I first wrote this column before Super Bowl XLII. I received a lot of feedback back then that I was stretching to look for reasons the Giants could beat the undefeated Patriots. Those angry emails won’t come this time around.
We’ve had four straight closely contested Super Bowls. On paper, this is the most even evenly matched game yet.
Here are 11 reasons why the Giants can break the Patriots hearts again. And check out my 11 reasons why the Patriots can win.
1. Eli Manning is at his best when pressure is on
I don’t mean “pressure” in a figurative way. No quarterback completes more passes than Manning while he’s getting hit.
Manning’s ability to buy time in the pocket, avoid the rush, and wait until the last moment to deliver throws from his laser rock arm remains the most overlooked aspect of his development. Manning delivers a few “wow” throws into tight windows every game. Many of New York’s biggest plays this season came against a perfectly called defense.
2. Third and long is never that long
Down and distance doesn’t matter to the Giants. They thrive in third-and-long situations. They converted more than half their third downs against the Falcons in the Wild Card round, including five straight on third and long.
They converted half their downs against the Packers, including three third-and-long conversions early in the game that set the tone. Life was tougher in the NFC title game, but they still kept the ball moving enough to run 90 plays against the 49ers. (San Francisco had 57.) The key play in the entire game came on Manning’s 17-yard touchdown toss to Mario Manningham . . . on third-and-15.
Manning led the NFL in third-down passing yardage and yards-per-attempt all season. And he has played his best in the fourth quarter. That’s a winning recipe.
The Giants played better football in the regular season than their 9-7 record indicated. Their biggest problem: injuries and the toughest schedule in football. Most of those injuries are no longer a concern.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, fullback Henry Hynoski, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, cornerback and center David Baas all missed the first game. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck struggled with injuries during the year. They will all be ready for Super Bowl Sunday.
4. Ahmad Bradshaw in shotgun
New York’s best running back wasn’t available when the Giants won in Foxborough. The Patriots invited New York to run, but the Giants couldn’t take advantage because Brandon Jacobs’ mouth runs faster than his legs at this stage of his career.
Bradshaw runs are more dangerous. Quicker and violent. New York can spread New England out with three wide receivers and use Bradshaw to gash them out of the shotgun formation. New England’s lack of speed at linebacker will show up against Bradshaw in the passing game as well. He’s capable of a Super Bowl MVP-type performance.
5. The three amigos
Bill Belichick is crafty, but he can’t create new players out of thin air. The Patriots can’t match up against the best wide receiver trio in the league: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham.
Let’s look closely at the Patriots secondary. At cornerback, their key players are Kyle Arrington (seventh-round pick), Sterling Moore (rookie undrafted converted safety released by Raiders), and Julian Edelman (converted wide receiver). At safety, they roll with Devin McCourty (cornerback beaten so badly he converted to safety), James Ihedigbo (journeyman Jets reject), and safety Patrick Chung.
Coaching is nice, but NFL games usually come down to talent. Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham can run circles around the Patriots secondary.
6. Physical safeties
In theory, the best way to stop the Patriots tight ends would be with hybrid cornerback-safeties that can cover and play physical football at the same. The Giants come closer to achieving this ideal than any team in the league.
The Giants essentially start three safeties: Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant. This is called their “big nickel” package with Grant often acting as linebacker. Phillips is a great traffic cop and cover safety. Rolle is a converted cornerback. Grant confused Tom Brady by lining up all over the place.
The Giants actually match up pretty well against New England’s biggest offensive threats.
7. They will get pressure with their front four
Osi Umenyiora rushes the passer and forces fumbles like a Pro Bowler. He doesn’t even start on the Giants. One of the starters (Jason Pierre-Paul) is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Another starter (Justin Tuck) is in his prime and destroyed the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
New York’s pass rush is special because of its depth. Defensive tackle Chris Canty creates havoc and gave the Patriots fits last time. Dave Tollefson and Linval Joseph have both made a lot of plays for New York this year.
The Giants have the ability to get pressure without blitzing. That’s the ultimate luxury against a top-shelf quarterback.
8. Fewell can confuse Brady
Tom Brady’s magic happens before the snap. But he couldn’t get a read on what the Giants were doing against him in Week 9. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did a masterful job changing up defensive looks against New England. It kept Brady guessing, and he often guessed wrong until the fourth quarter. The Giants won with scheme and coverage.
The Giants settled their secondary breakdowns late in the year. New York has the flexibility in their defense and the veterans to come at Brady with a different game plan every quarter.
9. They already did it
This isn’t 2008, but the Giants fly to Indy with twice as many Super Bowl XLII holdovers as the Patriots. New York beat the Patriots when they were 18-0. In November, the Giants snapped New England’s 20-game home winning streak. The Giants were the first NFC team to win in Foxborough since 2002. (Jason Pierre-Paul was 13 years.)
The Giants know they can beat the Patriots because they have done it twice in tougher circumstances. Beating a three-loss Patriots team on a neutral field should be no sweat.
10. Their irrational confidence is rational
There has never been a more confident, talkative 7-7 team than the Giants in the week before they faced the Jets in Week 16. It sounded irrational. After Big Blue took out Gang Green, Giants players started making comparisons to their championship team.
The Giants defense turned on a dime from uneven to menacing. It’s hard to call their sky-high confidence irrational now. They knew something we didn’t.
11. They are the better team
Forget the Giants record. They are more talented than the Patriots and they are playing a higher level. The Giants haven’t just won five straight games; they have dominated.
The Giants bum-rushed the Jets into submission. The Cowboys were not competitive in a game to decide the NFC East. Atlanta couldn’t score an offensive point. Green Bay lost by three scores at home. The 49ers were the first team during this ridiculous run to give the Giants a scare.
The Patriots should not be favored in the Super Bowl. New England’s one big advantage should be at quarterback, but that’s not the case when Eli Manning is playing out of his gourd.
If the Giants and the Patriots both play their very best, the Giants win.