Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Analysis from the Greatest Football Mind of All-Time... NOT what you are going to get out of this article, but I promise you this: You’ll feel better prepared to discuss the game after reading this than you would listening to Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter jaw at each other for six hours.

Ah yes, the time has come. 

The time when football becomes the focus of every man, some women, and those children who have an interest in football.  The time when family and friends get together for the real American pastime: eating mountains of food with little-to-no nutritional value.  The time when commercials are just as interesting as the main attraction, and many times, even moreso.  The time when people try to figure out how the NFC could get a score ending in 9 while the AFC gets a score ending in 2.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!! Today, you are going to be inundated with analysis after analysis on every single iota of nonsense even tangentially related to the game, from the fight the Patriots' special teams coach had with his wife two days ago to the state of the Giants' third string linebacker's bruised pinky toe.  Undoubtedly, you will be so sick of this, that you will no longer want to watch the game by the time kickoff comes.  In that spirit, let me add a little more fuel to that fire!! 

Notable Super Bowl XLVI statistics that shouldn’t have an effect on how we analyze the game, but they sort of do anyway.

DON’T LET THE RECORDS FOOL YOU:  The Patriots had four more regular season wins than the Giants.  This is the fourth time in Super Bowl history where one team comes in with at least four more regular season wins than the other team.  In the previous three times this has happened, the teams with more wins are only 1-2.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE:  This is not discussed in the pro game nearly as often as it is in college, but it’s worth noting here.  The Patriots have beaten only ONE team with a winning record this year.  ONE team: The Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, and it took a botched, game-ending 31-yard field goal attempt for them to do it.  The Giants, by contrast, have four wins against winning teams this year, with just one in the regular season, over the New England Patriots.

HEADS OR TAILS?:  The NFC has won the coin toss for 14 consecutive Super Bowls in a row.  Fourteen in a Row!!  The odds of a coin toss coming out the same way 14 times in a row:  1/16,384, or 0.006%.  The odds of the NFC winning the toss this year? ½, or 50%.  Interestingly, Vegas is reporting that 75% of the bets on the coin toss are going to the NFC.

SPEAKING OF VEGAS:   The vast majority of the common (non-“Professional”) money betting the Super Bowl line (point spread) is going in favor of the Giants.  The “Professional” money is heavy on the Patriots.  The Super Bowl is a unique event where common money outweighs “Professional” money, which is why the spread quickly dropped a full point from the Patriots -3 ½ to -2 ½.  This is actually a bad sign for the Giants.  Vegas has only lost money on the Super Bowl line three times.  If history pans out, the Patriots will win by a field goal or more.

I’M GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!!:  Super Bowl XLVI marks the 25th Anniversary of the first Post-Super Bowl “I’m going to Disney World!!” celebration.  The first person to say those now-famous words: Phil Simms, Quarterback of the New York Giants, after defeating the Denver Broncos 36-20 in Super Bowl XXI.  



Patriots’ strategy:  The Patriots have to be most concerned with the pass rush from the Giants defensive line, which is one of the best in the league.  The Giants have many effective rushers, whom they can substitute in and out to keep fresh.  However, the numbers show the Giants are the second worst team in the league rushing the passer when teams line up in a two-TE formation, which the Patriots run over 70% of the time.  Look for the Patriots to run a lot of no-huddle in a two-TE formation, both to limit the effectiveness of the Giants pass rush on those plays and to prevent the Giants from making substitutions on the defensive line, thus wearing out the pass rush for later in the game.

Most Important Body Part:  Rob Gronkowski’s ankle.  Rob Gronkowski has been the key to what everything the Patriots have done on offense this season.  He is not at 100%, due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the AFC Championship.  This will be an incredibly important factor in the game.  If he is not as effective, Aaron Hernandez will need to pick up the slack in the passing game.

Most Important Players:  Running Backs BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.  What?  The Running Backs?  Yes.  If Rob Gronkowski were healthy, I would have put him here.  However, he is limited.  For that reason, Green-Ellis and Woodhead will need to have success running the football, especially out of the shotgun.  The Patriots are most effective throwing the ball downfield when they can sell the play-action pass out of the shotgun formation, but they will be successful doing so only if the Giants respect the threat of the run.  The Patriots’ Running Backs will be key not only to the running game, but the success of the passing game as well.

