Oh boy, what a game this ought to be! Fighting out of the (big) blue corner, defending their home turf are the 5-4 New York Giants, a team ravaged by injuries (and at times their own stupidity). And fighting out of the red corner is everyone’s favorite team to hate, the cheaters themselves, the New England Patriots! The game is on Sunday at 4:25 on CBS. And oh by the way, this game is a rematch of not one but two recent Super Bowls. Now, who’s ready to rumble?
Would it really be right for a Giants-Patriots game not to feature Tom Brady and Eli Manning as quarterbacks? I don’t think so. Boy are we are in for a treat this Sunday with these two. Brady, fresh off of a successful appeal versus his DeflateGate suspension, has been the NFL’s MVP this season. His numbers include 2,709 yards, 22 touchdowns, a 68.6 completion percentage, and a ridiculous 113.5 passer rating. His counterpart, Eli Manning has been fantastic this year as well. Manning has 2,339 yards, 19 touchdowns, a 65.9% completion rate, and an exceptional 96.9 passer rating. It’s funny how Eli’s stellar numbers are totally dwarfed by Brady’s; a testament to just how good he’s been. Eli is phenomenal, don’t get me wrong, but no one has the quarterbacks edge over the Patriots.
The Giants caught a break here with the injury of Pats’ breakout star Dion Lewis. Lewis’ torn ACL means that little-known James White and veteran bruiser LaGarrette Blount will take over running the ball. Blount is the closest thing anyone has today to a Brandon Jacobs, which could prove difficult for the Giants’ suspect tacklers. For Big Blue, it’s a full-on running back by committee system. Rashad Jennings sees most of the snaps and has come on of late; he is joined by power back Andre Williams, 3rd-Down back and ex-Patriot Shane Vereen, and even little-known Orleans Darkwa to make for a powerful rushing attack. Despite each side having some playmakers, neither of these teams are known for their running games that much.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
This is where each of these two teams earn their touchdowns: their exceptional receiving options. For New England, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell combine for an unstoppable receiving corps. Edelman in particular has really come into his own over the past couple of seasons out of the slot, and with some of the NFL’s best defenses unable to stop Rob Gronkowski, who’s thinking the Giants will suddenly be capable of doing so? While the Giants don’t have chopped liver on their side, it pales in comparison to the Patriots’ amazing core. Odell Beckham Jr. is having another amazing year (59 catches for 759 yards and 7 TDs), but while Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris offer support, the absence of Victor Cruz limits the Giants offensively. Tight end Larry Donnell will sit this game out with a hamstring injury; rookie Will Tye will start in his place.
The Patriots’ offensive line is a mess, but only because of tricky injuries. In fact, the Patriots are missing starting blind side blocker Nate Solder for the season as well as sub left tackle Marcus Cannon and swing tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a 6’8″ beast, for the game. The Pats’ O-Line jumble could bode well for the Giants, who actually have some cohesion on their front. Interior linemen Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Geoff Schwartz are solid, and rookie tackle Ereck Flowers is inconsistent but talented. The Patriots’ injuries make this an even matchup for Sunday.
The Patriots are good at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks for sure. Defensive ends Rob Ninkovich (2.0 sacks, 19 tackles) and NFL sack leader Chandler Jones (9.5 sacks to go with 27 tackles) lead the way, with support coming from Jabaal Sheard (4.0 sacks) and blitzing linebackers Jamie Collins (injured, will not play Sunday) and Dont’a Hightower. Defensive tackles Alan Branch and rookie Malcolm Brown are a far cry from past Patriots’ run-stuffing DTs, but get the job done. For the Giants, it was encouraging to see Jason Pierre-Paul return in such a dominating fashion as he did last Sunday versus the Buccaneers. He is joined by run-stopping DEs Robert Ayers Jr., Kerry Wynn, and the ever-controversial passing-down specialist, DaMontre Moore (when he isn’t roughing the passer). The loss of Jonathan Hankins weakens the Giants’ interior; look for Cullen Jenkins, Jay Bromley, and Markus Kuhn to play larger roles.
The Patriots may have the best group of linebackers in the NFL. Led by captain Jerod Mayo and bolstered by Dont’a Hightower and ordinarily Jamie Collins, the Pats are loaded at LB. But with Collins injured and Mayo taking more of a backseat recently (8 tackles on the season), the focus shifts to young Jerod Freeny, a Rutgers graduate. The Giants’ linebackers took a hit with the announcement that captain Jon Beason was lost for the season and another hit when his replacement, Unai ‘Unga, suffered a neck injury. Veteran Jasper Brinkley will take over in the middle versus New England; he will be flanked by ex-Patriot Jonathan Casillas and the ever-improving Devon Kennard. Still, the Patriots have such linebacking depth that the Giants are playing catch-up here too.
When you look at the Patriots’ roster and see that there are only 4 true cornerbacks and a whopping 7 listed safeties, you must have no idea how the Patriots deploy all of these guys. While corners Malcolm Butler (he of the Super Bowl XLVIIII-clinching interception) and Logan Ryan have a combined 5 interceptions, they sometimes struggle to eliminate the true number 1 wideouts. The Pats usually double team the opposition’s main receiver. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung have a combined 77 tackles, and third safety Duron Harmon has 3 picks. Meanwhile, the Giants are coming into this game with a hobbled secondary. Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie has been outstanding this year but cannot do it all by himself; with Prince Amukamara injured, Jayron Hosley, Trevin Wade, and Trumaine McBride have failed to pick up the heavy slack. Safeties Landon Collins and ex-Patriot Brandon Meriweather are hit-or-miss; look for them against Gronkowski on Sunday.
The Giants and Patriots both feature stellar special teams. For the Giants, kicker Josh Brown (19-19 on field goals), punter Brad Wing (45.2 AVG and 18 punts inside the 20), snapper Zak DeOssie, and return specialist Dwayne Harris (1 kickoff return TD) are as reliable a group as they come. But the Patriots are just as good. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t missed a field goal yet either, punter Ryan Allen downs 56% of his punts inside the 20, rookie snapper Joe Cardona hasn’t screwed up yet, and return specialists Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are dangerous and shifty.
While my Giants fanship wants to see my Giants win this game and upset the rival Patriots, it is least likely this time around than ever before. Due to the Giants’ injuries and inconsistent defense, Brady looks primed for a big day. I think the Giants will be able to put up points and keep the game close, but the Patriots will ultimately end up on top this time around. Here’s to hoping we see this matchup once more under the lights in Super Bowl 50.
Prediction: 34-24 Patriots (Record picking Giants games: 7-2)