Super Bowl XLVI Preview - N.Y. Giants (12-7) vs. New England (15-3)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The stage may be different and new, but there will be a very familiar feel to Super Bowl XLVI.
Just like they did four years ago, the New York Giants and New England Patriots will battle for the coveted crown of NFL champion when the two storied franchises descend upon the city of Indianapolis for this year's title game. It will be the fifth renewal of a Super Bowl matchup in league history, and first since Dallas and Buffalo squared off for a second straight year in Super Bowl XXVIII back in January of 1994.
The first winner-take-all bout between the teams produced one of the most notable upsets in NFL lore, when the Giants stunned the 18-0 Patriots in a 17-14 nail-biter in Super Bowl XLII, held at Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 3, 2008. New York quarterback Eli Manning directed a 12-play, 83-yard drive in the final minutes, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with just 35 seconds left, for the deciding points as the Giants thwarted New England's attempt to become only the second undefeated team since the 1970 merger.
New York also get the better of the Patriots in a regular-season clash in Foxborough during Week 9 of this 2011 campaign, with Manning again orchestrating a late rally to pull the game out. The standout triggerman led the Giants on an eight-play, 80-yard march in that one, and gave his club a 24-20 decision by finding tight end Jake Ballard from a yard out with only 15 seconds remaining.
That defeat was only the third in New England's last 28 tussles with NFC foes, with two of those setbacks during that stellar stretch coming to the Giants.
The Patriots haven't lost since that last meeting, however, ripping off eight consecutive victories to secure the AFC's top playoff seed and tacking on two more in the postseason to reach the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 seasons under the terrific tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the most ever by a head coach/quarterback combination. The last such appearance for New England took place in its unforgettable showdown with the Giants four years back.
Brady is one of only four quarterbacks to win three Super Bowls, joining Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Troy Aikman in that select company, and will tie another Canton enshrinee in John Elway when he makes his fifth career start in the Big Game on Sunday.
The two-time league MVP is coming off a mediocre performance by his lofty standards, however, throwing a pair of interceptions and having a string of 18 consecutive outings with a touchdown pass end in New England's 23-20 triumph over Baltimore in the AFC Championship. His 57.5 quarterback rating was the battle-tested veteran's second-lowest figure in 21 all-time postseason tests.
Brady, who tied an NFL record with six scoring strikes in the Pats' 45-10 dismantling of Denver in the Divisional Round, was also picked off twice in addition to losing a fumble in this past November's tilt against the Giants, a game in which New England turned the ball over a total of four times.
"They're a good team, that's why they're here," said Brady of the Giants. "They force you into a lot of mistakes. But we can't go out there and make mistakes and expect to win. We have to go out there and play a very clean game."
New York, meanwhile, has been able to keep its errors to a minimum in posting five straight wins to make it to Indianapolis, a run that's conjured up memories of the team's 2007 surge to earn a Super Bowl berth as the NFC's fifth playoff seed. The Giants have compiled an outstanding plus-nine turnover margin during the tear, with Manning having delivered 11 touchdown passes against just one interception over the last four games.
The Giants captured their second NFC title in five seasons by outlasting No. 2 seed San Francisco in a 20-17 overtime thriller in the conference championship, one week after knocking off favored Green Bay on the road in the Divisional Playoffs. The 2007 squad also bested the NFC's top two seeds as the visitor to set up a date with the Patriots, though the remaining members aren't buying any of the surrounding destiny talk.
"As a player, it's not our job to compare these two seasons," noted Manning. "The fact that we're playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl, that's the similarity. That's the only thing that I want to think about. We know that they're a very talented team. We're going to have to play great football."
This year's contest will also be the first-ever head-to-head bout between quarterbacks that are former Super Bowl Most Valuable Players, with Manning claiming the honor with his previous heroics against the Patriots and Brady garnering the award in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII to conclude the 2001 and 2003 seasons, respectively. The fact that it will be taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium, the home venue of Manning's older brother and Brady's longtime rival, Peyton, has added an additional juicy subplot to the game.
Another big storyline pertains to New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose status for Super Bowl XLVI is in some limbo after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship. Though the NFL's 2011 leader in touchdown catches hasn't divulged much information about his playing prospects in typical Patriots fashion, he did acknowledge the injury had improved during Tuesday's Media Day session.
