Offenses define Super Bowl XLVI

Another highly-touted matchup between a New York and Boston team almost makes you wonder whether there was a way the NFL could get the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers to Indianapolis before Sunday.

Almost.

However, if you look through all the front-running, abrasive fans and underneath the topical, non-essential media coverage there’s actually a game to be played.

So whether you want to know which team to bet on or want to read something other than who-is-the-better-Manning debate, here is what’s going to happen when the teams finally take the field in a few days.

When the Patriots have the ball:

The Pats enter the 2012 Super Bowl much like they did in 2008 – with one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history orchestrating a seemingly unstoppable offensive juggernaut. The Brady-led attack was ranked in the top three of NFL teams in points, yards and passing yards per game in the regular season after lighting up the scoreboard for 30-plus points on 13 different occasions, including two streaks of at least five games.

Like 2008, Brady’s dominance has led to a record-breaking season for an offensive player. Second-year player Rob Gronkowski had a season of a lifetime, accumulating 90 catches, 1,300 yards and a record 17 touchdowns.

Wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez continued to be reliable targets for Brady, racking up more than 200 catches, 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns between them.

Belicheck’s game plan will center around targeting the Giants’ perceivably weak secondary that gave up an average of 255 yards per game in the regular season.

Luckily for the G-Men, you don’t have to cover for very long when your front seven gets after the quarterback better than any other team. The Giants come in with 48-regular season sacks to their name and three of the league’s most feared lineman – Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.

But for the occasions when Brady is given time in the pocket, the secondary isn’t worried, according to cornerback Corey Webster.

“I think I’m the best thing out there,” he said after comparing himself to Darrelle Revis. “I don’t think I’m second to nobody.”

The confidence comes from experience as five players from the 2008 championship team will line up on defense against Brady.

Edge: The Giants – After losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, Brady lost some of his postseason swagger, completing an average of only 59 percent of his passes while throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions in back-to-back first round exits in 2009 and 2010. Although he rebounded strongly this season, the Giants will steal his mojo again. While I don’t subscribe to the theory that defense wins championships, I think big-game experience can’t be overlooked. New York’s starting 11 will cause enough problems to keep Brady and company well below their average of 32 points per game.

When the Giants have the ball: It seems unbelievable that Eli Manning may have more Super Bowl rings than brother Peyton after Sunday, but if there’s a chance for Manning the Younger to seal the deal it’s this weekend.  Manning enters this contest with one of the best young receiving corps in the league. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are fantastic running any branch of the route tree and Victor Cruz provides an above-average third option.

It’s just too bad that Manning hasn’t exercised his inconsistency demons. He has the ability to look brilliant – Week 17 against the Cowboys – but still has too many dreadful performances – Week 15 against the Washington Redskins.

After averaging the league’s worst rushing attack during the regular season, the Giants flipped the script in the playoffs. With a healthy Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the G-Men have a good chance of running wild over a defense that has lacked exceptional play.

However, after suffering through their share of inexperience and injuries, the Pats’ defense has held teams to nearly 100 yards less per game in the postseason.

Their defensive strength lies in their line which boasts two bonafide run stuffers.

Nowhere is this unit’s bend-but-don’t-break personality more evident in the secondary. Even though the Patriots’ cornerbacks spent much of the year having the ball thrown over their head, they still managed 23 interceptions – tied for second best in the league.

Edge: The Giants – Barely. This battle will be closer than the regular season’s numbers imply. Belichick will surely remind his team that they can erase an entire season of mediocrity by creating a game plan to win one game, something I whole-heartedly believe he will do. However, the number of options at Manning’s disposal will win the day.

Who wins? The Giants – Despite being a long shot to make the playoffs, and then to win the conference championship, New York finds itself playing for its second Super Bowl in five season. The late season success is due in large part to the core of emotional and mentally tough core the Giants have assembled – a spitting image of their head coach Tom Coughlin. Brady keeps them close until Manning closes the deal and backs up his self-proclaimed elite quarterback status.

Final Score: Giants – 28, Patriots – 17

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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