by Gimpy (follow him on Twitter @NFLGimpy)
You don’t get the Super Bowl you want, you get the Super Bowl you deserve. Isn’t that what they said at the end of The Dark Knight? Something like that. Anyways, this is not the Super Bowl most fans wanted. Obviously fans always want to see their team, but for most, the thought of Tom Brady and the Patriots possibly winning their 4th Super Bowl in a decade is tough to stomach. That’s not to say the Giants are a fan favorite. Their players run their mouths too much, their fans are so whiny they become youtube and Tosh.0 sensations (just google crying Giants fan if you don’t know what I’m referencing), and Eli Manning just has a face you can’t help but hate.
We should be thankful that we even have a Super Bowl. We deserve a Super Bowl after the lockout, but after the vitriol thrown at players and owners by fans, we’ve gotta take what we can get after all the “millionaires vs. billionaires” garbage. While I never thought the NFL would miss any time, it was certainly on the table during the strike or decertification or whatever the heck you want to call it. I want to explore a little bit of why the Patriots and Giants are facing off . I’ll make a few observations, predictions, and finally I’ll pick a winner. All of those things will likely be half correct at best given how much I hate both teams so bias is inevitable.
I’ll start off with a few things that each team has in common, other than the obvious like elite QBs and blatant luck (I’m still trying to figure out why John Harbaugh or anyone on the Ravens didn’t call a timeout and how bad Tony Romo can be). First is flexible coaching. Obviously Belichea…er Belichick is a coach known for working with his personnel. The first 2 Patriots Super Bowl teams looked nothing like the 2004 squad and even less like the 2007 squad. This team looks nothing like the previous ones either.
The Patriots, a traditional 3-4 team, mostly ran a 4-3 this season because the personnel dictated it. Offensive tweaks are very common based off of skill players. You rarely see a team switch from 3-4 to 4-3 or vice versa without a big coaching change and/or shakeup. With Belichick at the helm, they switched. The results weren’t pretty in the regular season but have gotten better in the playoffs. The Patriots were next to last in total yards allowed(411 per game), passing yards(293 per game), and a mediocre 17th in rushing yards(117 per game). They were middle of the road at 15th in points allowed (21.4 per game).
The playoffs have been a complete 180 degree turn (360 if you’re Yogi Berra). While the sample size is small (2 games) and the opposition less than impressive on offense (Broncos and Ravens), the results are a lot different. They held both opponents under their season average for points allowed, held the Ravens RBs to 89 yards on 27 carries (3.3 ypc, a great average for a defense), and completely shut down a Broncos offense that beat the best defense in the NFL in 2011. The defense was a vital component of both wins, something that can’t be said for a majority of the regular season. The flexibility of Belichick and the defensive assistants is paying off at the right time. If their personnel was this bad with a 4-3 during the regular season, it would have been even worse with a 3-4. That’s a coaching staff willing to do what it takes. I don’t even need to talk about their use of 2 great receiving TEs and how different that is.
The surprising thing is the flexibility of Tom Coughlin and the Giants. Coughlin has a reputation (well deserved at that) of running a tight ship. He follows the old “if you aren’t 5 minutes early you’re 10 minutes late” style. That’s not to say he let up on things like that, it’s just an example to show you how he views the world. An “old school” coach like Coughlin showed a lot of flexibility to accommodate a lot of difficult factors. His work with OC Kevin Gilbride, one of the best unknown coordinators in the business, saved their season.
Allow me to throw a few stats at you. I’m going to use 2006-present as my same size for all of these because I want to show you what they were from the year before their Super Bowl to present. The main difference is the Giants offense. In the past, the Giants were a top 10 rushing team pretty consistently (using yards per game). From 2006-2010 they were 7th, 4th (Super Bowl year), 1st, 17th, and 6th. This year? Dead last. 32nd out of 32 NFL teams. I know Ahmad Bradshaw was banged up all year, but that’s shocking. They were worse than the Packers who didn’t even try to run the ball most games. They were worse than the Lions who had to sign a guy off the street to start for about half the season.
Then you look at their passing game. I’ll show you the same years, 2006-10 compared to the current year using yards per game. Starting in 2006 they were 19th, 21st, 18th, 11th, 10th, and finally 5th this year. While they were top 11 in 2009 and 2010, it’s important to note that the yards per game went up by 53 yards from 2010 to 2011. Eli’s yards per attempt were half a yard higher than his previous career high. He had 60 more attempts this season as well. He tied his best touchdown: interception ratio at +13.
Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride’s ability to change a run heavy offense to a passing one that was top 5 in the year of the QB (countless records broken) is the change that allowed the Giants to make up for the worst rushing attack in the NFL. If you had told Tom Coughlin during the preseason that the Giants would have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, his first thought wouldn’t have been “Super Bowl!” it would have been “I wonder if I’ll be coaching in 2012.” Incredible adjustments by him, Kevin Gilbride and the rest of the offensive assistants. I know I was surprised when I saw the Giants were 5th in passing yards. Obviously Brees, Brady, and Rodgers had great seasons, but to see Eli up there as well impressed me.
