I admire the way the New York Football Giants have marched through the postseason. You can pretty much toss out their up-and-down regular season results at this point. In the postseason, the Giants punched Atlanta and Green Bay in their mouths, then went toe-to-toe with San Francisco in a heavyweight fight of a football game. The 49ers blinked first, in overtime, when exhaustion and inexperience tend to manifest as game changing mistakes. Just like in 2007, when the underdog Giants unexpectedly ripped through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl, these G-Men are back in the big game. And they’ll be facing, nominally anyway, the same opponent.
You can’t really call this a rematch; too much has changed in four seasons. And just as the Giants are a better team now than in the fall, so too are the New England Patriots. During the regular season the Patriots were cursed with a “bad” defense that gave up big yards; it’s cursed them all the way to 15 wins and a Super Bowl berth. Total yardage surrendered is a near-worthless stat. Think about it – how many yards is a defense willing to concede after it’s up by three scores? A team that scores early and often is liable to be in that position. Although the statistical sample is small – two games – New England in the playoffs has held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 74.05.
“Yeah, but one of those games was against Denver and Tebow,” you say.
Oh, you mean the same Tim Tebow who chucked it for 316 yards and two touchdowns against the supposedly tough, Dick Lebeau-coached Pittsburgh defense in the wild card round? (That included the game winner in overtime.) Don’t get me wrong, Tebow’s not a world beater, but before the Broncos were blown out in Foxboro, a lot of people thought that if he could light up Pittsburgh, he could at least keep Denver close in a shootout with Tom Brady. Didn’t happen.
Not only that, but Brady had a dreadful game a week later against Baltimore, and the Patriots still won. Sure, they got lucky in the end, but the New England defense managed to hold the Ravens to 20 points, this on a day when Joe Flacco was otherwise throwing the ball well and the Baltimore offense was controlling the clock.
The Giants’ D has been equally impressive. It shut down the entire Falcon offense, then the Packers’ formidable passing game. Eli Manning, meanwhile, took shot after shot from the 49ers and hung tough, while receiver Victor Cruz played an exhausting game, doing everything he could to get open and catch the ball. The team plays hard for its coach and it’s hard not to appreciate the effort and execution (especially when they’re often been so lacking in the past few years).
Super Bowl 42 (Giants 17, Patriots 14) was one of the all time upsets, a 16-0 Team of Destiny versus a wild card underdog that didn’t belong. If those teams played ten games, the Patriots would win nine. The 2007 Giants were one of the weakest NFL champions in history, but they took down Goliath when no one (besides them) expected it.
This year is nothing like that. New England doesn’t seem invincible, and the Giants – even though they were 9-7 – seem like the “hot” team because they’ve turned their game around in the playoffs. (Note: Teams that make the Super Bowl are usually on some kind of hot streak.) There’s no “nobody believes in us” factor from outside; many people actually expect the Giants to win this game. (The betting line is Patriots by three.)
Still, I keep coming back to that Patriots’ defense – the one everyone expects will suck. That coupled with a sharp performance by Brady will spell defeat for the G-Men. They’ll have to play flawlessly to score another “upset.” I think the Patriots will win – and I think the margin will be bigger than expected.
The Pick: Patriots by 9.