For many sports fans in the Dairy State (happy cows come from Wisconsin, not California), this Super Bowl presents a vexing situation. Grumblings and moans have been echoing into space from the state, “This is the worst Super Bowl matchup ever.”
Granted, there are some fair points to those grumblings. Two East Coast franchises that have been contenders for a long period of time are both in the Super Bowl. For diehard fans of the green and gold, it’s almost impossible to root for the Giants: a team that ended one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history.
On the other hand, it’s not exactly a dream to root for a man who wears hoodies with the sleeves cut off, and a quarterback who has dominated the NFL while getting more borderline roughing-the-passer calls (and the tuck rule) than anyone in history. While the good of the NFL lost in the divisional round for Packer fans, a big decision remains for Sunday: Do we root for the bad or the ugly?
Even though Titletown’s finest did not reach the pinnacle of football prowess this season, the Super Bowl offers one of the better title game storylines since, well, the last time the Giants and the Patriots met. David Tyree doesn’t belong on New York’s roster this time around, but it’s hard to believe that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won’t be out for revenge this year. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be, the Giants and Eli Manning have had the Patriots’ number lately. After defeating New England in Foxborough during the regular season, 24-20, New York has all the confidence in the world they can once again repeat their Super results.
Trying to predict any Super Bowl in the past has proved challenging, but there are a few keys the average sports fan should keep his eye on when two of the NFL’s best collide on the greatest day on the entire sports calendar.
Manning vs. Brady
There’s really no arguing that Tom Brady is a Hall of Fame quarterback. This Sunday’s game will match the fifth time the signal-caller has reached the Super Bowl, tying him for the most appearances in NFL history along with John Elway. Brady is coming off another terrific season, posting 39 touchdowns and a quarterback rating over 100. Brady makes the big plays at big moments, and reaching another Super Bowl is just a testament to that fact.
Eli Manning, on the other hand, is starting to cement a legacy of his own. Often regarded as an afterthought for sharing the same last name as his brother Peyton, the younger Manning has a chance to surpass his older brother in Super Bowl titles. While Eli has been closely scrutinized this season after referring to himself as an “elite” quarterback on a radio show this past August, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue against that title. Manning put up his best season as a pro this year while posting eight touchdowns to only one interception in three playoff games.
In both of the Giants’ Super Bowl appearances with Manning at the helm, the team has taken the road less travelled to the promised land of the Lombardi Trophy. In 2008, when the Patriots and Giants met in Super Bowl XLII, Manning guided the Giants through three straight road playoff games on their way to beating the Patriots. This time around, Manning guided them through two postseason road games, including an upset at Lambeau Field and a dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco at Candlestick.
Manning has been clutch time and time again in the duration of his playoff career and with the added hunger of proving himself as one of the NFL’s best players under center, it may be a dangerous choice to bet against an Eli-led Giants squad playing its best football when it matters most.
Normally, this would be a push for advantage, but since it’s the Super Bowl we’ll go to a tiebreaker. More tolerable: Brady’s different hair styles or Manning’s face?
Advantage and Tiebreaker: Manning and the Giants
Giants’ D-line versus Patriots’ O-line
While a quarterback is the most important position in the sport of football, a quarterback is only as successful as his offensive line. Brady has usually been lucky in his lengthy career as the Patriots’ starter, surrounded constantly by Pro-Bowl linemen who give him a mini-vacation in the pocket on every passing down. This year both of the Patriots’ guards, Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, were named to the Pro-Bowl, helping to strengthen a line that boasts the likes of veteran tackle Matt Light.
The only way to beat Brady and the Patriots’ offensive juggernaut is to pressure him in the pocket. Luckily, the Giants have all the right tools to do just that come Sunday. Anchored by Pro-Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, the Giants have perhaps one of the most talented combinations of pass rushers in recent memories. Throughout the playoffs the group has terrorized offenses, combing for 33 tackles (seven tackles for loss), 10 quarterback hits and five sacks. This group knocked out two of the NFL’s better passers as well this postseason, eliminating Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.
If Rob Gronkowski is unable to play, look for Brady to face harassment off the edge all game, as the Patriots’ tight end is not only a terrific weapon in the passing game as a receiver but extremely invaluable for the chip blocks he gives when lined up against a premier rusher. With a high ankle sprain, the record-setting tight end will most likely be a step slow even if he plays. This may erase his value as a pass blocker, forcing New England to either keep a running back present constantly in the backfield or Aaron Hernandez off the edge to give help if the Giants’ pass rush gains early success. With three Pro-Bowl caliber defensive linemen seeing snaps, I’m giving my edge to the G-Men.
Two key position battles that may define the Super Bowl. Enjoy your wings, beer, brats, pizza, sandwiches and other miscellaneous deep-fried foods this Sunday. Perhaps the most important part of Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t actually deal with football, but the hangover (induced by food, football or something else) that follows.
Maybe there’s another key matchup out there: Students vs. Monday morning class.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and English. Think you know something about the game Nick doesn’t? Probably, he’s not that smart. But let him know at email@example.com anyway.