Tick, tick, tick. The looooooooooong countdown to the 2012 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots is winding down. Two days to go before we find out if the Giants can win the second title of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era, and their four Super Bowl in franchise history.
Here is this week's 'Five Things To Watch.' A Super Bowl edition of some of the things that could determine whether or not the Giants are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night. Probably not much in here that has not been discussed during the past two weeks. Then again, is there anything that hasn't been discussed in the past two weeks?
1. Rob Gronkowski's Effectiveness -- We know the injured New England tight end is going to play, high ankle sprain (if that is really what the injury is) and all. How much of a factor he can be is a huge storyline. He caught 90 passes, 17 for touchdowns, in the regular season. In the Giants' 24-20 regular-season victory Gronkowski had eight receptions and a touchdown.
If he is close to being himself the Giants will need to devote two defenders to covering him most of the time. If he isn't, allowing the Giants cover him with one guy, that is a huge help to the Giants defense and a huge disadvantage to a Patriots offense that needs big plays from Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez.
2. Which Quarterback Is Under The Most Duress? -- The Giants have talked all week about putting pressure on Tom Brady, and about how they might already be in the head of the New England quarterback (shush, JPP!). Drawing less attention has been New England's need to put pressure on Eli Manning, and the poor pass protection Manning received in the NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants have too many receiving weapons for New England to cover consistently so, like the Giants, the Patriots defensive game plan is likely to revolve around getting pressure.
3. Which Team Runs The Ball Better? -- All the talk is about Brady, Manning and the aerial assault everyone expects to see on Sunday. Flying under the radar is any discussion of the running games of both teams. Neither team is a 'ground-and-pound' attack, but both will try to run it enough that the opposing defense will need to respect the ground game and not simply tee off with the pass rush on every play. The Giants, in particular, would love a handful of big plays from Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.
4. Can The Giants Deal With Vince Wilfork? -- We discussed this earlier, but the key factor for the Giants of offense will be controlling the massive Wilfork. Center David Baas can't do it alone, and I don't think Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride are foolish enough to ask him to. Realistically, Wilfork is the one player in the New England front seven who can be considered a difference-maker. Control him, the Giants should have opportunities for big plays.
5. The Impact Of Ahmad Bradshaw And Hakeem Nicks -- These two huge offensive weapons for the Giants did not play the first time the teams met. Brandon Jacobs did run for 72 yards on 18 carries in that game, but having Bradshaw is critical for the Giants. Throughout the playoffs we have seen the difficulty teams face in dealing with Nicks and Victor Cruz -- you just can't take both away from Manning as potential targets. The Giants haven't hidden the fact that they don't think a whole lot of New England's secondary, so let's see if the Patriots can handle the Giants with their full complement of weapons available.