It was the greatest Super Bowl ever played, a Cinderella story like no other in the history of the NFL. The tale of the 2007 New York Giants was not just a legend of an underdog team that decided its own fate, against all odds. It was a design for living. It was a transcendent example that anything is possible.
For the New England Patriots, the story had quite a different ending. Their journey to Super Bowl XLII was a shining account of pride and perfection that ultimately ended with the shattered dreams of not just an organization, but the entire northeast corner of this great nation.
This Sunday sets up one of the most anticipated Super Bowl rematches of all time. The parallels are uncanny. The circumstances - virtually identical. For one team, it is a chance to taste glory once more - to prove the naysayers wrong, in familiar fashion. For the other, a chance to reap revenge, to right a wrong that has haunted them, every day, for the last four years and reclaim the pride that was lost on that Arizona field. This is Super Bowl XLVI!
Who are the New England Patriots?
In short, the Pats are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Many faces have changed since 2007. But the success of this team, because of these two individuals, has not. Both are, arguably, the best at what they do. They can take an average player and make him look two shades better than he actually may be. However, Belichick has a keen eye for talent and that is exactly what this New England team have. They are not without their weaknesses, though.
Who are the New York Giants?
This is a team who had one of the hardest schedules in the league, had their apple cart tipped over due to a multitude of injuries, were forced to beat the best of the best in order to keep their season alive and kept coming back for seconds. What was once an inconsistent group of individuals is now a well oiled machine, that shows no signs of slowing down. Do the G-Men have one more win in them?
Tom Brady, is without a doubt, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. In a year where quarterbacks reigned supreme, Brady was outdone by Drew Brees. Both of these quarterbacks broke Dan Marino's single-season passing record this year. With the outstanding performances of Aaron Rodgers and Brees, Brady's achievements seemed to take a back seat, at times. Rest assured, he is not about to go quietly into the night this coming Sunday. In fact, he will do everything in his power to sink his nails into redemption.
ATT - 611
Comp - 401
YDS - 5,235
Comp % - 65.6
Yds/CMP - 8.6
TDs - 39
INT - 12
Sack - 32
QB Rating - 105.6
Tom Brady is ranked No. 2 in the league (PASSING YARDS).
His postseason QB Rating is 105.8 (2 games)
Eli Manning has done what guys like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Bret Favre and other greats have never done - thrown for over four thousand yards in three consecutive years. This has been a personal best for Eli. At times, Manning looked absolutely brilliant. Other times, he appeared to have discovered the zen of football. The growth and leadership he has shown this season have been inspiring. There is one thing about Eli that has never wavered, his belief in himself and his team. It seems to be catchy among his teammates.
ATT - 589
Comp - 359
YDS - 4,933
Comp % - 61.0
Yds/CMP - 8.4
TDs - 29
INT - 16
Sack - 28
QB Rating - 92.9
Eli Manning is ranked No. 4 in the league (PASSING YARDS).
His postseason QB Rating is 103.1 (3 games).
The Patriots are not exactly known for their running game. Their regular season stats certainly are proof of that. That is not to say that they do not have some weapons on the ground. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is definitely capable of making the big play. He has the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in the regular season but has not been used much in the postseason. He has twenty-eight attempts in the last two postseason games. The Pats will need to establish a running game to open things up.
New England's running game is ranked 20th in regular season play.
They are ranked 6th in the postseason (2 games).
This was not what one would call a "banner year" for Big Blue in the rushing department. Ahmad Bradshaw had surgery earlier in the season. Brandon Jacobs couldn't seem to get things going. The running game was simply, not there. Enter the postseason. It's a new season and a renewed Giants team. Bradshaw has the second-most rushing yards in the postseason. Jacobs has the fifth-most. They are still averaging the same amount of yards-per-carry that they had going in the regular season. Yet, they are finding holes and doing what the coaches are ordering from the sidelines. The running game might not be too effective against this postseason Patriots o-line.
New York's running game is ranked 32nd in regular season play.
They are ranked 7th in the postseason (3 games).
Aaron Hernandez was just eighty-yards short of hitting the 1,000 yard milestone. Had he made it, the Patriots would have had three receivers with over 1K receiving yards. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski have been Tom Brady's go-to guys. Welker finished the regular season with the second-most receiving yards. Gronk had the sixth-most. Deion Branch is another weapon in the New England arsenal, of which there are many. Gronkowski is currently dealing with a high ankle sprain. It is quite possible that he may not be much of a factor this Sunday, which is good news for Big Blue. This will not be the first group of targets that the Giants have had to take away from a high flying quarterback. Coverage sacks have been a New York specialty this postseason.
The Patriots are ranked 2nd in receiving yards (regular season).
They are ranked 4th in the postseason (2 games).
Victor Cruz, the Giants' leading receiver in the regular season and the third-ranked receiver in the NFL, has yet to catch a postseason touchdown. Needless to say, teams have been shadowing him like no other. This has opened things up for Hakeem Nicks, who is the leading receiver in the postseason. Nicks has 111.7 yards per game throughout the playoffs. Cruz has a beefy 81.3. Adding to the headaches of opposing offensive coordinators is Mario Mannigham. Kevin Gilbride has been doing a bang-up job of compensating for a double, even triple teamed Victor Cruz and the stats tell the tale.
The Giants are ranked 5th in receiving yards (regular season).
They are ranked 3rd in the postseason (3 games).
This has been an enduring strength for the Pats. Belichick, infamous for his Draft strategies, made a few moves to get ahead the Giants and picked up the six-foot eight-inch mountain known as Nate Solder. Under Belichick's rule, this kid will flourish and the Pats' o-line has already begun to take on the shape for the years to come. Currently, they have the fourth-oldest o-line in the league. This is a solid line.
