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FOXBOROUGH - NOVEMBER 6: Giants tight end Jake Ballard (#85) grabs the game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a pass from Eli Manning, not pictured, as Patriots linebacker Tracy White can't stop him at right. The New England Patriots hosted the New York Giants in a regular season NFL game at Gillette Stadium.
Drew Magary writes sports commentary for Deadspin, Maxim, GQ and is the author of "The Postmortal."
Time to do an in-depth scouting report on the Super Bowl. Pats vs. Giants. Here we go:
The Teams: The New York Giants vs. The New England Patriots
Records: 15-3 (Pats), 12-7 (Giants)
The Line: Pats by 2.5.
The Coaches: Tom Coughlin vs. Bill Belichick. This is not a one-sided coaching matchup. I was floored two weeks ago when Bill Belichick took a knee at the end of the first half against the Ravens. Occasionally, Belichick will make a legitimately bad coaching decision. It’s reassuring, in a way. As for Coughlin, expect him to have the Giants well organized and to manage the clock capably on Sunday. Also expect him to wear his classic “coaching chinos.” That’s a good look.
The Offenses: TE Rob Gronkowski didn’t practice Wednesday due to a gruesome ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter against the Ravens (though he did practice Thursday on a limited basis). Gronk didn’t catch a pass after suffering that injury, but his presence on the field will be crucial to the Pats regardless of his health.
If Gronk is healthy enough to play at his usual high level, he’s a rampaging touchdown machine. If he isn’t, he’s still a capable blocker and will still draw plenty of attention from the Giants. That will free up TE Aaron Hernandez to catch plenty of passes. The Patriots possess two of the three best tight ends in football (if you went by this year’s stats), which makes defending them all but impossible. Wideout Wes Welker also will get his, and Deion Branch has a Super Bowl MVP under his belt. Chad Ochocinco is worthless.
The Patriots’ running game is a bit of a problem, particularly in this game. The Pats are so blasé about running the ball that Hernandez has been their most capable rusher in the postseason. That’s not a good thing when the Pats need to run the ball effectively in order to slow down the Giants’ pass rush.
Now, to the Giants: They have arguably the best trio of wideouts in football in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. Tight end Jake Ballard, who played such a decisive role in the Giants’ thrilling win in New England during the regular season, has been terrible ever since.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is hurt but did practice yesterday. Bradshaw has a knack for breaking off big runs at crucial times. I expect him to be more of a factor than bulldozer Brandon Jacobs. Quarterback Eli Manning is magic in the fourth quarter, or when Kyle Williams hands him the ball in overtime.
The Defenses: The Patriots’ pass rush is virtually nonexistent, which is a big reason why Joe Flacco had his finest playoff game as a professional in the AFC title game. Eli Manning is quite capable of destroying you if given enough time to find Nicks and Cruz downfield, so Belichick is going to have spend some extra time in his underground cavern figuring out how to make the Giants’ QB ill at ease. DT Vince Wilfork is virtually unmovable, and should make Jacobs a nonfactor in this game. The Pats defense is bad, but they have a knack for making the right play at the right time. Ask Lee Evans.
As for the Giants, they beat New England in this game five years ago thanks to their pass rush, and you can bet on them trying to do it again. They’re an impossibly deep team at DL, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul has become an absolute beast.
The secondary of the Giants played brilliantly against the Niners, but they’re facing a far more capable receiving corps this time around. The Giants allowed Niners TE Vernon Davis to make huge plays in the NFC title game. I’m sure Gronk and Hernandez are licking their chops.
Key Matchup: The Pats’ tackles against Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. It’s all about the pass rush. If the Giants hit Tom Brady early and often, the Giants win. Period.