No, not really. If I had, I'd be on a plane to Vegas, wouldn't I? But I have watched every game by both of these teams for several years now, and honestly for the past several nights I've lied in bed thinking about this game!
I'm no pro with Xs and Os. These are just a handful of my predictions about various aspects of the game, and how things could turn out.
Everyone is hyping the biggest mismatch in the game as being the Giants' WRs vs. The Patriots' DBs. And from a talent standpoint, I agree. But does talent = results? Perhaps the guys at Bleeding Green Nation would give you their opinion. In order to neutralize the Giants' deep-threat potential, I see the Pats frequently using the 4-3 front they have played with at times this year. They have gone more 3-4 in the previous 2 playoff games, but the Giants pose several deep/speed threats not possessed by Denver or Baltimore. To counteract this, Big Bad Bill Belichick goes to the 4-man line in various combinations (sound familiar, Giants fans?). Wilfork and Love inside, Anderson and Ellis outside. Suddenly the biggest mismatch in the game is not so clear.
David Baas, plagued by undisclosed neck and head injuries, has yet to become a force inside. Chris Snee is a good guard but most of BBV would agree he is playing the back nine of his Giants career now, having peaked a few years ago. Kevin Boothe may be the best of the three, and he's a solid guy but no world beater. If these guys can't push basically two Vince Wilforks, Eli will have trouble stepping up to deliver the deep ball. Oh, and by the way, that leaves speedy, athletic 10-sack beast Mark Anderson against the slow LT who lost his job this season David Diehl. On the other side it will be beast-man Shaun Ellis up against the groomed-for-an-armchair Kareem McKenzie.
There are mismatches all over this aspect of the game and I could see the Pats doing to Eli what the Giants did to Brady on '07. The Giants will need to bring in extra linemen like Tony Ugoh and Mitch Petrus to aid the run game. They will need good chipping and blocking from Ware and Bradshaw. And some of their older OL will have to play the best games of their careers. This is not even considering blitzes. I don't think the Pats will blitz excessively, but when they do, it will add to the matchup issues.
2. Both teams will commit to establishing the run early.
I heard the usually great guys on Sirius NFL (can I get a discount? That's like my 20th plug) say that we are going to see 90 passes on Sunday. I say nay nay. You remember GIANTS FOOTBALL? Well, although both of these coaches stand to exceed their teacher (I'd say Belichick already has) the influence is there. Both of these guys understand the value of the ground game. On the Patriots side of the ball, the numbers are somewhat misleading because the Patriots often use passes to fulfill the function of the run. I have long admired the skill with which the Pats pull off the WR screen. You've seen it: Quick out to Welker and suddenly the guy is in space with 3 blockers. I have foreseen the Pats giving us a healthy dose of BJGE, supplemented by Woodhead and Hernandez. Don't expect much Ridley, but DO expect to see Kevin Faulk. In fact, I see special opportunity for Faulk.
The Giants must run well to win this game. If the Patriots can focus on the pass and mitigate it with their 4-man front, the Giants will struggle to get well into the 20s. And ...
3. The Giants will win that battle.
Despite the OL being overmatched, Bradshaw and Jacobs will be the unexpected heart and fire of this team. They will punish tacklers. They will average 4 YPC. They will take some of the rpessure off Eli -- not that he struggles with pressure, but they can open opportunities in play-action and passing by performing well. They will exceed expectations and exceed 120 yards. Why? Because they have to.
4. Chad Ochocinco will help the Patriots offense.
I don't buy into the Gronkowski injury. If it IS bad, he will have Brett Favre's medicine cabinet delivered to the Pats' locker room and won't feel a thing until Valentine's Day. What does Ochenta y Cinco have to do with this? Well, the Giants will also have trouble matching up against the Patriots pass attack. For this game, 85 will get more than his usual 2 plays per game. He will run fly routes. No complexity to grapple with: Beat your man in a footrace. He will be matched up with speedster Aaron Ross. This plays into our hands for that individual matchup ... which benefits the Pats overall. It simply removes one of our cover DBs from the crowd between the hash marks, creating space for Welker, Gronk, Hernandez, et al. As per the Pats usual stat line, neither Branch nor Chad will put up 12-catch, 150-yard games. And as per usual, two of those other guys will.
5. Never underestimate the Belichick.
My vision has been clouded by interference from one stronger in the force than I ...
You can absolutely bet the bank that Bill is going to do something scheme-wise that is beyond our comprehension.
6. If he is not pressured, Eli will play his greatest game as a QB.
That's right. Single greatest game of his career. If the Pats do not collapse the pocket within 4 seconds on a regular basis, Eli Manning will throw for more than 400 yards and at least 4 touchdowns.
7. If the Patriots win, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time.
8. The final score of the game will be ...