The Morning Drive on Sirius XM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) Channel 88 with Bob Papa (@BobPapa_NFL) and Solomon Wilcots (@SolomonsWisdom_) opened with a discussion about the New York Giants and the New England Patriots upcoming meeting in Indianapolis. While not the focus of the opening dialogue, Papa pointed out the Vegas line opened with the Patriots favored at -3.5, and how surprised he was that the Vegas line favored the Patriots. Both Papa and Wilcots seemed to think the Giants should be favored to win this game and Wilcots correctly pointed out that the Vegas lines are made to get action on those bets. Breaking down the positions should provide some insight as to which team (on paper) holds an advantage.
Veering this discussion away from 2011 passing statistics as both have had statistically impressive seasons, Tom Brady and Eli Manning have had their share of criticism. Brady, despite a resume that includes two NFL MVPs, three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs, and seven Pro Bowl selections, is often relegated by his critics to an average QB who excels because of the system he is in. This is nothing more than hypothetical conjecture. It can never be proven or disproven (even with Matt Cassel’s success in the same system). A QB cannot be faulted or his achievements discounted because of the system he operates in. The NFL has always been about quantifiable stats and it is a dangerous road for people to try and qualify a player’s accomplishments.
Manning, on the other hand, does not have the impressive resume Brady has under his belt. Manning’s supporters tout Manning’s toughness, leadership, that he is “clutch” and other intangibles as his most impressive traits. Manning does boast a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP award and is a two-time Pro Bowler. A record most people may not be aware of is that Manning holds the record for most 4th Quarter TDs in a season (15) as well as the NFL record for most road playoff wins (5), which lends credence to the “clutch” tag Manning’s supporters put on him. While Manning has closed the gap on Brady and clearly elevated himself into top-5 NFL QB standing, Brady still gets the nod here, but not by much.
As wide receiver production from the tight end position becomes more of a staple of NFL offenses, it is necessary to include TEs when talking about a team’s receiving corps. Breaking down the top four receivers from each team (Patriots – Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch; Giants – Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Jake Ballard, and Mario Manningham), one team clearly has the advantage when looking at the numbers. The Patriots’ top four receivers accounted for 3,908 yards (74.7% of Brady’s total passing yardage), and the Giants’ accounted for slightly less at 3,795 (76.9% of Manning’s total passing yardage). While those numbers are not much different, the Patriots’ receivers had an eye-popping 2,239 yards after the catch (YAC); an outstanding 57% of their total yardage came after the reception. The Giants’ receivers totaled 1,250 YAC, which equated to 33% of their yardage occurring after the catch. Additionally, the Patriots’ receivers scored 38 TDs, while the Giants’ had 24 TDs.
Without looking at stats, the average fan might automatically assume that the Giants have the clear advantage at the running back position because of the Giants two headed rushing attack of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. However, this is where Deion Sanders says, “Hold On Playa!” While the Giants do have two 600 yard rushers in Bradshaw (659, 3.9 Yards Per Carry (YPC)) and Jacobs (571, 3.8 YPC), the Patriots have a respectable stable of rushers in BenJarvis Green-Ellis (667, 3.7 YPC), Stevan Ridley (441, 5.1 YPC), and Danny Woodhead (351, 4.6 YPC). As a team, the Patriots rushing attack accounted for 1,764 yards of offense with 4.0 YPC, while the Giants rushing attack accounted for 1,427 yards of offense with 3.5 YPC. Ridley was inactive for the AFC Championship game and if he is inactive for the Super Bowl, the Patriots will have few options for short yardage back situations if Green-Ellis goes down. However, the Patriots have been more efficient at running the ball this year.
This area for both teams benefits from the elite play of their QBs to cover up the deficiencies of their offensive line. Both lines will have to deal with pressures from the opponent’s pass rushers. Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork lead the way for the Patriots, while the Giants will be sending Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora after Brady. Even with two Pro Bowlers on their line in Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, Brady was sacked four more times (32) than Manning (28), but that is more of a credit to Manning’s mobility advantage over Brady than a discredit to the Patriots’ offensive line. However, against the 49er’s superior pass rush last week, Manning was sacked six times and the ground game never really got going against the their front seven. While the Patriots’ offensive line is going to be severely tested in this game, the advantage along the offensive line still goes to the Patriots.
