|Patriots 2014-15 Position Review: Linebacker||Lackluster Trio of Games Makes Bruins Playoff Chances Uncertain||Swihart, Rodriguez Assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket Roster||Video: Marcus Smart Uppercuts Matt Bonner in Low Blow|
On Sunday, Feb. 5, the New England Patriots (15-3) will battle the New York Giants (12-7) for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
The Patriots have won 10 in a row, outscoring their opponents 359-188 over that time period to advance to their fifth Super Bowl during the Bill Belichick era. New York is on a roll as well with six wins in their past seven outings, including a quartet of road wins at the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers to advance to their second title game in five years.
New York Giants
New York punched their ticket to Indianapolis after winning five straight single-elimination games. Following back-to-back triumphs over the Jets and Cowboys to clinch the NFC East, the Giants dismantled the Atlanta Falcons 27-2 in the Wild Card round.
The Giants’ hot play continued on the road after they upset the heavily favored Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, knocking off the defending Super Bowl Champions 37-20 to advance to the NFC Championship game in San Francisco. In a defensive struggle, New York capitalized on a pair of special teams fumbles by Kyle Williams, including one in overtime, to top the 49ers 20-17 to advance Super Bowl XLVI.
New England Patriots
Following an impressive 13-3 season, the New England Patriots earned a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. New England hosted the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional match up, and crushed Tim Tebow and the AFC West champions 45-10 to snap the Patriots’ three-game playoff skid.
Baltimore was next on the chopping block, but Coach Belichick’s team needed all 60-minutes and a little bit of luck to top the Ravens. Tom Brady tossed for zero touchdowns and a pair of interceptions, but his fourth quarter, one-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal proved to be the conference-winning play.
Baltimore had a three more opportunities to tie the contest in New England territory, but a Brandon Spikes interception, a fourth-down stop, and a Lee Evans drop set the stage for one of the worst misses in NFL history. With 15 seconds to play, Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard attempt wide left to send New England to their seventh Super Bowl in franchise history.
Despite being in different conferences, this will be the fourth match up between these two teams in the last five years. The last three have been decided by four points or less, and each game has showcased a lead change in the final frame.
In the 2007 regular season finale, the 15-0 Patriots roared back from a 12-point second-half deficit in the Meadowlands to top New York 38-35 to cement a perfect regular season.
The two teams met just five weeks later in Super Bowl XLII, resulting in a Giants 17-14 victory. That game featured a trio of lead changes in the final frame, including Eli Manning’s 13-yard strike to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left to seal the title and bshatter New England’s shot at immortality.
In the most recent match up between these two, both offense and defense were showcased in a 24-20 New York win. The two defenses pitched a first half shutout that resulted in a 0-0 half time tie, but both offenses stepped up in the second half.
After Manning connected with Mario Manningham on a 10-yard touchdown with 3:03 remaining, Brady answered with a touchdown march of his own, converting a fourth-down to Rob Gronkowksi to give the Patriots 20-17 lead with 1:36 left. It was too much time for Manning however, as he surgically dissected New England’s defense, capping it off with a one-yard score to Jake Ballard to give New York a 24-20 win in Foxborough, Mass.
There are three notable injuries to watch in this game. While Rob Gronkowski’s ankle injury has stolen the headlines, the Patriots should see the return of All-Pro offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer to bolster the right side of the line.
For New York, the key injury to keep an eye is Hakeem Nicks’ shoulder injury. If he is limited at all, the ability to cover New York’s receiving core will be a simpler task for Belichick’s secondary.
Giants’ Pass Rush vs. Patriots’ Offensive Line
New York’s defensive line is one of, if not the best pass rush in the league. Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell can roll out a plethora of pass rushers, including Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (nine sacks in nine games), Justin Tuck (five sacks), and the rest of a unit that ranked third in the league with 48 sacks.
New York’s pressure has pulverized Brady in their previous two meetings. In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants registered five sacks and pummeled New England’s MVP quarterback throughout. In their Week 9 rematch this season, New York tallied a pair of sacks and hit Brady three more times.
On the New England side of the ball, Coach Bill Belichick may finally have the resistance needed to mar the Giants’ pass rush. LT Matt Light is having one of his best seasons in his career, LG Logan Mankins is a rock solid protector, C Dan Connelly has been tremendous as an injury replacement and Brian Waters is experiencing a career resurgence.
Those facts, combined with the quicker-than-expected development of Nate Solder, the possible return of Sebastian Vollmer, and Rob Gronkowski’s blocking ability could mitigate New York’s rush.
If Tom Brady can remain upright and find his targets, the Patriots will have a great chance of capturing the title. If New York’s defensive line can generate pressure, this game will be a nail biter until the very end.
Giants’ Running Game vs. Patriots’ Defensive Line
We all know of the phenomenal play of Eli Manning over the past month, and we all know the bevy of options he has at his disposal. Each of his receivers possesses a different match up difficulty for Belichick, but despite their talent, the success ofNew York’s offense will come down to their ground game.
The Giants opened the season 6-2, receiving great play from running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who accumulated 440 yards and five touchdowns during that span. Following a Bradshaw foot injury however, the Giants went on a free fall, going 1-5 over the next six to bottom out at 7-7.
In their nine wins, the Giants averaged nearly 100 yards on the ground while just averaging 76 yards in their seven losses.
A balanced attack poses problems for Belichick, who will have to account for both the run and the pass. If New England can limit the Giants’ ground game, the New York offense will become one dimensional and play right into the Patriots’ hands, possibly providing a few turnovers.
Despite a pair of hot, high-flying offenses, Super Bowl XLVI will come down to which team is more focused, disciplined, and plays the most clutch defense and special teams. If you look at the previous two match ups between New York and New England, both were hard-hitting, low scoring contests. Look for that trend to continue on Sunday, with the Patriots making one or two key plays late to insure their fourth title in franchise history.
New England 17, New York 14