"I feel better every day," Gronkowski stated. "That's the goal. That's the positive direction you want to be going. The rehab is going well. Everything is moving forward and we're on pace of just feeling better every day."
The Giants' comeback win in Super Bowl XLII stands as the only postseason meeting between the clubs to date, with the Patriots holding a slim 5-4 edge in their overall regular-season series with New York. New England had prevailed in four straight non-playoff bouts against the Giants before Big Blue's aforementioned victory at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 6, which halted a 20-game home winning streak in regular-season games for the Pats. New England last topped New York via a hard-earned 38-35 verdict at Giants Stadium during Week 17 of the 2007 season, five weeks before the two faced off in the Super Bowl.
Belichick, who spent 12 years as a Giants assistant from 1979-90, is 2-4 against his former employer for his career and 2-2 during his tenure in New England. His first two losses to New York came while the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95. The esteemed head coach sports a 17-6 career record in the postseason, including a 3-1 mark in Super Bowls, and is tied with Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs for third place on the NFL's all-time list for playoff wins.
Giants sideline boss Tom Coughlin has a 3-4 record versus New England, including a 1-3 mark during his time in charge of Jacksonville from 1995-2002 that contains a win over the Patriots in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff and a loss in the 1996 AFC Championship. Coughlin is 4-1 when going head-to-head with Belichick, however, with two triumphs by the Jaguars against the Browns in 1995 tacked on to the Giants' positive results in both Super Bowl XLII and earlier this season.
Belichick and Coughlin, who has accumulated an 11-7 overall postseason record, worked together for three years from 1988-90 on Bill Parcells' staff with the Giants and were part of New York's win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV that decided the 1990 NFL champion. Belichick was the Giants' defensive coordinator at the time, while Coughlin served as the wide receivers coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Giants Quarterback: Manning (4933 passing yards, 29 TD, 16 INT) caused a mini- controversy by stating he considered himself on par with Brady prior to the season, then went out and backed up that claim by delivering easily the best year of his highly-scrutinized career. The levelheaded quarterback set a Giants' season record for passing yards while engineering five fourth-quarter comebacks, including the one against the Patriots in November that halted New England's 20-game home winning streak in non-playoff tilts. Manning's play hasn't dropped off this postseason either, with the Super Bowl XLII MVP having thrown eight touchdown passes against one interception over New York's three playoff games while twice eclipsing the 300-yard barrier.
Giants Running Backs: The Giants still have the same two backs that split ball- carrying duties during their memorable upset of the Patriots four years ago, though the tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (659 rushing yards, 34 receptions, 11 total TD) and Brandon Jacobs (571 rushing yards, 15 receptions, 8 total TD) both averaged under four yards per attempt during the regular season and the team ranked dead last in rushing offense (89.2 ypg). New York's ground game has been more effective down the stretch, however, with Bradshaw's health having improved after missing part of the year with a cracked bone in his foot. He sat out the Week 10 meeting with New England due to the injury, with Jacobs gaining a solid 72 yards and a touchdown on 18 totes as the lead man.
Giants Wide Receivers: Manning's rise to the elite quarterback ranks was aided by the work of a wideout corps that really came of age in 2011. Victor Cruz (82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD) was a revelation in his first year as a full-time player and 2009 first-round pick Hakeem Nicks (76 receptions, 1192 yards, 7 TD) turned in a second straight outstanding campaign, with the duo giving New York its first pairing of 1,000-yard receivers in team history. Nicks, who's fully expected to play in the Super Bowl despite spraining his right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over San Francisco, has piled up 335 yards and four touchdowns on 18 receptions in the G-Men's three playoff tests, while fourth- year pro Mario Manningham (39 receptions, 4 TD) has a scoring catch in all three of those games and gives Manning a dangerous No. 3 target that can also stretch the field.
Giants Tight Ends: The Giants were thought to be in dire straits at this position heading into the season following the free-agent defection of Kevin Boss to Oakland, but former practice-squad member Ballard (38 receptions, 4 TD) eased concerns with an unexpectedly solid year. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound undrafted player averaged nearly 16 yards per catch in addition to providing a big body for the running game, and came up with a four-catch, 67-yard effort against New England in November that included the go-ahead touchdown grab in the final seconds. Backup Travis Beckum has made a greater contribution as of late, as his seven receptions in the playoffs were two more than he had during the entire regular season.