Front seven & Pass Rush
This is one area where the Giants hold a clear advantage with their elite pass rushers in Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. While the Patriots will be able to apply pressure against the Giants offensive line with Wilfork leading the way, Manning’s aforementioned mobility advantage and uncanny ability to shift in the pocket will negate most of this. The Giants will get to Brady; the only question is how many times will they be able to get there before the ball is out? Placing the over/under at 3.5 and taking the over here.
The Patriots ranked 31st in most yards give up this year, but tied for 2nd in number of interceptions (23). The Giants, on the other hand, ranked 29th, while placing tied for 6th in interceptions (20). Neither team holds a significant advantage in the secondary, with each defense capable of giving up or making the big play. If forced to choose, the Patriots would get the nod due to more turnovers, but the difference is miniscule.
How Will Blackmon manages to keep his job as a punt returner for the Giants is mind boggling. He has yet to produce any returns that that generated excitement for Giants fans or any measurable advantage for his team. As a team, the Giants are averaging 9.9 yards per return. The Patriots have not fared much better in their return game, with the Patriots averaging even less at 8.5 yards per return. However, the Giants do excel in return coverage, allowing opposing returns an average of only 6.1yds on returns (4th in the league) while the Patriots allow 10.3 (17th). On punting net yards, the Giants are 7th in the league, gaining an average of 42.0 yards of field position on punts, while the Patriots are 24th, gaining an average of 39.7 (24th in the league). While the advantage is small, the punting game favors the Giants here.
Key Match Ups
Giants Pass Rush vs Patriots Offensive Line
Even while boasting Mankins and Waters, the Patriots are going to have problems containing the Giants pass rush. Brady will likely run quite a bit of no huddle offense to keep the same defense on the field, and Belichick will run some screens to slow them up. Make no mistake though: The key to the Giants winning this game is pressuring Brady often and hitting him hard. Brady operates best when he can stand comfortably in the pocket and look downfield. This Giants pass rush will force Brady to move as they will pressure him often and hit him hard. Brady won’t be able to throw when he is on his back.
Patriots Tight Ends vs Giants Defense
Vernon Davis had a huge day for the 49ers and had it not been for the two Kyle Williams fumbles, this article would very likely be talking about how the Patriots’ TEs would match up with the 49ers instead of the Giants Defense. Gronkowski, the best tight end in the game today, was hobbled in the Ravens game, but vows to be ready to play for the Super Bowl. This will be critical for the Patriots, as this is one area they clearly hold a key matchup advantage and will be crucial for them to win this game. If Gronkowski is playing, look for Brady to push the no huddle offense and get big days from both Hernandez and Gronkowski. Remember the previously stated YAC statistic about the Patriots receiving corps? If the Giants cannot get them wrapped up with fundamental tackling, they are in for a long day versus these two beastly tight ends. Remember, the Patriots did not have these two in the last Super Bowl.
Nevertheless, it will be hard for Brady to get the ball to his TEs when he is constantly pressured all day.
When looking at each team’s performances versus 8-8 or better teams in the regular season, it’s easy to see why these teams are in the playoffs. Out of the 12-team playoff field, the Patriots ranked #1 in RZ efficiency at a blistering 65.8% while the Giants were #2 at an even 60%. The Patriots convert 45% of their 3rd downs, while the Giants convert 41%. The Patriots averaged 5.7 penalties a game for 50.9yds, and the Giants averaged 5.1 penalties a game for 42.5 yards. In points per game, the Patriots averaged 29.9 points per game (PPG), while the Giants were right behind them at 27.7 PPG. In terms of points allowed, the Giants allowed more points (24.9) than the Patriots (20.6). For those who might point out the Patriots had an easier schedule, the Patriots played nine teams that were 8-8 or better, while the Giants played ten, so there was not a big difference in terms of schedule. Fewer points allowed, more points scored, higher conversions of red zone opportunities and third downs point to the clear advantage here for the Patriots.
So, it is left to you to decide who you think will win the Super Bowl. This summary is not meant to sway you one way or another but to give you an objective view of some of the aspects of how the teams performed. If you want to see my pick next week, follow me on Twitter @Shaner021 and Sports Kings Twitter account @RealSportsKings.