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By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
Is there a game this weekend? I havenât heard much about it, but I guess I can give some sort of analysis on the single biggest gambling game of the sports seasonâ¦
New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Sun, 6:18pm, NBC
Line: Patriots by 3
When the Giants have the ballâ¦
The most important person in the entire game will be on the field. No, itâs not Manning or Bradshaw or anyone else on the Giants offense that youâve heard all of the pundits in the media drone on and on about over the last two weeks. The most important person for this game will be whichever defensive back Bill Belichick selects to cover Victor Cruz. If the New England secondary can stop what has become the regular occurrence of one big play per game from Manning to his new favorite wide receiver, then the Giants offense will be kept in a point-range that is much more favorable to the Patriots. But one big 60-70-80-yard play for a touchdown would be more than enough to swing a very tight matchup significantly in the Giants favor. That means the Pats â who might possibly be using Julian Edelman, a wide receiver, as a major player in the defensive backfield â must stop New Yorkâs trio of very good playmakers at wideout, starting with Cruz in the slot.
When the Patriots have the ballâ¦
Likewise, the Giants will need to focus on the Patriots slot receiver, Wes Welker. The most remarkable thing about the Pats offense is their third down efficiency, especially compared to the rest of the league on third and 5-or-more. New England is so successful because Welker may be the best route runner in the entire NFL. Every third down play, Welker find the marker, goes one yard past to give himself a buffer to come back to the ball, and goes down to make the catch to protect both the ball and the spot, and New England moves the chains. It will be imperative for New Yorkâs secondary to jam Welker â and the other Patriots receivers â at the line on third down in order to disrupt the routes and allow the vaunted Giants pass rush an extra half-second to get into the backfield. The other key will be protecting Brady up the middle for the Patriots offensive line. Brady doesnât struggle with end rushing nearly as much as he does with rushes straight up the middle, which prevents him from stepping up into the pocket and making his hard, accurate throws. That means Dan Koppen will need to have a big day containing Justin Tuck to give his QB the time he needs to make plays down the field.
When the ball is being kicked or changing possessionsâ¦
Hereâs the one area where New England does have a significant advantage over New York. Stephen Gostkowski is a bit better than Lawrence Tynes, but the real key is punt returning, where both Edelman and Welker should be able to give the Pats relatively good field position whenever the Giants are forced to kick away. It will be up to Steve Weatherford to duplicate his performance against San Francisco, where despite being outkicked, he was still able to pin the Niners deep on many occasions and got the benefit of two big turnovers on balls that came off of his foot. Everyone seems to think this could be a game that comes down to whichever team has the ball last, and that means field goals and field position will be critical. The Pats won all three of their championships by three points, so there may be a chance for Gostkowski to join Adam Vinatieri in Patriots lore â or Steve Christie in Giants lore, depending upon the result of the kick.
Two excellent offenses should at least be able to move the ball, and the Pats underrated defense, especially along the d-line, should be able to stop New York enough to match the Giants vaunted defensive unit. Thus, I do see a last-minute drive to win the game as a distinct possibility, and my gut actually tells me the Pats win this by three. But no one actually PICKS a push, and so Iâll instead say we see out first ever overtime Super Bowl, and the new rules mean the Giants get the ball after a Gostkowski field goal and, after being stopped all game long, New York finally gets their big play to Cruz.
Pick: New York 26, New England 23 (ot)
Straight Up: 6-4
Against Spread: 6-4
Straight Up: 176-90
Against Spread: 132-121-13
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