Road to the Super Bowl:
Divisional Playoff: Defeated Denver Broncos 45-10
Conference Championship: Defeated Baltimore Ravens 23-20
Head Coach: Bill Belichick – Career Record: 192 wins, 103 losses (postseason: 17-6), 3 Super Bowls (01, 03, and 04)
While he might be known for his hoodie-only wardrobe and Spygate, Coach Belichick is also on the cusp of joining an elite group of coaches. How elite? It only has one member: former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. Belichick is currently ranked third all-time with 17 postseason victories – three behind Tom Landry (Cowboys) and two behind Don Shula (Dolphins). His .739 win percentage in the playoffs is only behind Vince Lombardi’s .900. That’s quite the company that Belichick is in. One more Super Bowl win will all but guarantee his entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Out for Revenge:
2007 may be half a decade ago, but the bitter taste of Super Bowl XLII is still fresh in the minds of Patriots players and fans. The Patriots are not the same team as they were in 2007 – no longer are they 18-0 or holding a 12.5-point favorite; this time around, they lost three regular season games and barely walked out of the AFC Conference Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. However, New England has stood behind one constant: Tom Brady’s right arm, which had led the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl appearance in the past decade.
The Patriots began their journey by taking on Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Brady and his Patriots Tebow’d all over Denver as they cruised to an each 45-10 victory against the AFC West champion. Next, the Baltimore Ravens arrived at Gillette Stadium to play the Patriots. While Brady wasn’t as effective as a week earlier, the Patriots still made it to Super Bowl XLVI thanks to Raven kicker Billy Cundiff’s missed field goals.
Men on a Mission:
QB – Tom Brady: He may be 34 years old, but the Golden Boy is having one of his best seasons yet. Brady threw for the second-most yards in the league with 5235, along with 39 touchdowns passes and only 12 interceptions. Brady has also won 16 postseason games in his career, tied for the most by a quarterback in NFL history with former 49er Joe Montana. With a victory on Sunday, Brady will secure their fourth Super Bowl and join Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterback with that many rings.
NT – Vince Wilfork: While the Patriots’ offense has been impressive thanks to Brady, the same can’t be said about the defense. The bright spot on defense has to be Vince Wilfork, who has played nearly 90 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Incredibly, that number increased to a whopping 96 percent in the AFC Championship Game, when Wilfork turned in perhaps the best game of his career. Lately, he has been the key in the Patriots’ defensive resurgence in the playoffs, but he will have to play a major role again if New England wants to slow down the Giants.
Interesting Note: The Patriots have surrendered 411.1 yards per game in the regular season; no other previous Super Bowl team had given up more than 360. Of the previous five worst defensive teams to reach the Super Bowl, only the 2009 Saints won the big game.
New York Giants (9-7, 1st NFC East)
Super Bowl Championships (3): 1986, 1990, and 2007
Road to the Super Bowl:
Wild Card Playoffs: Defeated Atlanta Falcons 24-2
Divisional Playoffs: Defeated Green Bay Packers 37-20
Conference Championship: Defeated San Francisco 49ers 20-17
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin – Career Record: 139 wins, 110 losses (postseason: 10-7), 1 Super Bowl (2007)
It took five years, but Coach Coughlin has guided the Giants back to the Super Bowl for the second time. Now he has a chance to become the ninth head coach in the NFL with two or more Super Bowl victories. Along the way, Coughlin will look to tie Bill Parcells for the most postseason victories in franchise history. Coughlin has racked up 10 victories in his head coaching postseason career.
More than What Meets the Eye
The New York Giants’ 9-7 may not look like much, but considering the teams they took down to reach Super Bowl XLVI, it was an amazing trip. In the Wild Card Playoffs, the Giants allowed the Falcons only a safety and nothing else. Yes, the Falcons technically shot themselves in the foot over and over again by going for it on fourth down consistently, but the staunch Giant defense didn’t give up yards even in garbage time.
In the Divisional Playoffs, they took on last year’s champs, the Green Bay Packers, in Green Bay. While many expected Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to steamroll the Giants, New York buckled down and defeated the defending champion by an impressive 17-point margin. Finally, the Giants arrived at Candlestick (or now known as Lights-Out Stadium) in San Francisco for the Conference Championship (their third away playoff games). After a thrilling regulation, the Giants sealed a trip to Indy thanks to kicker Lawrence Tynes’s game-winning field goal and the 49ers’ Kyle Williams’s fumble.
Men on a Mission:
QB – Eli Manning: At least one Manning will show up in Indianapolis this weekend. Eli will attempt to “feel at home” when he plays on his older brother’s home field, Lucas Oil Arena. The little Manning has always lived behind the shadow of his father, Archie, and older brother, Peyton; but with a victory on Sunday, Eli will become the only Manning with two rings. No one is more responsible for the Giants’ improbable run to the Super Bowl than Eli. Manning threw for 4933 yards and made 29 touchdowns, while staying true to his reputation as one of the most clutch quarterbacks this season.
DE – Jason Pierre-Paul: The Giants may have struggled on defense throughout the regular season, but Jason Pierre-Paul was very consistent. The second-year defensive end from South Florida has collected 16.5 sacks this season – putting him fourth-most in a season on the franchise history list. Besides the sack total, his 29 quarterback hits were 19 more than any other teammate’s and his 23 tackles for loss were 10 more than his closest teammate, offensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka. Pierre-Paul was rewarded for his effort with a trip to the Pro Bowl this year, and has also helped limit the Giants’ three playoff opponents to an average of 13 points and 200.7 passing yards per game.
Interesting Note: The Giants are the first team in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl after having a negative scoring differential in the regular season. Of the previous four teams with the lowest scoring differential, only the 2007 Giants (at plus-22) went on to win the Super Bowl.
Prediction: New England 27 – New York 20
Brady will soon be on the wrong side of 30, and just like any aging superstar, the Golden Boy will eventually begin to decline. Yet for now, Brady and the Patriots can still grind out a Super Bowl victory. Another thing is that the Patriots have not lost since playing the Giants in week 9. It can be said that Brady could be as ineffective as he was against the Ravens, but consider this: tight end Rob Gronkowski was injured and Brady lost his favorite receiver. Having a healthy Gronkowski on the field along with tight end Aaron Hernandez could make the Patriot offense unstoppable. Also, the Patriot defense has allowed 25 or more points in a game just once this season. The only time that happened: week 3, when they lost 34-31 to the Buffalo Bills. As long as Brady is 70 percent good, Gronkowski back on the field healthy, and the New England defense holds down Eli Manning, look for another title to return to Massachusetts this weekend.