What to expect: A healthy dose of points. The Super Bowl XLVI over/under is 55, the highest of any postseason game since the Saints hosted the Lions in the Wild Card round. (New Orleans won a 45-28 shootout.) The Giants and Pats both fielded top-ten regular season offenses in terms of yards and scoring. New England is averaging 34 points per playoff game, New York 27.
Potential Giants issues: The G-Men have been the best team in football over the past five weeks, despite the fact that their run game has not consistently come to play. While Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham form a reliably lethal passing attack, tailback Ahmad Bradshaw has struggled to grind out tough yards between the tackles when lanes haven’t been opened outside. 264-pound alleged power runner Brandon Jacobs tip toed around the line of scrimmage against the Packers and 49ers, managing 35 yards on 14 carries (2.5 YPC). The Giants should lean on the pass in Super Bowl XLVI, but it's fair to wonder if the rushing offense is capable of putting away an opponent, if given the late-game opportunity. New England has been stout against the run this postseason, rendering Ray Rice and Willis McGahee non-factors so far.
Potential Patriots issues: New England must design a way to mitigate New York's ferocious pass rush while maintaining an attacking approach. Historically in similar situations, the Patriots' offensive staff has formulated game plans that rely on short throws, getting the football out of quarterback Tom Brady's hands quickly before the opposing rusher has time to arrive. This, of course, is easier said than done against a Giants team that employs four quick-twitch defensive ends in sub-package situations and effectively disguises its intentions with confusing zone blitzes and drops. The Patriots are going to need a big game from their offensive linemen and running backs in pass protection. They cannot afford to leave Giants front-seven members unblocked.
What to expect: The Pats run a pass-first, two-tight end offense, and the Giants will likely counter with their three-safety nickel defense. More safeties give New York bigger bodies to defend Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. New England's defensive looks are matchup-based and unpredictable week to week. They have employed receivers in the secondary, and their corners and safeties can be interchangeable. The Patriots have used a 4-3 for most of the season.
Potential Giants issues: The Patriots' offense is better equipped to handle the Giants' elite front four than most because their tight ends, particularly Gronkowski, can block. While Brady mixes in deep shots to change pace, New England's offense is "horizontal" in nature, and can pick apart a defense over the middle. No team has shown the ability to stop the Patriots' top three receivers (Gronkowski, Hernandez, Wes Welker) in the same game this season. In the Patriots' regular-season matchup with the Giants, Gronk went off for 101 yards and a touchdown on eight catches. Welker racked up 136 yards on nine grabs, and Hernandez chipped in another score.
Potential Patriots issues: Julian Edelman is ordinarily New England's fourth receiver and punt returner, but he functioned as a rare two-way player in the AFC Championship Game. In addition to playing 27 snaps on offense, Edelman was in for 27 defensive downs, covering the slot in New England's nickel sets. The Giants are far more dangerous than the Ravens in the slot offensively because it is leading receiver Victor Cruz's position. The Patriots' luck threatens to run out if they assign Edelman to Cruz in Super Bowl XLVI. It's a one-on-one battle that Cruz could dominate.
At least on returns, special teams is not a strength for either Super Bowl club. The Patriots finished the regular season 29th in the league in kick return average. The Giants were a more respectable, if still unremarkable 20th. Neither team has a kickoff-return touchdown this season.
Edelman had a 72-yard punt-return touchdown on Monday Night Football in Week 11, although it was his lone return of 20-plus yards all season. Giants punt returner Will Blackmon's season long was 16 yards. The stats suggest there won't be many special-teams fireworks in this Super Bowl.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has guided his teams to a 15-6 career playoff record and three Super Bowl titles. His lone Super Bowl loss, of course, was to Giants coach Tom Coughlin four years ago. Defensively, Belichick has a knack for scheming to take away his opposition's top offensive weapon. Belichick was again successful in the AFC Championship Game, as his defense held Ravens second-team All-Pro running back Ray Rice out of the end zone and to just 67 yards on 21 carries (3.19 YPC). Rice was bottled up for three or fewer yards on 14 of his rushing attempts.
Coughlin has 16 years of NFL head-coaching experience, but has only squared off with Belichick three times. All have been as Giants coach, and Coughlin has won two straight by close margins (17-14, 24-20). His lone loss to Belichick occurred in Week 17 of 2007 in a hard-fought, 38-35 game. In Week 9 this season, Coughlin defeated Belichick without top receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring), tailback Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), center David Baas (knee), cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot), and fullback Henry Hynoski (neck). That's four starters and a nickel back.
Devin McCourty -- A secondary coach in his earlier years, Belichick has a history of using safeties and cornerbacks interchangeably. McCourty is the latest example. Strictly a corner in his 2010 rookie campaign, McCourty struggled on an island this season and began seeing snaps at free safety in recent games. McCourty is versatile in that he can play both positions as well as slot corner. Should Edelman have trouble against Cruz, McCourty will be an option to kick inside from his usual left corner post. McCourty has been an every-down player regardless of game-by-game positioning, so he'll have a vital role in the Pats' attempt to halt the Giants' red-hot passing attack.
I think this game can go either way and was surprised to see the Patriots favored by three points. It seems like a relatively big margin against the hottest team in football. I'm picking the Giants because I think they will have more offensive success against New England's defense than the Patriots will against a New York team that has not permitted more than two touchdowns in a game since early December. I expect an exciting Super Bowl with plenty of scoring and a close finish.
Giants 28, Patriots 27.