First Patriots Possession of Both Halves: Keep an eye on how the Patriots offense fares the first time they touch the ball in each half. They led the league in scoring on their first possession of the game with 71 points during the regular season, putting points on the scoreboard 13 times in their 16 opportunities. They scored three rushing touchdowns, five passing touchdowns and converted all five of their field goal attempts. If the Giants can keep them off the board on their first possession, that would be a huge accomplishment since New York was ranked 28th in the league for keeping their opponent off the scoreboard in that situation. And in the second half, they weren't much better, ranked 25th in preventing points the first time their opponent got the ball in the second half. Those will be two key possessions for both teams.
Third-and-short: When New England's offense needs less than four yards to move the chains on third down, they succeed 71.9 percent of the time. The Giants can slightly improve their odds of stopping the Patriots in these situations by adding extra defensive back help and challenging the Patriots to run. New England has a 10 percent lower first-down conversion rate on third-and-short when they run the ball instead of throwing it.
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan smothers Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia during playoff action.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Pass Pressure: One of the most important battles will be the defensive pass rush of the Giants, which led the league with 53 sacks, against a New England offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks to rank fifth-best in protecting their quarterback. As a result of so few yards lost through sacks — in addition to their potent passing attack — the Patriots were the league's finest at net passing yards per game, averaging 295.7 yards. But the Giants defense is no slouch in this area, finishing 11th-best in net passing yards allowed, averaging just 207.3 per game. And keep an eye on New York's success against the pass on second down. They were the eighth best pass defense in the league on second down, registering 14 sacks, eight interceptions, and holding the opposing passer to a 76.9 passer rating. If they struggle to keep Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in check on second-down plays, they could be in for a long evening.
The Power of Turnovers: New England is just plain stingy when it comes to carelessly giving away the football. Their league-low 15 giveaways — six fumbles and nine interceptions — only resulted in 35 points for their opponents with seven touchdowns scored following the turnovers. But if you see the Giants defense score a touchdown off of a fumble recovery or an interception, remember this point: New York is 4-0 this season when their defense has accomplished that feat.
Three-and-Out: This will be an important trend to note as the game wears on. New England was forced to punt after just three offensive plays a league-low 15.6 percent of time. But guess what? The Giants were second-best in the league at forcing their opponents to punt away the ball after just three downs. Only the Chicago Bears had a better percentage than New York's 26.4 percent in this category. If the Giants can send Tom Brady back to the bench at least three times after just three plays, chalk up another potential game-winning advantage for the Giants.
The Long Ball: New England's offense has a big advantage in the long-ball game based on their past performance this season and when you look at New York's struggles defending it all year. The Patriots' 57 completions of 20 yards or more — including 16 for touchdowns — was second in the league only to the Dallas Cowboys. And they averaged 33.4 yards per pass on those completions. That's bad news for New York, who allowed a 29.6 completion rate on long passes in 2007, including 7 touchdown passes. And the opposing quarterbacks averaged an 83.1 passer rating against them when throwing the ball deep, putting the Giants near the bottom of the league in that category at 25th.
Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker battles for yards after the catch in Week 17 against the Giants.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Passing on first downs: The Patriots were the most efficient offense in the league on first down, moving the ball four yards or more 53.7 percent of the time. And that made them all the more unpredictable on second downs since a run or pass play was equally viable with just six yards or less needed over the next two plays. New York excelled at minimizing the pass on first down, allowing their opponents to throw for four yards or more on first down just just 48.1 percent of the time, seventh-best in the league. Keep an eye on how often the Patriots are able to grab at least four yards on a first-down pass play as this is a key battle for both teams.
Third-down defense: The Giants were the fifth- best defense in the league on third downs, holding their opponents to a third- down conversion rate of just 34.6 percent. New York can increase their odds of stopping a drive by making sure the Patriots need more than six yards on third down since they allowed their opponents to convert just 24.6 percent of those opportunities, 11th best in the league. And when they were defending a third down play where at least 10 yards were needed, opposing offenses only moved the chains 15.2 percent of the time, earning the Giants an eighth-best ranking in the league.
Closing Minutes: No one was better at closing out the first half with points than New England. They put together ten scoring drives right before the first 30-minutes of play ended, posting eight touchdowns and two field goals. And they were fourth in closing out the game with a scoring drive, scoring four touchdowns even though they rarely needed a late score. But the Giants will provide a strong challenge for New England in this area. They were eighth-best at keeping their opponent from scoring at the end of the halves, yielding just 29 points in the first half, and 13 points in the second half. But the best strategy for the Giants to limit the Patriots from mounting a point-scoring drive to end either half is to make sure they are in possession of the ball in that situation — not Tom Brady & Co.
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