Running game or no running game, the Giants and Patriots can sling the ball up and down the field through the air with any team in the league, but they do it with starkly different approaches.
Tom Brady has trusted Deion Branch and will occasionally test a deep sideline pattern to exploit safeties focused on the middle of the field. But Chad Ochocinco hasn't panned out and the offense lacks a Randy Moss-caliber downfield threat. But New England is more difficult to defend than it was four years ago due to the presence of TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They complement WR Wes Welker, with the trio attacking the middle of the field and the underneath routes. Welker and Gronkowski, whose sprained ankle will be scrutinized closer than Mitt Romney's tax return, were targeted a combined 25 times in the regular-season meeting, while Hernandez has versatility that has even seen him line up in the backfield.
The Giants' passing game is more traditional, but didn't fully flourish until the five-game winning streak. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham all had bouts with tipped passes that led to turnovers during the regular season, but they have found the glue traps during the five-game winning streak — including a combined 19 catches on third down during the playoffs. Nicks has particularly excellent hands and is averaging 18.6 yards per catch in the postseason (Frank Gifford owns the franchise playoff record of 13.9). Cruz is the flashy playmaker who has learned to find the seam in the secondary and rack up yards after the catch; he had 142 yards on 10 catches against San Francisco. TEs Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum won't make many Pro Bowls, but have both come up with key receptions during the season.
EDGE: EVEN ... pending TMZ's cameras showing Gronkowski walking comfortably boot-free in downtown Indianapolis by Sunday.
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