New England is expected to beat the Giants by three points, despite weaknesses in their offense.
It's not overstating things to say that the respective legacies of a certain coach and a certain player will be indelibly inscribed after Sunday's Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are already bound for the Hall of Fame, so win or lose, their place in NFL history is assured. The same cannot be said of Giants' quarterback Eli Manning or his head coach, Tom Coughlin. Right now they have a prominent line on their Hall of Fame resumes: upset previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But is that enough to get them into Canton? Doubtful. And if they lose this game, it can't help but take a little shine off that stunning victory four years ago. But two Super Bowl wins over the era's best franchise? Well, then the discussion becomes a little more balanced. So what will it take for Manning and Coughlin to win another ring over their northeast neighbors? Here are a few things you need to know before you sit down for the big game.
The Patriots' high-powered offense will not be operating at 100 percent
During the regular season and throughout these playoffs, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski has been a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, with his rare combination of size, speed, and catching ability. His 17 regular-season touchdowns were a record for a tight end, and his play in the postseason has been right on par, as he scored three touchdowns in the Patriots' divisional round drubbing of the Broncos. But in the AFC title game Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain, and he is not expected to be at 100 percent for the Super Bowl. Yes, the Patriots have another tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who is perhaps even more versatile than Gronkowski. But in a game that could be high-scoring, there's no ignoring the fact that New England's top touchdown-maker was wearing a walking boot earlier this week and that he refused to say whether he's definitely playing.
Beyond Gronkowski, the Patriots have plenty of dangerous options on offense, including slot receiver Wes Welker, the aforementioned Hernandez—who can line up at tight end, wide receiver, or running back—and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a fourth-year pro who (jinx alert!) has never fumbled in his NFL career. Oh, and they also have a quarterback (Tom Brady) who could join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only signal-callers to win four Super Bowls. During the regular season the Pats' offense netted 411.1 yard per game, the second most-prolific offense of any team that's appeared in a Super Bowl (1984 Miami Dolphins). This New England offense has led the team to nine straight victories. Their last loss? To the Giants on Nov. 6.
When New York upset the previously unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl 42 (ah, isn't that easier on a non-Roman mind?), the Giants were successful at pressuring Brady up the middle. No doubt they're relying on similar success in this game. And with a defensive line that features Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants figure to be in Brady's grill all game. How well he responds to the pressure—getting the ball out quickly, hitting players like Welker underneath—will go a long way towards determining the tenor of this game.
The Giants' offense is running on all cylinders
In November New York traveled to New England and beat the Patriots, 24-20, an impressive road victory, not least because the Giants played that game without two major offensive ingredients: running back Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, both of whom were out with injuries. Bradshaw and Nicks are back in the mix for head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, so perhaps the Giants' offense won't sputter like it did in the early part of that regular-season matchup, when both teams struggled to move the ball and the game was scoreless at the half.