Key to the Giants Defense:  The Pass Rush. (Duh.) The Giants are one of the few teams uniquely built to neutralize what Tom Brady can do on the football field, and it all stems from the pass rush.  Using only the front four and dropping seven into coverage, they can get pressure on the quarterback from either side and up the middle.  Since they have so many effective pass rushers, they can substitute them in and keep them fresh.  Further, in the playoffs, Giants Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell has been using a unique formation on passing downs. He puts four Defensive Ends and no Defensive Tackles on the front line.  It has been incredibly effective.  Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, and Kiwanuka will get on the line, and offensive lines have been having incredible difficulty figuring out who is going where.

Advantage:  Giants.  As discussed, the Patriots will use scheme to limit what the pass rushers of the Giants can do.  However, earlier in the year, the Giants were able to pressure Tom Brady and limit what they could do on offense, and that was with a healthy Gronkowski and a Giants’ line depleted due to injury.  The Patriots will score some points, but nowhere near their usual prolific standards.


Giants’ Strategy:  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  The Giants will use healthy doses of running and play-action passing to keep the offense moving.  They have an effective running game, with the newly-resurgent Brandon Jacobs taking the lead.  Their passing game, featuring Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham, is dynamic and deadly.  The Giants’ Offensive Coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, will play it fairly straightforward with the Patriots, feeling the Giants can impose their will on the Patriots in the running game and create mismatches they can take advantage of the mismatches in the passing game.  There will be a heavy emphasis on base two-wide receiver sets and three-wide receiver sets with Victor Cruz in the slot against Julian Edelman.

Most Important Body Part:  Victor Cruz’ Booty.  As in, how many times will he be salsa-shakin’ that booty in the end zone?  As mentioned, Julian Edelman will have the task of covering Cruz in the slot.  Quite simply, Edelmann won’t be able to do it alone.  The Patriots will scheme to limit Cruz’s effectiveness, probably by bracketing him with a linebacker or giving some safety help over the top.  But, generally, they won’t be able to do that everytime without leaving some one-on-one mismatches wide with Manningham and Nicks or leaving a Tight End or Running Back unaccounted for, unless Bill Belichick uses a radical strategy, as discussed below.  The game’s outcome will depend a great deal on whether and how many times Mr. Cruz gets to shake his groove thang.

Most Important Player:  Quarterback Eli Manning.  Looking for a more original answer?  Sorry to disappoint you.  The play-action is going to create some big-play opportunities, and Eli is going to have to take advantage of every one of them.  He has been playing even better than he had been during his 2007 run, and he will have to continue to do so today.

Keys to the Patriots Defense:  On running downs: Vince Wilfork.  On passing downs: Bill Belichick.  The Patriots defense has looked better in the playoffs, but keep in mind the Patriots have played the Broncos and the Ravens.  Those aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts.   Vince Wilfork’s ability to completely stuff the run has been a big reason for their success.  He’ll have to do the same against the Giants’ recently-productive running attack.  Clearly, the Giants’ offense will be the best the Patriots have played in the playoffs.  However, you give Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for a game, and he will come in with a new wrinkle on one side of the ball to which it will be difficult to adjust.  I think this wrinkle will come on defense.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick employs a strategy on passing downs similar to one he used with success on Eli Manning’s older brother, Peyton, years ago.  That is, send only one or two rushers and drop nine or ten players back into coverage.  The Patriots don’t have an effective pass rush anyway, and they will double-cover Hakeem Nicks regardless of the formation.  This strategy would allow them to limit the mismatches they have, even in nickel and dime packages, covering Manningham and Cruz.

Advantage:  Giants.  The Patriots’ defense has been the weak link all year.  Nothing is going to change that.  The Giants have a deceptively dynamic offense, which is healthier than the first time these two teams played.  The running game will be solid, if not spectacular, and the Patriots will have to respect it, which means Eli will be effective in the play-action attack.  Cruz will beat Edelman for a long touchdown twice; Manningham and Jacobs will add one each.


Both teams are solid on special teams coverage.  I would be shocked if a special teams made a big difference in this game, with one exception:  The kicking game.  Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots is a much more reliable and consistent kicker than Lawrence Tynes of the Giants.  If the game becomes a kicking contest, it will favor the Patriots.

Slight Advantage:  Patriots


New York Giants 31, New England Patriots 20
MVP:  Victor Cruz - 7 rec, 142 yds, 2 TDs

I’m not going to lie.  The statistics about the common money versus professional money in Vegas make me want to pick the Patriots.  However, when I look at these teams as they stand right now, the New York Giants simply look like the better team.  But of course, in one game, anything can happen.

Enjoy the game, everybody...or you know, don't. It's all good!

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