Mike O'Hara's Super Bowl breakdown
A week of exhaustive coverage and celebrity sightings can't camouflage the fact that an old-fashioned football game is likely to break out and overshadow all the super hype leading up Super Bowl XLVI.
The Giants and Patriots share many qualities, and pure football values are one of them.
The franchises are the gold standard of the NFL – the Giants for their rich history and three Super Bowl championships in the last quarter century, and the Patriots for dominating the last decade.
As is often the case, there are more questions than answers going into Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The answers will come on the field – and, in the case of injured Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, in the training room leading up to and during game day.
As the betting line indicates – the Patriots are favored by 3 points – there isn't much that separates the two teams.
If the game follows form, Super Bowl XLVI is likely to fall in line with recent championship games as another close, competitive contest.
Here are the key questions that will decide Super Bowl XLVI – and a prediction of the outcome:
Question: Which quarterback will play closer to form – Tom Brady or Eli Manning?
Breakdown: Brady had a great regular season – 5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 105.6.
Eli Manning had a very good regular season – 4,933 yards, 29 TDs, 16 interceptions, 92.9 passer rating.
Great trumps good – in the regular season.
It was a different story in the playoffs.
Manning had two straight great games against the Falcons and Packers and was very good against the 49ers in the NFC Championship. For the postseason, he had 8 TDs, one interception and a passer rating of 103.1.
Brady was great against the Broncos – 6 TDs and an interception – and bad against the Ravens in the AFC Championship 0 TDs, 2 interceptions and a 57.5 passer rating.
The difference in the two players is that Manning is better on the move, but Brady seldom has a bad throw or mental error when he gets time to throw.
Edge: The body of work favors Brady, but the matchup is about who plays better on Sunday, and Manning is better equipped for this one game.
Prediction: Manning will outplay Brady, but that doesn't guarantee a Giants victory.
Question: Will Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski play despite a high-ankle sprain sustained in the AFC Championship? And if he plays, how will he be affected.
Breakdown: The issue has been analyzed from every minute angle since the moment Gronkowski went down late in the first half of the AFC Championship against the Ravens.
Yes, Gronkowski will play. That isn't the issue. And at the beginning, his presence alone will require the Giants to cover him as if he is at full strength.
If Gronkowski is limited physically to the point that the Giants can cover him adequately without special attention, it will be a major advantage for the defense.
Teamed with Aaron Hernandez in the two tight-end offense, Gronkowski is a potent force. He caught 90 passes in the regular season with 17 TDs, and he had 3 TD catches against Denver in the divisional playoff round. The two tight-end package changes coverage and protection for Brady.
Edge: Gronkowski is certain to struggle as the game goes on, particularly after sitting through a lengthy halftime break. The advantage goes to the Giants.
Question: Which defense holds up better?
Breakdown: In the regular season the Patriots were 31st in yards allowed but 15th in points. They tightened up in scoring territory.
The Giants were 27th in yards allowed and 25th in points allowed.
The Patriots improved their defense in the playoffs, but Joe Flacco's passing hurt them in the AFC Championship.
The Giants have a substantial edge in rushing the passer, but the Patriots came up big in the AFC Championship with 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 7 quarterback hits.
Edge: The Giants gave up 400 points in the regular season to 342 for the Patriots, who played a weaker schedule. With an extra week to prepare, the coaching advantage goes to Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Question: Which player has to step up for either team?
Breakdown: There are a lot of choices on both teams, and none can be predicted.
For the Giants, it could be slot receiver Victor Cruz, one of the running backs – Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs – or somebody on defense forcing a fumble or intercepting a pass. Circle Justin Tuck as a likely possibility for the Giants. A big sack and fumble can change the game.
For the Patriots, the formula on offense is to control the ball by throwing short inside to Wes Walker, hitting Gronkowski in the seam and in the red zone, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis providing steady, unspectacular production at running back. He never fumbles, which is a plus in big games, when turnovers play a bigger role than in the regular season.
On defense, look for Kyle Arrington to make a play. He had a team-high seven interceptions in the regular season. If the Patriots get enough heat in Eli Manning, he might throw one up for grabs – and Arrington will grab it.
Edge: The Patriots were No. 3 in the league in the regular season at plus-17 in turnover differential. The Giants were plus-7.
Question: What does the Giants' 17-14 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLI mean?
Breakdown: The way the Giants' defense harassed Brady all game and held the Patriots scoreless for the first three quarters set the template for winning.
The Giants came out on top in a fourth-quarter shootout to win, 24-20, in Week 9 of the regular season.
Edge: History won't decide the outcome, but winning in the Super Bowl and again in the 2011 regular season means the Giants should have no fear of the Patriots.
Question: Pick a winner.
Breakdown: Some question. It sounds more like an order.
I like everything about this game – organizations, coaches, players and historical rivalry.
The winning history of Brady and Belichick give the Patriots an edge, but the Giants have been tough and resilient under Eli Manning and coach Tom Coughlin.
This is one of those games when a football game will break out after a week of hype. We've had good games in recent years, and this should be another one.
Pick: The Manning family gets another trophy, and Eli takes a 2-1 lead on big brother Peyton.
Giants 27, Patriots 16.