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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My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Cowboys/Patriots

Well, I guess we were due for a vintage Tom Brady performance.  Brady did his best superman impression by overcoming the kryptonite supplied by his nemesis Rob Ryan and lead the Pats down for a game-winning touchdown.  Here are some thoughts.

  • You can talk about Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch all you want.  Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots’ best weapon.  The guy is near unstoppable.  Those other guys will win match-ups when you get them one on one but Gronkowski is the guy you have to game plan around.
  • BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley look like they would make a pretty good tandem if they were used and balanced consistently.  Ridley is raw but there is a ton of skill there.
  • Tom Brady has been sacked 7 times in the past two games.  That’s almost a season’s worth for him.  Not sure if it’s the O-Line or just facing a couple good pass rushing teams in a row.  They’ll face a stiff test in a few weeks against Pittsburgh.
  • Defensively the Pats improved over the last few weeks but still have some work to do.  Andre Carter stepped up today.  The advantage of stock-piling these veteran linemen is that these guys will take turns stepping up. When Mark Anderson has an off game, Andre Carter is on.  When Carter struggles, a Shaun Ellis steps up, etc.
  • Seems like all we’ve talked about this year when mentioning Vince Wilfork is his new found penchant for picking off passes.  I just feel like this needs to be re-iterated – Vince Wilfork is as good as it gets when it comes to stopping the run up front.  He is so good you almost start to forget.
  • Brandon Spikes was very active on the blitz and was a huge asset in th pass rush.  When the light totally goes on this kid has a chance to be a stud.
  • So the last two times the Patriots haven’t scored 30 or more points (scanning the last 15 games) was against a Rob Ryan coached defense.  I guess that bodes well considering the fact that they aren’t scheduled to face Ryan again for another 4 years.  Of course there is a chance he gets a head gig by then.  Stats like that could attract him to a team like Miami.
  • So, I hated the coaching by Jason Garrett at the end of the game.  Yeah, their defense played great all game against Brady but after all, it’s Brady, and you might as well not play with fire if you don’t have to.  This is what I said earlier about coaching to win or coaching not to lose.  Jason Garrett coached not to lose.  Of course I guess that what you do when your QB is Tony Romo and not…
  • Tom Brady, what more can you say.  Since the Pats run up 30-40 points seemingly every week the comebacks are becoming few and far between but you can never forget that Tom Brady is the most clutch quarterback of the generation and he’ll beat you when it counts  Count it as just another notch in the belt.

The Pats are 5-1 at the bye and when you look at the schedule it’s hard to envision anything more than another 1-2 losses.  It’s all about seeding now, unless Buffalo can do something extraordinary, and staying healthy.  The Pats have been lucky with injuries this year and hope to be able to continue that going into the last 10 stretch.  Hey, maybe Ochocinco will start to contribute sooner or later too.

Quick Thoughts on Chargers/Patriots

This was a somewhat weird game.  The Patriots were, well, the Patriots but the Chargers got in the red zone 3 times and failed to score and Mike Tolbert committed one of the most bonehead running plays I have ever seen to turn the ball over to seal the game for the Pats.  Brady is on fire to start the season.  Quick thoughts:

  • How do the Patriot receivers get so wide open?  What is their trick, their secret?  Inquiring minds (and defensive coordinators throughout the NFL) would like to know.
  • I said last week that I liked Rob Gronkowski more as a player than I did Aaron Hernandez but is seems like Hernandez is determined to prove me wrong.  The kid looks to get better and better in every game that he plays.  It’s a big blow to the Pats lineup that he will miss the next several weeks with the MCL injury that he suffered on Sunday.
  • The Pats secondary has struggled in the early going and really needed someone to step up and make a play.  Enter 6’2″ “325 lb.” Vince Wilfork to make the interception and sprint down the sideline to set up a field goal before the half for the Pats.
  • Cam Newton is only two weeks into his NFL career but I bet that he is really staring to dislike Tom Brady.
  • Chad Ochocinco looked a little better this week.  Haynesworth was solid, if unspectacular.
  • It looks like the injury bug is starting to hit the Pats.  They are usually built to withstand that sort of thing with the depth they carry on their roster.  It looks like that depth will be tested early.
  • Of all of the veteran defensive linemen that the New England Patriots signed in the off-season who would have thought that Mark Anderson would be the trend-setter?
  • Tom Brady is on fire.  Dan Marino must already be crapping his pants at the prospect of Brady breaking his single season yards record that barely alluded him back in 2007.

Ho-hum.  Ho-hum.  Pats win.  Pats put 30 on the board.  Must be starting to get boring being a Pats fan huh?  What is particularly impressive is that they scored all of those points towards the end of last season in the elements.  If they get through this fall they may go two full seasons of 30 points.  Let’s see how they handle the injuries and the hostile crowd up in Buffalo against those upstarts from Western New York.

Twitter @ErikVenskus