The Patriots are favored to win the Super Bowl, but the public money and the NFL media is picking the Giants. In reality, this is an extremely even matchup. The Giants may be deeper, but this is a mentally tough Patriots team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here are 11 reasons why the Patriots can win. And check my 11 reasons why the Giants can win.
1. Tom Brady will play better
The two-time MVP said he “sucked pretty bad” in the AFC title game. He was considerably worse in the regular season loss to the Giants. Brady struggled with an elbow injury back in Week 9 and routinely misfired on makeable passes. I charted 16 poor throws and he was picked off two times. It was his worst game of the year; that type of performance is unlikely to happen again.
Brady is healthier now. He also figured out where to attack the Giants defense when the Patriots put up 17 fourth quarter points.
2. They have the better running game
The Giants have the reputation as a tough team, but they were dead last in the league in rushing in the regular season. They’ve only run well in one playoff game. The Patriots had a significantly better running game all year. The Patriots boast a better run-blocking line, largely because of guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. Tight end Rob Gronkowski makes the Patriots run game more versatile than New York. The Patriots offense is more balanced.
3. Queens on a chessboard
That’s what Falcons coach Mike Smith called tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They force defenses into mismatches.
Gronk is the best red zone threat in the league and a devastating blocker. (He could work on his acting.) Hernandez runs routes like a wide receiver and made more defenders miss after the catch than any tight end in the league. New England’s two tight ends give the Patriots ultimate flexibility in protection and the running game.
4. They play fast
The Patriots unleashed their hurry up attack infrequently against the Giants in Week 9, in part because Chad Ochocinco couldn’t handle it. Now the no huddle is New England’s primary form of attack. (Ocho can watch from the sideline.)
Expect Tom Brady to go without a huddle for much of the Super Bowl so the Giants can’t substitute personnel.
5. Protection stands a chance
The Patriots offensive line is well equipped to slow down the Giants front four. New England owns a well-balanced and disciplined group. Matt Light has enjoyed a strong year at left tackle, and rookie right tackle Nate Solder is impressive. The ability to use two tight ends or an extra tackle usually keeps Tom Brady clean. They didn’t have that kind of flexibility in 2007.
During the Week 9 matchup, Brady was only knocked down three times and sacked twice. The protection held up very well, just like it did against the Ravens defense in the AFC title game.
6. The Patriots defense is peaking
The Patriots defense was never as bad as their yards allowed ranking this season (31st) indicated. They were 15th in points allowed, ten spots ahead of the Giants. They were third in forcing turnovers, two spots ahead of the Giants. The Patriots defense gave up only 30 points in two playoff games despite losing the turnover battle in both contests.
The secondary still isn’t great, but the team’s pass rush has come alive. They have played their best two games up front at the right time.
7. They can get pressure
Eli Manning took a lot of hits against the Patriots in Week 9, like he has all year. New England’s pass rush actually did a better job than New York’s front four in the first meeting, knocking Manning down eight times and hurrying him seven more.
New York’s offensive line is the team’s biggest weakness. Vince Wilfork and New England’s front seven has dominated the line of scrimmage lately. This is Wilfork’s defense. He’s reached that sweet spot where experience and talent match up perfectly.
Giants center David Baas is hurt and their guards have not played well this year. Wilfork’s signature playoff run should continue another game.
8. The defense stabilized
The Patriots are a completely different defense than in November. Philip Adams started at cornerback against the Giants. He’s no longer on the team. Albert Haynesworth started at defensive tackle. Remember him? Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung were both hurt late in the Giants win. Their replacements – Josh Barrett and Tracy White – were victimized in the game. Barrett’s off the team; White only plays special teams. Chung and Spikes make a huge difference for the entire defense.
Bill Belichick spent nearly the entire regular season looking for the right defensive formula. He finally found a group he can trust. This isn’t the most talented Patriots defense, but the players know their role. More importantly, those roles are stable.
9. Eli’s loose throws
Eli Manning throws a handful of passes up for grabs each game when he’s pressured. Defenses haven’t capitalized this year, but the opportunities are there. New England was second in interceptions this season and can make Manning’s aggressiveness work against him.
10. They are mentally tough
The Patriots know they can win any kind of game. They’ve won defensive games and shootouts. They’ve won when Tom Brady wasn’t at his best and they’ve won when the defense fell apart. They trailed 17-0 and 21-0 in the final two weeks of the regular season and won both times.
This Patriots team isn’t as talented or dominant as the 2007 team, but they are more resourceful and mentally tougher. That recipe won them a few Super Bowls titles.
11. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
This is the fifth Super Bowl together for Belichick and Brady, the most of any quarterback-coach combination in NFL history. They live for this. They know these opportunities no longer come around every year.
Brady turns 35 years old next training camp. Belichick turns 60 this year. A fourth Super Bowl title would put both men at a new level historically.
You could argue it’s not a good thing that both men sense their football mortality. I’ll take my chances on an all-time great coach and all-time great player rising to the moment with one more game plan and one more performance to remember.