Super Bowl XLVI
New England Patriots v New York Giants
Sunday 11.30pm BBC2/Sky Sports 1
A fantastic – considering how good both quarterbacks are in the clutch – Money-Back Special
Paddy Power will refund all losing First Touchdown, First Team Touchdown, Anytime Touchdown, First 2nd Half Touchdown and Last Touchdown scorer bets if there is a Touchdown scored in the last 2 minutes of regular time in this match.
When these two teams last contested a Super Bowl as recently as February 2008, the New England Patriots were on the verge of a perfect season and the thirteen point advantage they were given by the bookmakers foretold of a fourth Super Bowl win of the Bellichick – Brady era. The Giants’ Eli Manning was an unreliable quarter-back, prone to folding in pressure situations and by no way comparable to the Hall of Fame bound Brady. He wasn’t even the best quarter-back in his family with Super Bowl winning brother Peyton universally considered the superior player. Even now, on paper, Eli is a distant second best. That game in 2008 didn’t pan out as expected. Brady failed to shine, throwing interceptions at just the wrong times, while Eli took a few chances and with the help of some inspired catches from Tyree and Burress, toppled the unbeatable Patriots and won a championship ring of his own to take back to the Manning family home. It was called the biggest upset in Super Bowl history and there have certainly been few more shocking.
This Super Bowl has a very contrasting narrative. Eli Manning is a different player to the skittish young boy who had more than a sprinkling of fortune to thank for that win in the shadow of the Blackhills of Glendale Arizona. This season he has become a player who thrives when the pressure is on, throwing fourteen fourth quarter touchdown passes, he has weapons on offence which he really knows how to use. Contrasting this, the New England Patriots have been particularly weak on defence this season. The are second worst in the league during the regular season, going on yards gained by the opposition. A lack of talent and a string of injuries have left the Pats open to teams who can move the ball through the air. Players used to playing offence and special teams like Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater have been drafted in to cover the gaps and playing in unfamiliar positions tends to cause mismatches with the receivers they’re trying to cover. A possibly crucial mismatch in this game is Edleman against star wide-receiver Victor Cruz. Amassing a total of 1,536 yards at nearly twenty yards per catch, Cruz is a player who picks up big yardage. If Manning is given time and Cruz gets free of Edelman, the Giants could move the ball up the field in big chunks. Cruz isn’t Eli’s only option though. Hakeem Nicks also passed the thousand yard mark this season and has added four touchdowns in two play-offs to the seven he caught during the season, his route-running could have the New England secondary chasing shadows. Having to double team Cruz and Nicks will leave Manningham open and if Eli plays as he has in New York’s last five games, Brady and his offence will have a lot of work on their hands.
The Patriots defence isn’t entirely without hope though and that hope comes largely in the large shape of Vince Wilfork. The Patriots’ defensive tackle has been a shining light in an often ailing defence and if he can bust through the Giants offensive line and put pressure on Eli, we may see some of the poor decision making which blighted the young Manning’s earlier career. Without Wilfork the Patriots may not even be involved in this game. With him they have won their last ten games and it was in fact the defence which earned Brady his shot at a fourth Super Bowl win in the AFC Championship win over Baltimore. That day the great Brady failed to deliver, something that cannot happen in Indianapolis.
Just like the 2008 Super Bowl team, this version of the Patriots is all about the offence too. However this particular offence is less flashy, harder working, it’s smarter and is more about out-witting your opponent than out-running them. Just how Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes it. Randy Moss is no more, in fact traditional wide-receivers now play third fiddle to Wes Welker and the tight-end tag-team of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The star of the show this season has been second-year tight-end Gronkowski. At six foot six he has a massive height advantage over the vast majority of players who have to cover him, combined with great hands and excellent athleticism, he has been Brady’s most dangerous weapon. Hernandez doesn’t have Gronkowski’s height, but he’s big enough and with good speed and solid hands, he can pick up a lot of yards after the catch and has even proved effective on running plays. Then there’s Wes Welker. He has had a career best season on all fronts and despite being small and not especially fast, he has proven himself to be one of the most effective receivers in the NFL. His understanding with Brady is near telepathic and focusing too much on the big tight-ends will see the ball in Welker’s hands. Add multiple Pro-Bowl attendee Chad Ochocinco and two-time Super Bowl winner Deion Branch in to the mix and the Giants defence have a lot of options to close down. If Belichick outwits former colleague Tom Coughlin and Brady has time in the pocket to execute, the Patriots offence will be tough to stop.
One big side-note is the suspect fitness of Gronkowski. He injured his ankle in the win over Baltimore and has been unable to practice in the run up to this game. It wouldn’t be a shock if this were some clever ruse of Belichick’s to upset Coughlin’s preparations but there’s no doubt that the injury is a concern. Expect him to play and to be fit enough to trouble the Giants.
Tom Brady admitted himself that he failed to deliver against the Ravens, something he can’t afford to do when he has to contend with a Giants defensive line which includes Jason Pierre-Paul and Ose Umenyiora. They’ve been terrorising quarter-backs all season and if the Patriots offensive line fails to hold back, they’ll be all over Brady, rushing the throw and forcing him out of the pocket. If Brady is consistently pressurised, the Pats will either have to run the ball or play quicker passes in to more congested areas. A risky ploy against this defence.
As far as the betting sees it, this one is too close to call. The Patriots are a far less obvious choice this time round and having lost a close game already to the Giants this season, many believe that their offence can only cover the ills of the defence for so long. Manning has been the best clutch-player all year and if this game is close in the fourth-quarter, he has proven he can drive his team down the field and make the big plays when they really matter. The Pats defence may not be the greatest but they have been getting the job done in the play-offs and if Brady is on form, they can do enough to allow their number twelve to take all the glory.
Is the Patriots offense good enough to make up for their defence? Is Eli Manning truly an elite quarter-back? Answering those questions should tell you who to back to win Super Bowl XLVI.
Super Bowl Betting