Giants Offensive Line: Though three starters from New York's 2007 Super Bowl champion squad remain on the current roster, a combination of age and injuries has taken a toll on what's been the offense's weak link. Left tackle David Diehl and right-sider Kareem McKenzie are both seasoned veterans with considerable big-game experience, but each struggled in protection for much of the year and Manning was sacked six times while facing constant pressure in the Giants' narrow win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship. A season-ending detached retina to the group's best pass blocker, tackle Will Beatty, in November has compounded the problem, with Diehl forced to shift back outside after opening the year at left guard and pedestrian fill-in Kevin Boothe moving into the starting lineup as a result. Center David Baas, a high-profile offseason pickup from San Francisco, also missed considerable time with neck problems in his Giants' debut. The line's stalwart is right guard Chris Snee, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who's sat out just one game over the past seven seasons.
Patriots Defensive Line: After employing a four-man front for most of the season, in large part to play to the strengths of the now-injured Andre Carter and underachieving and since-released tackle Albert Haynesworth, Belichick switched back to the 3-4 alignment the Patriots have traditionally used under his tutelage shortly before the team's playoff march. Veteran Vince Wilfork (52 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT), the lone defender on the active roster who was present for the Super Bowl XLII setback to the Giants, has flourished with the scheme change and put forth a monster outing in the AFC Championship, in which the four-time Pro Bowl honoree made six tackles, one sack and three stops for losses. Young charges Kyle Love (33 tackles, 3 sacks) and Brandon Deaderick (17 tackles, 2 sacks) are both sound run-stoppers that work in a rotation with seasoned pros Gerard Warren (12 tackles, 1 sack) and Shaun Ellis (14 tackles, 1 sack), who'll be playing in his first Super Bowl in a 12-year career spend predominantly with the rival New York Jets.
Patriots Inside Linebackers: The presence of Jerod Mayo (95 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT), one of the league's more active and instinctive linebackers, and second- year thumper Brandon Spikes (47 tackles) makes this area probably New England's greatest strength on defense. Spikes missed eight games with a knee injury before returning to action for the regular-season finale, and it's not a coincidence that the Pats were tougher against the run after he came back. The 24-year-old also had a big day in the conference title game, registering a team-best nine tackles and coming up with a key fourth-quarter interception.
Patriots Outside Linebackers: While Carter turned out to be New England's best offseason acquisition, the addition of ex-Texan Mark Anderson (29 tackles, 10 sacks) was a very astute pickup as well. The pass-rushing specialist came through with 10 sacks during the regular season and one more in the playoffs, while his ability to create pressure from both a standup linebacker or a down end allows Belichick to give the opposition a variance of looks. The same can be said about the unheralded Rob Ninkovich (74 tackles, 2 INT), who established a career high with 6 1/2 sacks in addition to holding up very well in run support.
Patriots Cornerbacks: Though the Patriots permitted 293.9 passing yards per game prior to the playoffs, that concerning total was offset by the 23 interceptions the team produced, tied for second-most in the NFL. Nearly one- third of those picks came from Kyle Arrington (88 tackles, 7 INT, 13 PD), who emerged as New England's steadiest cornerback in his second year as a starter, while counterpart Devin McCourty (87 tackles, 2 INT, 12 PD) garnered seven interceptions of his own during a stellar rookie campaign in 2010 before having his play drop off in a sophomore slump. Finding a capable nickel back after rookie Ras-I Dowling's year-ending hip injury in September had been a season- long chore, but the play of AFC Championship hero Sterling Moore (7 tackles, 2 INT) since being inserted into that role may have finally resolved that issue.
Patriots Safeties: Here's another position group that's been a mess for New England for much of this season but has shown signs of progress as of late. One reason for that improvement has been the return of the hard-hitting Patrick Chung (62 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) from a sprained foot that kept him out much of the second half, with a desperate Belichick forced to audition several candidates without much success in the wake of the injury. James Ihedigbo (69 tackles), signed away from the Jets back in August, is a strong tackler but isn't considered an asset in coverage, with McCourty recently having seen time on the back end on obvious passing downs to help bolster the overall pass defense.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Patriots Quarterback: Brady (5235 passing yards, 39 TD, 12 INT) had already entered this postseason with a laundry list of achievements, and the two-time league MVP further enhanced his legacy by tying an NFL playoff record with six touchdown passes in the Denver game. He then matched boyhood idol Montana for the most postseason wins (16) by a signal-caller in the AFC Championship ousting of Baltimore, despite tossing two interceptions and playing poorly in his own analysis. The 34-year-old has still generated an excellent 25-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the 10-game win streak the Patriots bring into Indianapolis, and the 39 scoring strikes he accounted for in the regular season were the second-most of his glorious career.
