In this week's Super Bowl preview chatter, the guys discuss the keys to the Giants-Patriots' matchup, the impact of New England tight end Rob Gronkowski's high ankle sprain will have, the legacies of quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning, and of course, which team will raise the Lombardi Trophy.
The New York Giants and New England Patriots will renew their Super Bowl acquaintances this Sunday in Indianapolis. From the Giants' perspective what are the keys for them to upend the Patriots once again?
Tony Care: I've got three: Protection, pressure and an aggressive passing game. Eli Manning was beaten and bruised against the 49ers as he was sacked a half-dozen times and hit more often than he cares to remember. The Giants need to do a better job of keeping the Patriots' D-line, specifically DT Vince Wilfork, off Manning. And just like they did in the Super Bowl four years ago, the Giants must get after Tom Brady, who is paralyzed when rushed up the middle. This is also a different New York offence from four years ago, so expect offensive co-ordinator Kevin Gilbride to attack the New England Patriots' shaky secondary.
Jason Davidson: They have momentum on their side and that will be a huge advantage for Tom Coughlin's charges. The Giants have one of the best defensive lines in all of football. Look, Tom Brady didn't have a great outing in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens. I think defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and his staff will make the necessary adjustments to keep Brady and company in line. Chase Blackburn and Antrel Rolle will be rushing Brady big time or at least limiting the Pats' offence when it comes to yardage.
Jesse Campigotto: Everyone is going to say the pass rush here, and it's true - the key to beating any good QB is taking away his time. But, on the flip side, it'll be key for the Giants to protect their own quarterback. The New England pass rush has looked more fierce of late - Vince Wilfork in particular was a beast up the middle in the AFC title game - and Eli Manning spent a lot of time on his ass in the NFC final in San Francisco, where he was very lucky to not get picked off (remember the two Niners defenders colliding on a sure interception?). If he has time to throw, Manning will pick apart that weak Patriots secondary. Bill Belichick knows this, and I expect him to plan accordingly by emphasizing the need for his guys to hound the QB from the get-go.
When you look at how important tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have been this season, how detrimental is the high ankle sprain Gronkowski suffered in the AFC championship game to the Patriots?
Jason Davidson: This is a big deal, especially with Gronkowski as Brady's favourite target. Gronkowski missed practice on Monday and you have to wonder if he'll be good enough to go on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. This essentially gives Brady less options when it comes to passing on the inside. That said, if Hernandez can perform like he has in the post-season (11 receptions with a touchdown) the damage may be minimal if Gronkowski is a no-go. It is still a detriment. Having Gronkowski in the lineup makes such a big difference.
Jesse Campigotto: It could be huge. The Patriots keep saying he's going to play, and I don't doubt that, but how effective will Gronk be? The injury looked very similar to the one Ben Roethlisberger suffered on Dec. 8 against Cleveland, and the reported diagnosis - a high ankle sprain - is the same. Roethlisberger didn't miss a game (foolishly on the Steelers' part) but he was visibly hobbled right through Pittsburgh's January playoff upset in Denver. If you want to go back even further, Steelers centre Maurkice Pouncey missed last year's Super Bowl after suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC championship game. This is not an injury that heals in two weeks' time.
Tony Care: This is significant. Gronkowski set records for a tight end in yards (1,327) and touchdowns (17). High ankle sprains are not injuries you can overcome in two weeks. He's probably get an injection for the game, but it's hard to envision Gronkowski running routes with no pain. Hernandez now becomes the target for the Giants. The Patriots would be wise to continue to move him around the line and hopefully create some matchup problems.
Which quarterback's career will be more significantly altered with a victory - Eli Manning or Tom Brady?
Tony Care: Another Super Bowl victory for Manning and the process of sculpting his Hall of Fame bust can begin. But it's more than that with Brady. He's already compared to who many consider is the greatest off all-time - Joe Montana. A win on Sunday gives him a record-tying fourth Super Bowl title (matching Montana and Terry Bradshaw), a record 17th playoff win (passing Montana) and a chance at a third MVP award (again, tying Montana). Should Brady prevail he will supplant Montana in the view of many so-called experts.
Jason Davidson: Eli Manning benefits more from a win here as far as career recognition goes. Tom Brady was under centre for the Patriots when they won three of four Super Bowls from 2001-2004 so his position as one of the best of all-time is secure under lock and key. If Manning goes down as the QB who knocked off the powerful Pats in the big game twice in half a decade, that says a lot. It's win-win for either pivot here. I just think a Giants win here will silence all of the Manning naysayers once and for all.
Jesse Campigotto: If we're talking for the better, it's Manning. A victory gives him two Super Bowl rings - one more than his older brother Peyton, who at 35 could be on his way out of football, according to the latest chatter. No one is saying Eli is the better quarterback, but he'll always have that extra ring to hold up at the Thanksgiving table, you know? As for Brady, he's already got three rings and a guaranteed spot in the hall of fame. A fourth title ties him with Joe Montana, the patron saint of "clutch" QBs, but that's just icing on the cake. Eli stands to gain much more.
Which team will raise the Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLVI?
Jason Davidson: Listen, the Giants have looked just about perfect ever since their ugly 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins at home in Week 15. At the start of the season, I said the Green Bay Packers would win their second straight Super Bowl at the New England Patriots' expense. But, since the Giants made an example of the Pack at Lambeau Field for the second time since 2008, I am going with the NFC champions in this one. It will be a low scoring game but when all is said and done, the Giants win this one 24-21 on a Lawrence Tynes field goal.
Jesse Campigotto: Initially, I was leaning toward the Giants. I just don't see how the Patriots' patchwork secondary is going to stop Manning and that nice group of receivers, and the Gronkowski injury could be lethal to a Patriots' offence that has no good wide receivers besides Wes Welker. But public opinion has fallen strongly on the side of the Giants, who have attracted 60 per cent of point-spread bets, and more than 70 per cent of the money-line action. And you know what I like to do with public opinion. I'm fading the masses and picking the Patriots to win.
Tony Care: This one is close. I mean, really close to call. While there is something that continually draws me to the Patriots, I'm going with the Giants. Since the last loss to the Washington Redskins, Gilbride has promised a more aggressive, attacking offence, which is what he's done during this run. I think Manning and the three-headed receiving monster of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham is going to be too much for the Patriots to handle. I say Giants 35, Patriots 31. On an unrelated note I would - as a Cowboys fan - like to take this opportunity to once again thank San Diego Chargers GM A.J. Smith for the draft day trading of Eli Manning in 2004 to the NFC East. Eli has murdered the Cowboys at almost every turn and is on the cusp of another Super Bowl title. Good work, A.J. You can't seem to build a Super Bowl team of your own, but you sure as hell have aided the New York Giants (Manning) and New Orleans Saints (letting Drew Brees go) to titles.
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