Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Super Pick: Momentum Over Luck

NEW YORK (-3.5) over New England

The case for New England: The dominant coach and QB of this generation (sigh), going for their place in history, at the stage where they have never failed. A surprisingly potent ground game, and better special teams than usually accepted. Deadly in the red zone on offense, with the best TE tandem in modern history. Fearless play-calling and complete confidence in their abilities. Make the drive-sustaining plays that saps the will of a defense, primarily around the pinpoint accuracy of an all-time great QB. WRs that are sure-handed (particularly Wes Welker and Deion Branch) with a ridiculous amount of big game experience. A resurgent defensive line that is playing at their best, and a secondary that's prone to catching picks, even in games when they are getting handled. Probably the most even keel of any top team, despite their hyperbolic fan base.

The case against New England:
A once in a lifetime cakewalk schedule that causes every accomplishment to be questioned. Amazingly, the Patriots get to the Super Bowl with one win -- one! -- over a team with a winning record, thanks to playing the AFC East, NFC East, and Tebow Broncos in the divisional round. In that single win, they were a half second away from a last-minute loss at home to the Ravens. Lost to these very same Giants in the regular season at home, at a time when the Giants were in a span of six losses in seven games. Defense gives up an unholy number of yards and points, and might be the worst ever in this game. Brady can be handled with a strong interior pass rush, and the offense can look predictable if the TEs get taken away. Starting TE1 and de facto offensive MVP Rob Gronkowski is less than 100%. Ball control offenses can take them out of their game. Coach Bill Belichick's confidence in the offense can lead to bad reach gambles.

The case for New York: Have handled dramatically better competition with dramatically better results for the last two months. Defense can dominate with the pass rush and force turnovers. Special teams have made plays during the run, especially in coverage teams. Explosive WRs, particularly on deep balls. On a world-class run and playing with high confidence. Have been here before, and know they can beat this team. Good in the red zone, with a true RB1 in Ahmad Bradshaw. Match up well with NE, since the pass rush doesn't require blitzing, and the coverage issues have gotten a lot better recently. QB Eli Manning has done his best work in pressure and road situations, especially in venues where wind is not a factor.

The case against New York:
Had serious issues with Vernon Davis in the San Francisco game, which does not speak well to their ability to cover Gronkowski and TE2 Aaron Hernandez. Secondary still has strong and sizable holes, and will give up big plays at any point when the pressure isn't constant. Running backs are a little more prone to fumbling than you'd like, and they get very predictable in short yardage situations when they force feed dubious power RB Brandon Jacobs. Tight end play has been lacking, even during the stretch run. Offensive line can be problematic, especially against speed rushers and odd-man blitzes. When Manning is pressured, he tends to try to make the play anyway, leading to bad picks; those plays can snowball on themselves, especially in trail situations. Punting is better than last year's Matt Dodge debacle, but still isn't top-knotch. Playcalling can be a little too conservative, particularly in tight games or with a small lead. Not so very long ago, this was a team with a dead coach walking, who needed a number of dominoes in a weak division to just make the playoffs. If they fall behind, that team could resurface. Could have easily lost in San Francisco to a team with a barely functioning offense, and have to consider themselves lucky that the Niners attempted to return punts at all. WRs are prone to drops.

The pick: The last time these teams got together, it was one of the best Super Bowls in a very strong era, with a clear hero and villain theme; the Giants foiled the cheating and arrogant run it up Perfectriot dream of 19-0, and we all got to enjoy the extreme whining of the Masshole Nation. This time around, the Giants are the slight favorite, the game seems more or less random, and I've got no strong rooting interest, other than cashing one more win and getting my SB ATS mark to .500. Let's just say the enthusiasm isn't all that enthusiastic... but to the rest of the country, it's Eli's Elite Candidacy vs. the Brady-Belichick drive for Noll-Bradshaw / Walsh-Montana status, and the game that an absurd number of people wanted to see.

Despite the heavier list of negatives, and the nagging feeling that if the game gets sloppy, it will be Blue with the turnovers... I'm going with the team that's actually beaten good teams this year, with WRs that make plays more out of habit than surprise. And as good as Brady/Belichick have been in big games over the years, that hasn't been in strong evidence in recent years. When push comes to shove, this is still a regime that decided to cover the Ravens' WR1 (Anquan Boldin) with an untested and undersized slot WR (Julian Edelman) in crunch time, and nearly paid for it with their playoff lives. I also have the nagging suspicion that the Gronkowski injury is more trouble than NE is letting on, and that the Patriots OL won't be able to keep Brady clean.

So it'll be a good game. I kind of wish it wouldn't be. But it will. And at the end of it, we'll see Eli's second ring, a wildly overinflated but still possible debate over how he's the bestus Manning of them all, and I'll want to get bad ugly drunk. But at least the booze will be paid for.

Giants 31, Patriots 24

Last week: 1-0-1

Year to date: 136-119-9

Past Super Bowls: 2-3

Career: 541-524-26

1 comment:

snd_dsgnr said...

31-24 Giants was exactly what I picked when asked about this yesterday.

I think both teams will be able to move the ball, but that the Giants defense will be able to make just enough stops to scrape out the win. In a game that's likely to be close one defense making just one or two more plays than the other could be the difference.

The Giants will lose this game if they fail to get pressure on Brady, and/or if Eli turns the ball over more than once. Otherwise, I like my team's chances to win a nailbiter.

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