Giants' front four could control destiny
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 170-86 (66%)
POSTSEASON RECORD: 8-2 (80%)
The last time the Giants and Patriots played in the Super Bowl, a former “American Idol” winner — the lovely and talented Jordin Sparks — sang the National Anthem. Kelly Clarkson, who’ll be doing the honors on Sunday, also happens to be a former “American Idol” winner. The Patriots have never won a Super Bowl when an "Idol" winner sings the Anthem beforehand. Hmm … Advantage Giants?
The one time Al Michaels was behind the microphone for an NBC Super Bowl, the AFC representative — the Steelers — won the game. Al Michaels will be behind the microphone on Sunday. Hmm … Advantage Patriots?
When I watched Super Bowl XXXIV in my friend Frank Crocciola’s parents’ basement in Howell, NJ, my crew of pimple-faced, varsity-jacket wearing high school buddies and I opted to watch Mankind wrestle The Rock in a WWE special called “Halftime Heat” on the USA Network instead of taking in the Epcot-inspired “Tapestry of Nations” parade going on during halftime of the Super Bowl. That epic match — fought in an empty arena and won by Mankind when he successfully pinned The Rock under a forklift — was the last professional wrestling match I’d watch … until last Sunday’s “Royal Rumble”, which I took in instead of the second half of the Pro Bowl. The NFC ended up winning that Super Bowl between the Rams and Titans.
So … Advantage Giants?
These are thoughts of a mad man during Super Bowl week.
A crazed individual who’s not only re-watched the Giants’ 2010 Week 2 loss to the Colts to get a better understanding for Eli Manning’s footwork on the Lucas Oil “grass”, but has also typed the term “tight end w/ high ankle sprain, versus 4-3 defense with subpar linebackers” into Google more than once this week. When you’ve picked winners and predicted scores for 266 games this season, you can’t just blindly pick a team out of a hat and say, ‘Gee, golly, there’s my Super Bowl winner!’
You need to do the game justice. You need to respect its magnitude.
You need to take note of the fact that all four Brady/Belichick Super Bowls have been decided by exactly three points, and in games that were decided by exactly three points this season, the Giants went 3-1, while the Patriots went 1-1. You need to look at the teams' common opponents, and see that the Giants went 6-3 vs. shared foes, while the Patriots went 8-1. You need to study the Electronic Arts “Madden” simulation they did this week, see that they’ve nailed six of the past eight winners, and acknowledge that their simulation had Giants kicker Larry Tynes nailing a 40-yard field goal as time expires in the big game.
Whether the cornucopia of oddball facts and trivial statistics swirling in my head really matters or not isn't significant. All of these random thoughts and truths are variables that need to be accounted for when making my Super Bowl pick.
You’ve seen “Moneyball." Every last morsel of data is data we can use when evaluating the future. Manning’s recent success over Tom Brady? Noted. The fact that both Madonna and Brady went to Michigan? Noted. Stevan Ridley's fumbling issues? Got it. It’s all in the matrix that makes up my twisted Cheat Sheet process.
As for my pick this week? Of all the thousands of variables at play, there are the three things that matter most:
The Giants can and will get to Brady
One of the interesting things about “Post-Super Bowl XLII/post-Bernard Pollard hit” Tom Brady is that you can usually tell when he’s got it and when he doesn’t within the first 10 minutes of a game. In the games he “has it," which is most of them, he comes out firing right from the get go and is locked in for the remaining three and a half quarters. In the few rare instances where he doesn’t have it — this year’s Steelers loss, three of his last four playoff games, the Super Bowl loss to the Giants in '08 — defensive fronts got to him early, got to him hard, and rattled him quite a bit.
In the Week 8 loss in Pittsburgh this year, the Steelers front seven attacked Brady early and often, knocking him around and ultimately holding him to a season-low 198 yards. Brett Keisel and Lamarr Woodley each sacked Brady and the offense kept the ball out of the three-time Super Bowl winner’s hands.
There’s no mystery elixir or “special sauce” behind the Giants’ recent hot streak. This isn’t luck or mere good fortune. Plain and simple, the New York Giants got healthy and they got healthy when it mattered most — down the stretch.
And that front four, which wasn’t healthy all season, is finally playing at full strength. When healthy, this might be the best defensive front the NFL has seen in the past 20 years. Is that just another example of crazed Super Bowl hyperbole, so common during the week of the big game? No, I really mean that.
Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Osi, “Wosi”, Canty, Joseph and Bernard is the most dominant unit we've seen in years. It’s Steel Curtain good. They’ll get to Brady in the first quarter and they’ll knock him down a few times.
Without a 100 percent Gronkowski? I think we’re going to see the mortal Tom Brady we saw in the AFC Championship Game and not the superhero Brady we saw throw six touchdown passes the week before against Denver. New England's quarterback is in trouble, and when Brady's not "on" from the start? The Patriots usually lose.
The Giants receivers have the edge on the Patriots defensive backs
The Patriots’ no-name, makeshift defensive backfield has been better than merely "good" over the past two months. They’ve been great. But they haven’t faced a receiving corps like these Giants in that span.
I made this point to a friend last week and he countered with, “Yes, but the ’01 Rams had better wideouts than New York does this year and Belichick’s bump n’ run scheme shut them down”. Fair point.
The right defensive scheme could overcome sheer talent in a one-game setting.
However, that 2001 Patriots defensive backfield wasn’t made of Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Julian Edelman. It was led by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, two of the game's very best at their positions at the time. I’m not sure how the Patriots can account for the three-headed monster that is Nicks-Cruz-Manningham and I fear they won't.
This trio can beat you when you give them room, and they can beat you when you man up and play physical. I don’t see Manning having much trouble at all finding his receivers downfield.
New York, New York
Regis is taking the Giants. Every C-list celebrity hawking a sports drink, a signature clothing line, or a Zumba dance video on radio row this week has felt the need to offer a Super Bowl prediction.
I’ve heard several of these predictions and have tuned out about 95 percent of them. My brain simply incapable of retaining the info. But the one guy who’s opinion I trust? The one guy who’s opinion actually matters? The one man who's pick actually carries any weight? Regis. And Regis, according to Jason Gay at the Wall Street Journal, is taking the Giants on Sunday.
I’ve been listening to Regis my entire life. I see no reason to turn my back on him now.
I like the Giants in this one.
Shocker, I know.
The Pick: Giants 30, Patriots 21
Super Bowl MVP: Manning
Clarkson’s National Anthem: Will go OVER 1 minute, 35 seconds.
The Coin Toss will be: HEADS
Madonna will open her halftime set with: “Ray of Light”
Cheat Sheet Super Bowl Trivia qustion of the week: One man has played on five consecutive Super Bowl losers. Who is this unlucky fellow?
Cheat Sheet Super Bowl Trivia Answer: Gale Gilbert, one of Jim Kelly’s backups for all four Bills’ Super Bowl losses, was also Stan Humphries’ backup quarterback in Super Bowl XXIX. Gale’s son Garrett is now the backup quarterback for the Texas Longhorns.