The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, I was torn. I liked New England, Belichick, Brady, and Moss, but the combination of the Belicheat taping scandal and the arrogance of the 19-0 threat made me cheer, however reluctantly, for the New York Football Giants. And it turned out to be a great game in the end, a much better one than I had expected.
Since Belichick and Brady are rapidly approaching the end of their historic run together, I think I’d like to see them close it out with another Super Bowl victory. But can they do it? At first glance, they’d seem to have the most meaningful advantages on their side; the team with the better coach and quarterback usually wins, especially in the playoffs.
But Tom Coughlin is actually 3-1 against Belichick and is a more formidable gameday coach in his own right than most NFL observers seem to recognize. He hasn’t survived as long as he has in the league’s most brutal media market by being mediocre, and for all that Eli Manning often appears to be almost clueless about things, his nonchalant unawareness of the moment seems to serve him very well in big games. Where other quarterbacks strut, swagger, and eventually crumble before the pressure, Eli just keeps blithely throwing the ball as if it is the preseason and he’s already thrown four touchdowns, not two interceptions.
The Giants defensive line and wide receivers are definitely quite a bit better than their New England counterparts and it is said that the Patriots haven’t really beaten anyone this year. On the other hand, the Giants managed to lose to the Seahawks, the Redskins twice, and they were blown out by the Saints in Week 12, while the Patriots always kept it close, didn’t have any trouble with the Redskins, and even blew out the Eagles, who split their season series with the Giants.
In the end, I think the experience and determination of Belichick, Brady, and Wilfork is going to overcome the happy-to-be-there vibe that the Giants are giving off. The Super Bowl has not historically been kind to the team that is openly enjoying the experience. Unless the Giants manage to rip apart the vulnerable New England secondary and its wide receivers turned part-time cornerbacks early, the Patriots should be able to exploit what is really a dreadful Giants secondary with Welker and their two-headed rookie tight end monster, Gronkandez. Everyone has been talking about how the Patriots pass defense is ranked 31st in the league, but they appear to be forgetting that the Giants pass defense is ranked 29th and has intercepted fewer passes while giving up more passing touchdowns than the Patriots.
So, I expect New England to win today, with a score on the order of 31-27. Playoff record: 8-2.