Patriots Running Backs: Though it lacks a true standout, New England's backfield-by-committee approach has provided a useful complement to the team's passing proficiency. Leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis (667 rushing yards, 11 TD) is a strong between-the-tackles performer who's scored 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons, though the undrafted free-agent's most impressive stat is the zero fumbles over 562 career touches he's had over his four-year tenure. That impeccable track record is the main reason why he's ahead of more- talented rookie Stevan Ridley (441 rushing yards, 1 TD), benched for the AFC Championship after losing a fumble against Denver the week prior, on the depth chart. Former Jets castoff Danny Woodhead (351 rushing yards, 1 TD, 18 receptions) now holds down the third-down role held for years by 13-year vet Kevin Faulk, who's been used sparingly since returning from an ACL tear in midseason.
Patriots Wide Receivers: No New England player benefited more by the emergence of Gronkowski and sidekick Aaron Hernandez than Wes Welker (122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD), whose 1,569 receiving yards eclipsed Moss' club season mark set in 2007 and ranked second in the NFL this year, and the prolific slot specialist was a real handful for the Giants in both Super Bowl XLII (11 catches, 103 yards) as well as the Patriots' loss to New York back in November (9 catches, 136 yards). Fellow veteran Deion Branch (51 receptions, 5 TD), the MVP of the Patriots' win over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX seven years ago, also owns a wealth of big-game experience, having been an integral part of two previous championship teams during his first tour of duty with the organization from 2002-06. Six-time Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco (15 receptions, 1 TD), however, has been essentially an afterthought following a slow adjustment to a new scheme after coming over in an offseason trade with Cincinnati. The colorful 34-year-old has fallen behind both Welker clone Julian Edelman and ex- Jaguars washout Tiquan Underwood in the pecking order late in the season.
Patriots Tight Ends: The health status of Gronkowski (90 receptions, 1327 yards, 17 TD) has been one of the most followed topics of this year's Big Game, and for good reason. He was a big factor in New England's Week 9 meeting with the Giants, netting 101 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, and eight of Brady's 12 interceptions during the regular season came on plays in which Gronkowski and counterpart Hernandez (79 receptions, 7 TD) weren't on the field together. Hernandez has been more of a focal point as of late, however, having averaged six catches and 85 yards over the Patriots' six most recent wins.
Patriots Offensive Line: Usually an unsung part of New England's sustained success, this five-man group has held up pretty well in 2011 despite two key regulars, center Dan Koppen and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, having missed the majority of the season due to injuries. The Patriots have started three players since longtime pivot man Koppen fractured his ankle in the Week 1 opener, with capable substitute Dan Connolly manning the position for most of the way and filling in adequately, and promising rookie Nate Solder has earned his stripes by starting 13 times in place of Vollmer, who hasn't played since November because of an ankle problem but will be ready if needed for the Super Bowl. The remainder of the line is loaded with experience and prestige, as guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters have been named to 10 Pro Bowls between them and left tackle Matt Light has served as Brady's trusted blind-side protector since breaking into the league in 2001.
Giants Defensive Ends: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is blessed with an embarrassment of riches at this position, with Justin Tuck (37 tackles, 5 sacks) and Osi Umenyiora (25 tackles, 9 sacks) each having posted three double- digit sack seasons in their careers and rising star Jason Pierre Paul (86 tackles, 16.5 sacks) actually outplaying both veterans in a banner sophomore campaign that earned the 2010 first-round pick first team All-Pro honors. The 23-year-old's 16 1/2 sacks were the most by a Giant since Michael Strahan produced 18 1/2 in 2003, and he also had a safety and blocked a field goal in addition to being one of the team's best run defenders.
