction but I’ll do it anyway (Just call me Chris Berman).  Like 21 years ago neither team will turn the ball over.  There will be a few more points scored in this one than the 1990 game between the Giants and Bills.  The Patriots will lead 28-27 and Eli will try to rally the Giants down the field and set Lawrence Tynes up for the game winning 47 yard field goal.  The kick will sail wide right and the Patriots win by a point.

Final Score Prediction:  New England Patriots 28, New York Giants 27

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Long road for Herzlich led to the Super Bowl

After the 2008 NCAA season Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and named a 1st team All-American.  Herzlich was a monster on the football field that year for the Eagles, tallying 110 tackles to go along with 6 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  NFL scouts projected Herzlich to be a 2nd round pick in the NFL draft if he came out after his junior season but Herzlich decided to go back to school, earn a degree, and try to improve his draft stock in his senior season in hopes of becoming a 1st round pick in the 2010 NFL draft.  It turned out that football was the least of Herzlich’s concerns the following year.

Mark Herzlich was the heart and soul of B.C.'s defense before the diagnosis

During the winter and spring months of early 2009 Herzlich experienced extreme discomfort in his left leg.  He would wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain.  In May of 2009 Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  The initial prognosis was scary for Herzlich.  The doctors even discussed amputating his leg within hours of the initial diagnosis if the bone was damaged to the point where it would snap in two by simply walking on it.  Herzlich announced through the school on May 14, 2009 his diagnosis.  “Obviously, I was shocked. I had been extremely focused on preparing for my senior season at Boston College and for life beyond that.  Now, I must channel all that energy into facing my toughest opponent yet, and that is exactly what I will do. . . . At this point, I do not know what this means for my football future, but I am determined to rid my body of this disease so that I can put that uniform back on.  Thank you in advance for your prayers and concern.  Together, we will fight this and win.”  Football suddenly seemed like a pipe dream for a guy who was on the cusp of the NFL.

Herzlich’s course of treatment was aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.  Eventually he would have to undergo surgery to take out the infected bone and replace it with a cadaver bone which would seriously impair his ability to even be able to run ever again, let alone play football.  Herzlich kept going with the intense treatment and eventually the tumor in his bone had shrunk so much that the doctors gave him a choice – you can have the surgery or since the chemo and radiation was working so well you can roll the dice and forego the surgery.  After vast consultation with doctors, family, friends, and a lot of thought Herzlich decided to attempt to save his football career and forego the surgery.  Herzlich continued with his treatment and would go to a radiation session in the morning and then have a chemotherapy session in the afternoon and then another radiation session 6 hours after the original one.  He had to have a shot into his stomach at home, which he administered himself.  He was given chemotherapy intravenously, sometimes for 5 hours at a time.  He went through 7 months of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation and on October 3, 2009 after he was done with his treatment he went live on ESPN College Gameday from the campus of Boston College and announced that he was cancer free.  He was given a medical red shirt for the 2009 season and was eligible to return to B.C. for a red shirt senior season in 2010.

Herzlich went from hospital room to Super Bowl in the span of 2 1/2 years

On September 24, 2010, 16 months after doctors had told him that he may never walk again and if the cancer had spread he’d have a 10% chance of survival, Mark Herzlich led the Boston College Eagles onto the field for their opening day game against Weber State.  Herzlich recorded 5 tackles in the Eagles’ 38-20 win.  Herzlich finished the season by playing in all of B.C.’s 13 games and recorded 65 tackles and 4 interceptions.  He graduated from Boston College and headed to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine to realize his dream of playing in the NFL, a dream that looked all but crushed a year before.  Herzlich was put through the ringer in Indy with a string of medical tests and tough questions from NFL scouts about how his body and mind would react to what he had been through the previous year.  In the end NFL teams were scared off by the medical uncertainty and Herzlich was not picked in any of the 7 rounds of the 2011 NFL draft.  What was worse was that rather than getting calls from NFL teams immediately after the draft, as was customary for undrafted players, the NFL was in a lockout so the undrafted players had to wait until the lockout was lifted to find their new teams.  It may have been a blessing in disguise for Herzlich because when the lockout was lifted over 3 months later Herzlich’s medicals were standing firm and teams like the Eagles, the Ravens, the Patriots, and the New York Giants came calling.  Herzlich chose the New York Giants because of their strong ties to Boston College.  Co-Owner John Mara was an alumni, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was the former coach of B.C. and Herzlich would be able to play with fellow alumni Chris Snee and Mathias Kiwunuka.

