Giants, Pats Finally Ready to Get It On

Playing their Week 17 game against the Patriots like it meant everything to them, too, helped the Giants more than they could've even imagined just four short weeks ago.

Not only did it instill confidence in a Wild Card team that has been almost as impressive as undefeated New England in the postseason, it provided the Giants with a dress rehearsal just five weeks before playing in the Super Bowl, an unusual advantage for any conference championship team.

Now all they have to do is figure out how to defeat what is being touted as the best team in NFL history, one that has outscored opponents 641-306 during its 18-game winning streak. Only one team, the Indianapolis Colts in last year's AFC Championship Game, has done that in a game that counts since Dec. 10, 2006.

The Giants will also face a seasoned team that has grown accustomed to this type of pressure, and not just throughout this unfathomable four-month run. Though the Patriots added several star contributors last offseason, most notably receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, they also still possess the core of a squad that has reached four Super Bowls in seven seasons. Conversely, only two Giants – Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer – remain from the team that was drubbed by Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV seven years ago.

WHEN NEW YORK RUNS:

Rookie Ahmad Bradshaw (163 yards; 4.2 yards per carry) has been more effective than Brandon Jacobs (155; 3.2) during the Giants' three postseason games, but Jacobs was successful against the Patriots on Dec. 29. After gaining only seven yards on seven first-half carries, Jacobs barreled for 60 second-half yards on only eight attempts. He also caught a team-high five passes for 44 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown that put the Giants ahead 7-0 in the first quarter. Bradshaw missed the three-point defeat to New England with a calf injury. The Patriots' run defense, anchored by nose tackle Vince Wilfork, has actually improved in the postseason. New England yielded 98.2 rushing yards per game in the regular season, but the Patriots limited the Jacksonville duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to 66 yards on 19 carries (3.5) in a divisional-round win. And other than a 26-yard run by Darren Sproles in the second quarter, they neutralized Chargers Michael Turner, Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson (78 yards combined on 21 carries) in the AFC Championship Game.

THE EDGE: PATRIOTS.

WHEN NEW YORK PASSES:

Eli Manning made only one costly mistake in their first meeting, when he overthrew wide receiver Plaxico Burress and right cornerback Ellis Hobbs intercepted it, with 9:53 to go in the game and the Giants trailing by just three points (31-28). He has thrown five touchdowns and only one interception in 12-plus quarters since that turnover, a good sign since the Giants will need him to be just about perfect against an opportunistic Patriots pass defense. Only five teams picked off more passes than the Patriots, who had 19 interceptions in the regular season. New England only allowed 190.1 passing yards per game during the regular season as well, but the Giants were able to expose Hobbs deep on their second play from scrimmage Dec. 29. Burress' 52-yard gain on that play helped set up Jacobs' touchdown catch that put them ahead 7-0. The Giants might also want to try using tight end Kevin Boss against the Patriots' aging linebackers. He caught four passes for 50 yards in the second quarter alone in their first meeting.

THE EDGE: GIANTS.

WHEN NEW ENGLAND RUNS:

Running back Laurence Maroney scored two second-half touchdowns to help prevent the Giants' upset in Week 17, but he was mostly manhandled by defensive end Michael Strahan, strongside linebacker Reggie Torbor and weakside linebacker Gerris Wilkinson. Maroney managed only 46 yards on 19 carries in the game, only nine of which were gained on seven second-half attempts. Maroney has become much more a part of the Patriots' offense in the postseason, though, when he has recorded almost as many 100-yard games (two) as he did during the regular season (three). The second-year player ran for 122 yards on 22 carries against the rugged Jaguars and another 122 on 25 attempts against the Chargers on Sunday. The Giants' run defense has mostly remained stingy since stifling Maroney, particularly Sunday against Green Bay's Ryan Grant (13 carries, 29 yards). But the last dreadlock-loving tailback they faced, Dallas' Marion Barber, ran roughshod over them (129 yards on 27 carries).

THE EDGE: GIANTS.

WHEN NEW ENGLAND PASSES:

Tom Brady is indeed human, as San Diego's defensive backs proved by intercepting him three times Sunday. But the Giants are going to have to force Brady into making mistakes, so they can't let him stand in the pocket for four and five seconds per pass attempt again. They were technically credited with five hurries of Brady on Dec. 29, but they didn't sack him, didn't intercept him and generally allowed him to feel completely comfortable in the pocket. He completed 32-of-42 passes, including two touchdowns, and was very effective throwing to first-down machine Wes Welker (11 catches, 122 yards) and Randy Moss (six catches, 100 yards, two touchdowns). Running back Kevin Faulk, whose fourth-quarter catches hurt the Chargers, was also active out of the backfield against the Giants (eight catches, 64 yards). Brady often makes blitzers pay dearly, but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme must help the Giants generate pressure if they're not getting it early from Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and/or Justin Tuck.

THE EDGE: PATRIOTS.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Kick returner Domenik Hixon's 74-yard return for a touchdown put the Giants in front of the Patriots 14-10 in the second quarter four weeks ago. He was otherwise ordinary, though, and they'll need more than the 21 yards he averaged on seven other returns to get good field position in Super Bowl XLII. The Giants obviously cannot afford any more high snaps from long snapper Jay Alford, either. He uncorked an errant snap on a point-after attempt against New England, but punter/holder Jeff Feagles handled it cleanly and kicker Lawrence Tynes drilled it anyway. The Giants' coverage units were sound against the Patriots, however, as they allowed just 22 yards-per-kickoff return and five yards-per-punt return. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski hasn't faced Tynes-like pressure with a game on the line this season, but he has hit 22-of-26 field goals and all 81 extra-point attempts in New England's first 18 games.

THE EDGE: PATRIOTS.

PREDICTION: NEW ENGLAND 24, GIANTS 20.


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