Patriots fans have a bit of football-PTSD when it comes to the Giants, but this is 2015, not '07 or '11, and this Patriots team is significantly more talented than the Giants. New England has huge statistical advantages in almost every category, and this time around they feature the relentless pass rush, not the Giants. Let's go through the three phases of the game and decide who comes out on top Sunday afternoon.
When the Patriots Pass: New York features the second-worst passing defense in football, ranked 31st out of 32 teams. Many will point to the New Orleans mess and say that skewed that numbers, but that just isn't true. The Giants allow 307.8 yards per game, and this week they have to deal with the hottest quarterback in football. How can the Giants possibly slow down the Patriots passing game? Simple- get a pass rush going, but this isn't 2007 or 2011; Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora aren't walking through that door. Jason Pierre-Paul looked ok last week, but he is still playing with one hand and now that he has one game on film with his club-hand, offensive lineman are going to know what he is trying to do to compensate and they'll be able to take advantage of his shortcoming. I expect to see Tom Brady throw for close to 400 yards.
When the Patriots Run: The Giants defense has been downright awful this season, allowing 422.6 yards per game, which is dead last in the league. They are worse against the pass than they are against the run, but they still allow 114.8 rushing yards per game, which places them 22nd in the NFL. They simply haven't stopped anyone this year, and now they have to try and stop the best offense in football. The Patriots haven't run as much as they've thrown, but when they do focus on running, like they did last week versus the Redskins, they are successful. Dion Lewis was lost for the year, but that is going to have more of an effect on the passing game than the running game. I fully expect LeGarrette Blount to get over 20 carries Sunday afternoon and if the Patriots blocked the way they did last week, he'll break the 100-yard mark again. With the loss of Lewis, expect to see New England using a more traditional running game; when Lewis was in the lineup, the short passing game was basically the modern version of the run, but without the personnel, they'll have to do it the old fashioned way.
When the Giants Pass: Eli Manning has had success in his career versus New England, but he's never faced a Patriots defense with a legitimate pass rush, something that he'll have to deal with on Sunday. New England is ranked 8th overall in yards allowed, which is great, but they are 16th in passing yards allowed, so they have had some issues defending the pass. Most of these issues are at cornerback, but those issues are non-existent when New England has their pass rush working. Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Rob Ninkovich, and POSSIBLY Jabaal Sheard will give the Giants fits up front, and with Larry Donnell out for the week and the Giants wide receiver core still not back at full strength, it could be a long day for Eli. I expect to see the Giants make a few plays in the passing game, but they won't throw for over 250 and the issues at tight end are really going to hurt their offense because they could have taken advantage of Jamie Collins being out.
When the Giants Run: New England features the 3rd ranked rush defense in football, allowing just over 89 yards per game. The Giants running game is ranked 24th in the NFL, averaging 96.7 yards per game. When you take these two factors into account, it is pretty clear that the Giants are going to have a hard time getting the run game going on Sunday. Rashad Jennings has gotten the bulk of the carries so far in 2015, carrying the ball 94 times for 364 yards and one touchdown. Shane Vereen only has 41 carries on the season, but his 4.2 yards per carry is tops on the team and there is a chance the Giants give him more carries than they typically do. Andre Williams, the former BC running back who was expected to take the lead role, has disappointed and if he doesn't improve his awful 2.9 yards per carry could be looking at a short career in the NFL. Overall, I just don't see the Giants running for over 100 yards against the stingy Patriots run defense.
Special Teams: Good coaches typically have teams that are strong in all three phases, and the Patriots and the Giants are no exceptions. New England has the top ranked special teams unit while the Giants are ranked second, so not only is this a wash, it should be fun to watch two excellent units battle it out. New England typically has the advantage, but they don't this week and it could be a way for the Giants to keep the game close. Giants kicker Josh Brown is having an excellent season, and with the Patriots strong red zone defense, he should get plenty of opportunities to kick field goals. The Patriots need to place their focus on stopping returner Dwayne Harris, who's returned 13 kicks for 429 yards and one touchdown.
Coaching Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Tom Coughlin- the best coaching matchup in the NFL. Coughlin has won three of the last four matchups, two of them coming in Super Bowls, so Belichick is trying to exact some revenge this week on his former coaching teammate with the Giants. Coughlin has shown in the past that he has no fear of facing Belichick, which is half the battle when it comes to beating the Patriots. Like I always say, it comes down to Jimmy's and Joe's, not x's and o's, and Belichick has the clear advantage in personnel. Advantage, Belichick.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Giants 23
The Giants just don't have the players on defense to slow down this Patriots offensive attack, and the Giants offense isn't good enough to keep up because the Patriots actually have the better defense now. It will be close for a little while, but Brady, Belichick and the Patriots will pull away in the second half.
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