Giants Defensive Tackles: The headliner of New York's interior players is seventh-year vet Chris Canty (47 tackles, 4 sacks), a high-priced free-agent addition from the rival Cowboys in 2009 who helped justify his lofty salary by setting career bests for both tackles and sacks. Youngster Linval Joseph (34 tackles, 2 sacks), a second-round choice in the 2010 draft, started 15 games at the other tackle spot and was predictably inconsistent, though the 323-pound space-eater did display flashes in his first extended action as a pro. With the Patriots certainly to air it out often on Super Bowl Sunday, look for Tuck and energetic reserve Dave Tollefson (21 tackles, 5 sacks) to kick inside on passing downs in order to get the Giants' best rushers on the field together.
Giants Linebackers: The Giants received solid years from the outside tandem of Michael Boley (93 tackles, 1 sack) and converted end Mathias Kiwanuka (84 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT), an Indianapolis native who can also pressure the passer as well as provide sound run support, but lacked a reliable starter in the middle for much of the season. That spot has since been bolstered by the re-signing of Chase Blackburn (26 tackles, 1 INT), a member of New York's Super Bowl XLII outfit who was out of football prior to being brought back in late November. Boley and rookie Jacquian Williams (78 tackles, 1 sack), a seventh- round find in this past draft, are the club's fastest linebackers who both play vital roles in coverage, meaning each may draw the important assignments of shadowing New England's terrific tight end duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Giants Cornerbacks: The experience of regulars Corey Webster (51 tackles, 6 INT, 16 PD) and Aaron Ross (60 tackles, 4 INT, 12 PD) should come in handy for this game, as both were starters on the 2007 defense that successfully slowed down Brady and his arsenal of weapons in Super Bowl XLII. The combo also accounted for half of the Giants' 20 interceptions in 2011, with Webster -- New York's top cover man who held big-play receiver Randy Moss mostly in check in the last championship showdown against New England -- establishing a new career high in that category.
Giants Safeties: New York is quite battle-tested on the back end as well. Nickel defender Deon Grant (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is in his 12th NFL season and faced the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII while with Carolina in 2003, while free safety Antrel Rolle (96 tackles, 2 INT) competed on Arizona's Super Bowl XLIII team in 2008. Fourth-year pro Kenny Phillips (82 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PD) is the youngest member of the group but also the steadiest, and the hard-hitting former first-round pick has developed a reputation as an enforcer with good ball skills to boot. Fewell will often deploy all three together in passing situations, and Grant had an interception and two passes defensed in November's win over New England.
Giants Placekicker: Lawrence Tynes didn't have a remarkable regular season, as his 79.2 percent (19-of-24) success rate on field goals was the Scottish-born kicker's lowest in his five years with the Giants and he made good on a shaky 4-of-8 tries from 40 yards or beyond. The 33-year-old has shown an affinity for coming through in the clutch, however. He sent Big Blue into its memorable Super Bowl clash with New England four years back by drilling a deciding 47- yard attempt in overtime to down Green Bay in the 2007 NFC Championship, and came through in virtually an identical sudden-death scenario against the 49ers in this season's conference title game.
Giants Punter: Free-agent pickup Steve Weatherford, a member of the crosstown- rival Jets the previous two seasons, bolstered what had been a major problem area for the Giants in 2010 by averaging a career-best 45.7 yards per punt with his new team. The six-year pro has been even better during this playoff run, averaging 46.4 yards per boot (40.6 net avg.) and having only nine of his 18 kicks returned.
Giants Long-snapper: The versatile Zak DeOssie has handled these duties since breaking into the league in 2007 and has twice been named to the Pro Bowl (2008, 2010) as a need player during his time with the Giants. Initially drafted as a linebacker, the Massachusetts native also serves as New York's special teams captain and finished fourth on the club with 10 coverage tackles this season.
Giants Punt Returners: This has not been an area of strength for the Giants in 2011, as their average of 6.1 yards per return was the fourth-lowest mark in the league and the team didn't have one of more than 18 yards. Cornerbacks Ross (7.1 avg.) and Will Blackmon (4.2 avg.), who does own three career punt return touchdowns, have received the bulk of the work.
Giants Kickoff Returners: Devin Thomas began the season as New York's primary kick returner and averaged a respectable 24.3 yards per attempt for the year, but was taken off the assignment in November after experiencing some ball security issues. Rookie receiver Jerrel Jernigan (23.3 avg.) has been the main man as of late and performed steadily, though the Giants finished just 20th in that category as a team prior to the postseason.
