Super Rematch In The Circle City

On February 3rd, 2008, the New England Patriots met the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona.  The two teams played at University of Phoenix Stadium in what I’ve ranked as one of the top three best football games ever played in that dome, the other two being the Chicago Bears’ rally to beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between the Oklahoma University Sooners and Boise State Broncos.

In that season, the Patriots entered the Super Bowl as the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season, and were looking to become the first team to go 19-0 over the entire season with a win in the Superbowl.  The Giants were able to ruin New England’s plans with help from an exhilarating third and long play late in the fourth quarter that had Eli Manning spinning out of the grasp of multiple Patriot defenders and heaving a pass downfield that was caught by (now former Giant) David Tyree.  That play in turn set up the game winning touchdown pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress with 39 seconds left, leaving the Patriots’ hopes of a perfect season dashed.

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Four years later, the same teams will meet again in Indianapolis in America’s biggest game, and while a lot of changes have been made to the squads, the core players from 2008 remain, and most importantly, the quarterbacks are the same.

Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, has already cemented his legacy as a potential Hall of Fame quarterback after leading his Patriots to three Super Bowl victories in four years.  Eli Manning has the distinction of being named Super Bowl MVP in the 2008 Super Bowl victory, and is also a two-time Pro Bowler. In his career, Manning has thrown over 4,000 yards in a season three consecutive years, a feat that Brady can’t claim, even after removing Brady’s injury shortened 2008 season.

New England attacked this season with the same intensity we’ve seen from them over the years, and, as expected, won the AFC North.  What came as a surprise to Patriots fans was their team finishing at the bottom of the league in defensive rankings; they finished 31st in total defense (411.1 yards per game allowed) and pass defense (293.9 YPG allowed) in the regular season, and the only team that finished worse than them in those categories were the defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers.

You could say the bright side for New England’s defense is that they finished 17th in rushing defense (117.1 YPG allowed) and allowed a total of 342 points by rushing touchdowns.  We all know the Patriots can score almost at will with their aerial attack led by Brady, but the question remaining is whether New England’s defense will be able to make the big plays necessary to win the championship against New York.

The Giants opened the season with a bit of a dud, losing a game against the Washington Redskins by a score of 28-14.  New York was able to bounce back from this setback and rally to a 6-2 start of the season before losing four in a row, dropping their record to 6-6 and putting their playoff chances in jeopardy.  There were bright spots for the Giants during that four game skid; Manning still put up some pretty good numbers including a 406 yard passing performance against New Orleans, his second highest passing total of the season.

New York was able to mount a late season rally and claimed the NFC East title to make the playoffs this season, beating out the 8-8 Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.  Eli Manning finished 4th in total passing with 4,933 yards (Brady finished second with 5,235), and the Giants finished fourth in total offense with 404.7 yards per game (Patriots finished second with 419.5 YPG).  An interesting note about the Giants this season: for a team with a renowned rushing attack, they finished last in the league in rushing yards per game with only 89.2 yards per game

The teams have already met once this season on the field in at Gillette Field, a game where the Giants emerged victorious following yet another late game touchdown drive.  Manning’s performance in the game gave way to the saying, “You can’t spell ‘elite’ without E-L-I,” a product of an interview during the preseason where Manning said that he thought he was in the class of elite quarterbacks.  For the Super Bowl, Eli will be suiting up in the building that his older brother Peyton- a well-established member of that elite class- built in Indianapolis, against another quarterback of that class in Tom Brady.  With a win, Eli will double his Super Bowl ring count to two, one more than what Peyton has, despite being in the league a few years less than his brother.

Going into the big game, the old adage “Defense wins championships” will prove itself true at Lucas Oil Stadium.  I think the Giants’ fast and tough defensive line will be able to do enough to disrupt Tom Brady’s rhythm.  On the other side of the ball, New York’s success on offense relies on whether Eli will be able to put up another stellar passing performance. But when it’s all said and done, I expect to see the confetti raining on the smiling faces of the New York Giants after winning yet another exciting Super Bowl.

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