The next thing they have in common is opportunistic play. There’s always luck involved with a Super Bowl run. You have to take advantage of that luck, whether it’s good luck for yourself or bad luck for your opponent. The Giants did not look like a playoff team after week 13. Sure, they gave the Packers a close game, but they were 6-6 and had 4 straight losses. They also had 2 upcoming games against the Cowboys, their opponent for the division, in the last 4 weeks. There’s your luck: the schedule makers gave you a way to close out the season and control your own destiny despite a .500 record. The Giants responded with 3 wins in their last 4, including 2 wins over the Cowboys to clinch the division. Good teams win when they need to win. It sounds overly simplistic, but when faced with a do or die scenario, the Giants stepped up where countless teams have faltered in the past.
The Patriots had a different kind of opportunistic play. Most of my readers already know this, but the Patriots did not beat a single team with a winning record until they beat the Ravens. They beat numerous 8-8 teams (Broncos, Eagles, Chargers, Jets, Raiders, Cowboys) but no one with a winning record. They were opportunistic because when handed mediocre teams, they beat mediocre teams. Their only loss to a team with a losing record was the Bills when they looked like the best team in the AFC. Reality hit the Bills hard, but they were playing great early in the season. You can’t control who your opponents are in the NFL, all you can do is beat them. It’s important to note that the Patriots are the only team in the NFL that really don’t have a bad loss, a loss to a team they had no business losing to. Other than the Bills, they lost to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and their upcoming Super Bowl opponent. With 7 losses, obviously the Giants lost a few they shouldn’t have, namely the Redskins late in the season. The Ravens, the Patriots’ opponent in the AFC Championship game, lost to the Jaguars. I don’t know the tie breakers, but if the Ravens had won that game, they would have had the exact same record as the Patriots and may have had home field advantage. Do the Patriots win that game in Baltimore? It’s interesting to consider.
When you beat the teams you need to beat, you put yourself in the position the Patriots are in. No bad losses plus beat the mediocre teams=home field advantage. Let’s get to some predictions on key battles.
Patriots secondary vs. Giants WRs
This matchup on paper gives the Giants a huuuge edge. Nicks and Cruz are physical, have strong hands, and won’t hesitate to beat up a New England secondary that has struggled a lot this past season. This is one of those scenarios where paper meets reality. The only things that will stop the Giants WRs are drops and a bad day from Eli.
Giants DL vs. Patriots OL
This one is a bit more intriguing. The Giants thrive on a front 4 that can rush the passer. The Patriots have an underrated OL. They tend to step up their game when necessary. I think the Giants will get pressure on Brady, but not enough to rattle him like they did earlier in the season. I think Brady is more determined to win this Super Bowl than he was during the 2007 season.
Patriots TEs vs.Giants LBs and Safeties
The Patriots TEs (Gronkowski and Hernandez) set opposing defenses on fire. Gronk had a record setting season and Hernandez had a better season than most #1 TEs did. LBs and Safeties are easily the weak link on the Giants defense. They don’t have anyone that can match up with Gronk and Hernandez. The good news for the Giants is that Gronk has a high ankle sprain and will not be 100%. If he’s limited as a runner, this would be a huge life saver for the Giants. They should be able to handle Hernandez with some solid schemes and execution. If Gronk is limited, I think the Giants “win” this matchup. When I say “win” I mean “not completely dominated.” If Gronk is at 80-90% and capable of running routes, the Giants will be their next victim if Brady has a clean pocket.
Eli vs. Brady
This is the matchup everyone cares about. Brady’s magazine cover looks vs. Eli’s goofy “Peyton’s younger brother that probably got beat up too many times by big brother” look. Eli has been great all 3 playoff games (8 touchdowns, 1 interception, over 300 yards per game) and Brady hasn’t (2 interceptions vs. Baltimore). I give the edge to Brady for 1 reason and 1 reason only: I think he wants it more. Brady has to see that his window is closing. He looks at his career long rival Peyton Manning and has to realize he’s closer to the end than the beginning. There’s also the loss of Myra Kraft, wife of Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, earlier this season. I just have to think Brady is winning this one for the Kraft family and to show the world he’s still the best. That leads me to my prediction.
Brady wins another Super Bowl MVP and joins only Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with 4 Lombardis. He also joins John Elway as the only QBs with 5 Super Bowl appearances. He’ll also join all 3 of them in Canton.
It’s kind of difficult to do Overpaid/Underpaid player of the week when the only game was the Pro Bowl. The sane Pro Bowl in which every single player deserves an “Overpaid” award because even $25k for the losers is a drastic overpayment for what they put on the field. There wasn’t a sack until the 4th quarter because the DL didn’t even try to rush the passer. I don’t understand why they play the game. With players rightfully intent on not getting hurt, why play the game? I’d much rather watch an accuracy competition between the QBs to see who can hit a ring 60 yards downfield or a bench press competition between the linemen. Let them actually compete in things that likely won’t hurt them.
Remember to be safe on Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t have too many readers yet so I’d like to keep the ones I have. I’ve never been one to turn down alcohol, just make sure you don’t drink and drive. Drink and walk, drink and ride the bus, drink and hitchhike with that overly friendly guy in a white cargo van, just don’t drink and drive. Ok, maybe you should avoid the white cargo van.