Giants Special Teams Defense: The Giants' coverage corps was solid during the regular season, limiting teams to 9.9 yards per punt return and 22.9 on kickoffs while not allowing a special-teams touchdown over the course of the year, and certainly made a difference in the narrow win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship. Williams came up with the critical strip of the Niners' Kyle Williams in overtime and recorded a team-best 17 special-teams tackles for a group that also received noteworthy efforts from two other 2011 draft choices -- safety Tyler Sash (15 tackles) and linebacker Greg Jones.
Patriots Placekicker: Being the successor to Adam Vinatieri, who kicked the Patriots to two of their three Super Bowl victories under head coach Bill Belichick with last-second field goals, isn't the easiest of tasks, but Stephen Gostkowski has handled the challenge well. The 2006 draft choice owns a solid 84.4 percent career success rate on three-point attempts during his six years in New England and has made good on 13-of-15 tries in postseason play. One of only two NFL kickers to compile 500 points over his first four seasons, Gostkowski was a reliable 28-of-33 overall in 2011 and an impressive 10-of-13 from 40 yards out or more.
Patriots Punter: Zoltan Mesko doesn't get overworked as the punter on the league's third-highest scoring team, but the Romanian-born lefty has certainly come through when called upon. The second-year pro's 41.5 net average was the best in the AFC this season, while 24 of his 57 kicks landed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He also set a New England record by averaging 46.5 gross yards per boot, breaking a mark that had stood since 1997.
Patriots Long-snapper: What had been a sore spot for the Patriots the past two years no longer seems to be concern thanks to the steady showing of rookie Danny Aiken, claimed off waivers from Buffalo during final preseason cuts. The 23-year-old has not had a bad snap in his 18 appearances while chipping in five tackles on special teams.
Patriots Punt Returners: The Patriots have a potential game-breaker here in Edelman (10.6 avg.), with the backup slot receiver having averaged a noteworthy 12.6 yards per return over the past two seasons and scored two touchdowns over that span. One of them came from 72 yards out in a rout of Kansas City back in November.
Patriots Kickoff Returners: New England hasn't been as dynamic taking back kicks, placing a poor 29th out of 32 teams with a 21.4 average in the regular season. There have been problems during the playoffs as well, with primary returner Woodhead (21.9 avg.) committing a costly fumble that Baltimore converted into a field goal in the AFC Championship.
Patriots Special Teams Defense: The versatile Matthew Slater (14 special teams tackles), voted as the AFC's special teams representative to this season's Pro Bowl, is one of a host of standouts in an area where Belichick has always put a heavy emphasis upon. Reserve linebackers Tracy White (12 tackles) and Niko Koutouvides (7 tackles) have both carved out long careers toiling on kickoff and punt coverage teams, with safety Sergio Brown (11 tackles) and Arrington (11 tackles) also having made their mark on a unit that held opponents to a modest 21.6 yards per kick return (6th overall) and 8.5 on punts.
Beating the Patriots twice in one season during the Brady/Belichick era is a rare feat indeed, with only the 2005 Broncos, 2006 Colts and 2010 Jets accomplishing the task. There's reason to believe the Giants can join that exclusive club, however. While New York's Week 9 win in Foxborough shouldn't be used as the sole measuring stick when breaking down this rematch, the fact that it came without a pair of prime offensive players (Nicks and Bradshaw) is certainly noteworthy, as is the fact that the Pats still had their best pass rusher in Carter available as well as Gronkowski at full strength. And while it's true that New England's much-maligned defense has been performing at a higher level during this pivotal stage of the season, so has a Giants' crew that's been making life miserable for enemy quarterbacks in a strikingly similar way it successfully contained Brady and his playmakers the last time these teams met up in a Super Bowl. In reality, though, this sequel seems to be set up for an offensive explosion, with both quarterbacks primed to thrive in the indoor conditions against an opponent with questionable secondary depth that will be put to the test by the strong contingent of pass-catchers on each side. Considering the recent history of this series and the track record of both Manning and Brady in clutch situations, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see this game come down to who has the ball last. But when factoring in New York's better recent results in the turnover department -- a critical determinant to the outcome of the last meeting between these two -- the Giants appear to be a slightly more confident play.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 38, Patriots 34
02/01 17:13:15 ET