So it all comes down to this.
After 522 regular season and postseason games, a condensed offseason and a lengthy work stoppage, the entire 2011 NFL season boils down to one game.
While you still need to wait three more days for Super Bowl XLVI, my prediction of the game is already here. Well, it’s at the end of the column. You’re almost there. I guess there’s nothing stopping you from just skipping to the score, but where’s the fun in that?
Anyway, we’ve covered how the Patriots’ multi-faceted offense should be able to contain the vaunted pass rush of the Giants and how quarterback Eli Manning and the G-Men’s revamped receiving crew should have no trouble shredding the patchwork secondary of the Pats.
Even though the Giants are considered the hotter and more complete team, the Patriots remain a two and a half- to three-point favorite over the team that beat them earlier this year.
This is only the 13th Super Bowl featuring a rematch of a regular season game. And for Patriots fans’ sake, New England lost the Week 9 matchup.
Why is it to their advantage? In the 12 previous regular season rematches occurring in the Super Bowl, including the last three occurrences, the loser of the first contest is 7-5 over their opponent in the follow up.
As a matter of fact, the Patriots beat the Giants in the 2008 regular season, only to have the G-Men avenge their loss.
Back on Nov. 6, New York and New England met for a bizarre game, one that saw no scoring in the first half and only one threatening drive — from the Patriots. Turnovers played a vital role in the contest, with the Giants scoring 10 of their 24 points on Patriots turnovers.
A mild three quarters made way for a manic fourth, when each team forgot how to stop the other. There were three drives of 80 yards or more and Manning led the Giants on a game-winning drive in the final 2 minutes.
While each team went in separate directions after their mid-season meeting — the Giants lost four games in a row while the Patriots haven’t lost since — they will undoubtedly reference their meeting on Nov. 6 moreso than the 2008 Super Bowl.
With the perfect dome conditions of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis neutralizing special teams play, the Super Bowl has a knack for bringing out the best in the most overlooked category of football.
In Super Bowl XLIV, Saints head coach Sean Payton called a surprise onside kick to open up the half against the Colts while Bears’ kick returner Devin Hester spurned Indy on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI.
The five-yard change in the kickoff should negate any chance at a return for a touchdown, but a punt block or long punt return could have a large impact on a game this close on paper.
Each team was fundamentally sound in the regular season on special teams, with neither having a punt blocked. However, while the Giants were near the bottom in punt returns, the Patriots’ combination of Julian Edelman and Wes Welker combined to average over 10 yards per punt return, and Edelman returned one 72 yards for a touchdown earlier in the season.
Another possible game-changer is an interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. There have been 11 games where a pick-six took place and each time that team won, including the last three Super Bowls.
The Giants did not return an interception for a touchdown during the regular season — and worse, had three returned on them. On the flip-side, two members of the Patriots returned interceptions for scores while Pats quarterback Tom Brady only threw one pick-six.
Finally, the last intangible to consider: coaching. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is currently the fourth-longest tenured coach currently employed by an NFL team and has gone 78-57 with the Giants. 2011 was far from his most successful year with the Giants, as he failed to lead New York to 10 or more wins for the fourth time in eight years.
The same goes for New England coach Bill Belichick. The NFL’s second-longest tenured coach also finished a season that didn’t rank among his best record-wise, but did continue a streak of at least 10 wins for the ninth-straight season.
Belichick has only lost two straight games three times since 2003 and loses to the same team twice in a row on even fewer occasions.
That’s the reason why the Patriots will hoist their fourth Super Bowl. It’s not to say Coughlin will be unprepared for one of the biggest games of his coaching career. It’s that Belichick will be more prepared than he’s ever been for a football game. He’ll have his team ready for any occasion, and he’ll need them to be.
Patriots 30, Giants 26