NY Giants (+3) vs. New England Patriots
Anyone who tells you they know how this game is going to turn out — whether they’re guaranteeing a blowout or a narrow win — is engaging in pure bluster. This, as much as any Super Bowl I can remember, and surely as much as any matchup this season, is anybody’s game. I’ve spent two weeks looking at it from all kinds of angles and I can’t come to any other conclusion. It’s truly about which team executes better on the field Sunday. Does that mean it has to be a tight finish? No. It means that the game is going to be decided by one or two key mistakes — a missed block, a missed tackle, a special teams blunder, a running back putting the ball on the ground, a quarterback delivering it to a DB. If those mistakes simply stop the team that makes them from scoring, the final will be close. If they make it easy for the other team to put up seven, it could look like a blowout on the scoreboard. Simple.
So what about my whole thing with games being decided in the trenches? They are. And this one may well be. But you go ahead and tell me what that says about these two teams. The Giants have a formidable pass rush, but the Patriots have a rock-solid offensive line. Any ideas you read or hear (or have) about who’s gonna win that battle have little to do with the players on the field and lots to do with the desired outcome of the person, fan or professional, expressing them. So it remains true that the way to slow the Patriots offense in this game, as it was in Super Bowl XLII, is to get to Tom Brady. That’s great. Very helpful to know. Let’s see if they can do it. Same thing goes for the Patriots defensive front’s ability to get to Eli Manning. The New England DBs aren’t taking the Giants’ receivers out of this game any more than the New Jersey DBs were going to take the Pats receivers out the last time around. It doesn’t matter that the Pats have a “patchwork” secondary made up of guys who have changed position, street free agents, and a converted WR/return man (who was a converted quarterback before that). Because you could have Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha out there for all it matters; if you let plays develop forever by failing to get to Manning, those excellent receivers are going to find a way to get open. While the Patriots defensive front inarguable has come on late in the season and is better than many yet realize, no one’s arguing that the Pats have as good a pass rush as they Giants do. But the Patriots pass rushers aren’t playing against the Giants pass rushers; they’re playing against a shaky New Jersey O line. That means they have as good a chance of getting to Manning as the Giants have of getting to Brady. They also have the slight advantage that comes from the fact that the Patriots offense operates underneath and inside the numbers whereas the Giants O is more reliant on bigger plays that take longer to develop.
If the quarterbacks can stay upright, this has the potential to become a very high scoring game. New England’s defense isn’t the weakness it’s perceived to be (yes the Pats gave up a lot of yards in the regular season, but they didn’t give up many points then and they haven’t in the playoffs) but it has been vulnerable to big plays, which can be trouble in a game like this against a team like the Giants. New Jersey, on the other hand, allowed more points per game than New England in the regular season (25 as compared to the Pats 21.4). The Giants, we keep hearing, have allowed just 13 points per game in the playoffs, which is great. But the Patriots have allowed only 15. So that’s an average over all games played of 23.1, and 20.7 allowed by New England, not much a shift in differential. And with a D that relies on pass rush because its linebackers and secondary are spotty, the Giants will quickly run into matchup issues if they can’t get to Brady.
Though you’d hardly know it from all the talk about the Giants being the more balanced team (and from all the experts picking New Jersey to win), the Pats come out ahead in the bulk of statistical comparisons. As discussed above, the Giants by and large allow more points. And while Giants supporters will point to the averages allowed in the playoffs as evidence that the newly healthy New Jersey D puts the lie to its regular season numbers, one might argue that if you want to segment things like that you ought to do it for both teams. That means looking at the playoff rounds in which both teams have participated (the Pats earned a first-round bye; the Giants did not, though they effectively got one when their wild card opponents, the Atlanta Falcons, failed to show up). Over those two weeks, the Giants scored 57 points and allowed 37, while the Patriots scored 68 and allowed 30. I’m not going to argue that those are meaningful numbers for comparison, however. Two games don’t constitute a trend. I think you have to go back to the complete numbers.
In the regular season, the Patriots put up 32.1 points per game; the Giants scored 24.6. Bring in post season numbers and you get to 32.3 and 25. The Patriots outgained the Giants in the air and on the ground in both the regular season and the playoffs. (It’s particularly notable, that the Giants managed only 89 rushing yards per game in the regular season. They’ve done significantly better than that in the post-season, but they accomplished their 117 yards per game average entirely by running all over the Falcons.) On D, as noted, the Pats allowed more yards (though fewer rushing yards) and fewer points per game in the regular season. Factoring in the post season, New England still has allowed fewer points per game. The Patriots also have allowed more total yards, more yards through the air, and fewer on the ground. The Giants registered 48 regular season sacks to the Patriots’ 40. In the post-season, the Giants have nine sacks over three games, while the Pats have eight over two. The advantage there still belongs to New Jersey. The Patriots had a regular season takeaway-giveaway differential of +17; the Giants came in at +7. Factoring in the playoffs, things get a good bit tighter, but the Pats still come out ahead, with a +14 to the Giants’ +12.
That stuff’s all great to think about, but none of it points to one of these teams dominating the other. Nor does it point to any kind of outcome you can consider likely. And that gets me back to this: One of these teams is going to make a crucial error, maybe two, and that’s going to make the difference in this game. There’s no way to predict, with two teams that play a highly disciplined style of football, where the mistakes are going to show up. That means there’s no way to predict with certainty how this thing is gonna turn out.
Of course, I’m here to make a prediction, so that’s what I’m gonna do. And since I have nothing left to do but pick with my heart, I’m taking the Patriots. I’ll go with the score from the last time the Pats came out on top in a game with the Giants: 38-35.