New England's Offensive Line is ranked NO. 9 (regular season).
They are ranked NO. 2 in the postseason (2 games).
The New York Giants offensive line was battle tested last week against the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners had the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL. Last week, however, they played like a team full of Lawrence Taylors. Eli Manning was under pressure all day long. The Giants' O-line gave up six sacks to the 49ers. Prior to that, in the postseason, they only gave up two. The Niners single-handedly altered the G-Men's postseason stats. The good news? This Sunday the Giants will not be facing a fierce defense like that of Frisco's.
New York's Offensive Line is ranked NO. 7 (regular season).
They are ranked 12th (last) in the postseason (3 games).
The Patriots are ranked 2nd in TOTAL OFFENSE (regular season).
They are ranked 2nd in the postseason (2 games).
The Giants are ranked 8th in TOTAL OFFENSE (regular season).
They are ranked 4th in the postseason.
Jerod Mayo leads the Patriots in regular season tackles (95). He is also leading them in postseason tackles (17). Rob Ninkovich has been finding his way to opposing quarterbacks this year. He has six-and-a-half sacks in the regular season. This linebacker crew is a relatively young group and definitely not the strongest link in their defensive chain.
The Patriots have the No. 17 ranked rush defense (regular season).
They are ranked No. 7 in the postseason (2 games).
I don't think I can stress this enough - the Giants have become an entirely different team over the last month. This is not opinion. It is an undeniable fact recognized by every pundit out there. This group of linebackers are inclusive in that statement. Michael Boley's postseason performance has been stellar. Jacquain Williams has also been doing a tremendous job. Surprisingly, the acquired off-the-couch, Chase Blackburn finds himself as one of the the leading tacklers of all the linebackers in the postseason. Perry Fewell has kept these guys off of the pass rush throughout the playoffs and it has paid dividends.
The Giants have the No. 19 ranked rush defense (regular season).
They are ranked No. 6 in the postseason.
This is a dangerous group, one that has a taste for quarterbacks. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, both, had ten regular season sacks. Vince Wilfork had three and a half. Kyle Love had three. These guys like to press the line and do not quit. The Giants' o-line will have its work cut out for them, as there is no doubt that there is a price tag on Eli Manning's head this Sunday.
Jason Pierre-Paul. Need I say more? If that weren't enough, Linval Joseph, Chris Canty, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora - these are all names that strike fear in the opposition, especially in this postseason. If you're looking pass rushers, you've found them.
Much like the Giants and all other explosive aerial attacks, the Patriots have struggled limiting the passing game. They gave up just under 5,000 yards during the regular season. They have done a bit better in the postseason. But what one must realize is that the Patriots postseason stats are tainted by a horrible performance by the Denver Broncos. Tim Tebow didn't do much at all against Brady and co. Against the Ravens, this secondary did what they could, but still allowed Joe Flacco to hook up with his receivers for 306 yards. This is the area that the Giants will need to exploit.
New England's pass defense is ranked 31st (regular season).
They are ranked 3rd in the postseason (2 games).
These New York Giants are marveled upon, this year, due to the fact of their complete turnaround season. Their rushing game was non-existent, as was their secondary. Yet, at the end of the regular season, when they really needed to do their jobs, this group got it done. They have continued to get it done. Being in the Super Bowl is proof-positive. They began to climb up the stat ladder towards the end of the regular season and continued to make strides in the playoffs.
New York's pass defense is ranked 29th (regular season).
They are ranked 4th in the postseason (3 games).
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the top 10 field goal kickers in the league. That should tell you that Brady has not been finding the end zone as much as Belichick would like. On the flip side, Zoltan Mesko hasn't had to punt much this season. Points are points, whether they are three or seven. Julian Edelman has handled the bulk of the punt returns and can be quite slippery. He returned one back for seventy-two yards earlier in the year. Their kick return game hasn't been much to speak of.
Matt Dodge. "Miracle At The Meadowlands." These are painful reminders of how crucial special teams really is. Giants fans can thank this unit, as they are directly responsible for putting the G-Men into the Super Bowl. Jacquain Williams' forced fumble and Devin Thomas' recovery set the table. Steve Weatherford's recovery of Zak DeOssie's low snap and Lawrence Tynes' winning field goal did the dishes. That, my friends, is special teams at its best.
The New England Patriots total defense is ranked 31st (regular season).
They are ranked 4th in the postseason (2 games).
The New York Giants total defense is ranked 27th (regular season).
They are ranked 2nd in the postseason (3 games).
The stage is set. The rematch is at hand. Like 2007, the Giants took on the Patriots earlier in the year. Except, this year, they beat them. In fact, the Giants were the last team to beat the Patriots this season. To say that the Pats are seeking revenge is a gross understatement. I doubt that the Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl ring mean as much to Tom Brady as much as beating the Giants does.
Unfortunately for Brady, the G-Men are not going to lay down to appease his bleeding ego. The New York Giants have been Tom Brady's "white whale" ever since they ruined his perfect season in 2007. That is a big bag of resentment to be carrying around for so long. Despite what some might think, this is not something that works in Tom Brady's favor.
New York has nothing to lose. They're the underdogs, again. Many believe that they have been more fortunate than skilled. If they lose, they will not be frowned upon or questioned. After all, Tom Brady was "due" his revenge. For Brady and the Patriots, this game means the world. If Belichick and Brady, the "best coach-quarterback duo of all-time", lose this game they will have to make peace with the fact that they were outplayed and out-coached by the New York Giants all over again. I see many sleepless nights in New England's future.