Herzlich made the Giants out of camp and even started two games in the middle of his rookie season before a broken ankle put him on the shelf.  Herzlich practiced on a limited basis during the week leading up to the NFC Championship game against the 49ers and the two weeks of recovery since should give him a good chance to play in the Super Bowl.  After already having been through so much Herzlich hopes to play in his 1st Super Bowl at just the age of 24.  A win on Sunday would be nice for Herzlich but he’s already had the biggest win of his life when he beat cancer.  Everything else is just gravy but a Lombardi Trophy would make more some mighty fine gravy.

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Parcells coaching tree is as good as it gets

A few years ago when Bill Parcells was coach of the Cowboys people felt the need to ask the question – who is a better head coach, Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells?  While it may be true that Belichick might possibly be the better game day coach no one has left their fingerprints on today’s NFL more than Bill Parcells.

Parcells won two rings with the Giants but his former assistant have gone on to win a combined 5 of their own

Parcells’ first head coaching gig in the NFL was with the New York Giants from 1983-1990.  5 coaches from his Super Bowl winning coaching staff went on to be head coaches in the NFL.  Running Backs coach Ray Handley replaced him after he retired and had a 14-18 record in two seasons as Giants head coach.  That was his last job in the NFL.  Linebackers coach Al Groh eventually replaced Parcells after he retired from the Jets and lasted one year as Jets head coach, amassing a 9-7 record before resigning himself.  The other three who went on to become head coaches, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, wide receivers coach Tom Coughlin, and defensive line coach Romeo Crennel will all hold head coaching jobs when the 2012 season begins.  Groh and assistant special teams coach Charlie Weis would go on to be head coaches in the college ranks.

After being out of coaching for two seasons Parcells returned to head coach the New England Patriots.  His new staff bore another future head coach, wide receivers coach Chris Palmer who coached the Cleveland Browns in 1999 and 2000.  Running Backs coach Maurice Carthon served as assistant head coach to Chiefs coach Todd Haley.  After 4 years in New England it was off to the Jets for 3 years.  From that staff wide receivers coach Todd Haley went on to coach the Kansas City Chiefs for almost 4 seasons, tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt has head coached the Arizona Cardinals for the past 5 seasons, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan coached the San Fransisco 49ers from 2005 to 2008, and secondary coach Todd Bowles was the interim coach of the Miami Dolphins at the end of this past season.  After 3 more years off Parcells once again got the itch and agreed to coach the Dallas Cowboys.  His offensive coordinator Sean Payton was hired by the Saints in 2006.  Offensive line coach Tony Sparano coached the Dolphins from 2008 to 2011.

Parcells disciple Ken Whisenhunt coached the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl

In all, at least 5 former Parcells assistants will be head coaches at the start of the 2012 NFL season.  A number of others have had interviews for current head coaching vacancies, including Bowles and Mike Zimmer, his former defensive coordinator in Dallas.  Romeo Crennel had a disappointing 24-40 record in 4 years as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.  After being named defensive coordinator in Kansas City, Crennel earned the head coaching job after a 2-1 record as interim head coach at the end of 2011.  He’ll start the 2012 season as his first full year as Chiefs head coach.  Ken Whisenhunt is 39-39 in five seasons as a head coach with the Cardinals but boasts a 4-2 postseason record and went to Super Bowl after the 2008 season.

Parcells disciple Sean Payton helped re-energize the city of New Orleans

The other three are as successful as any coach in the NFL currently.  Sean Payton took over the Saints in 2006, the year after Katrina ripped through the city of New Orleans.  In his 6 seasons there he has amassed a regular season record of 62-34, a playoff record of 5-3 and a Super Bowl championship in 2009.  He is a cult hero in New Orleans after turning the franchise around in a time when they needed it the most.  Tom Coughlin has coached in the NFL for 16 seasons, 8 with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the past 8 as head coach of the New York Giants.  He’s hardly ever listed as one of the elite head coaches of the league but Coughlin has coached to a 129-103 regular season record, a 10-7 postseason record, and a Super Bowl Championship in 2007, won over another Parcells disciple.

Belichick has put together a Hall of Fame resume after breaking from Parcells

And then there is Bill Belichick.  Belichick has head coached in the NFL for 17 years seasons, 5 with the Cleveland Browns and then the last 12 with the New England Patriots.  Belichick has a 175-97 lifetime record in the regular season.  In the playoffs he is 16-6.  He has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots.  He’s won the coach of the year three times.  He is a future NFL Hall of Fame coach.  He is widely regarded as Bill Parcells’ prized pupil.

As we head into championship weekend we have a 50% chance that at least one former Parcells assistant will coach in the Super Bowl and there’s a chance that Belichick and Coughlin may be headed towards a rematch of their 2007 Super Bowl clash.  Bill Parcells might be a polarizing figure to football fans, with his brash attitude and constant fear of commitment to one place but one thing is for sure – whatever he was selling to those assistant coaches all of those years, they were certainly buying.

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