By Rick Morris
First, let us refer you to these great Super Bowl previews from Joe Posnanski from Sports Illustrated, Peter King from Sports Illustrated, Don Banks from Sports Illustrated, Pete Prisco from CBS (focusing on ranking the players in the game from 1-48), Michael Lombardi from NFL.com, the overall NFL.com staff predictions, the great Greg Cosell of NFL Films, Bill Simmons from Grantland and Ashley Fox from ESPN.
Also, we’re reproducing below the two Super Bowl segments I participated in with FDH Lounge Dignitaries Ken Palmer and Mike Ptak and also the Championship Sunday preview with Dignitary Kyle Ross. This one is included because Kyle and I both picked the Giants and Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl and the last part of that show is a mini-preview of the Super Bowl.
The Patriots’ continuing status as favorites in the Super Bowl seems so out of whack with conventional wisdom that it is bordering on the unnerving. FDH Lounge Dignitary Jon Adams raised a good point to me, however, in that this might be one of those instances where the wise guys “know something.” Indeed, in the NFL, when a line is too suspicious, you should often go the other way.
Keeping in mind that the line is set so that Vegas can get as close to 50-50 action on both sides as possible (to clean up on the juice from the losers), it is worth remembering that any biases from the public are worked into the formula. Whatever else is true, it looks like Vegas (correctly) anticipated a great amount of “dumb money” on New England based on the following:
^ their dynasty over the past decade and the fact that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are household names
^ the so-called “revenge factor” for Brady and Belichick for irretrievably losing the potential greatest moments of their career four years ago in the Super Bowl when their perfect season was denied at the hands of the Giants
^ New England’s vastly superior regular-season record
Let’s start with that last one for a minute. I don’t put much stock in the records, because the Giants proved four years ago, much like the Packers last year (and even Arizona in a losing effort in the Super Bowl three years ago) that the postseason these days can often resemble March Madness. You can be a regular-season underachiever or injury-battered squad, but if you get a chance to “get right” in January and February, you can erase your previous sins. It’s worth noting, though, that in the above-referenced column, Posnanski establishes that the Giants would be the most statistically mediocre (in terms of overall statistics, notwithstanding the unbelievable passing game) team ever to win the Super Bowl. I had to pause upon reading that, because I’ve been dissuaded from picking the Pats because they would have the worst defense ever to win the Super Bowl if they are successful. I’m always hesitant to go with a dubious first, but it looks like there will be one whichever way you turn on Sunday.
Most of the Xs and Os storylines have been played out thoroughly in the past two weeks, from New York’s superior ability to stretch the field to the decent run game of both teams (now that the Bradshaw/Jacobs pairing is healthy and no longer underachieving) to the poor secondaries of the two teams (with New England being worse) to the health of Rob Gronkowski (85% health looks like the likeliest option, which will still cause New York fits) to New York’s vastly superior (when healthy, which includes right now) pass rush. Having chewed over these points at length in the segments you can hear below, I have little to add, other than that the conventional wisdom on each of these points is true. So with the exception of the exact state of Gronk’s feet, there seems like much less intrigue than usual about what to expect.
In the end, we’re left with two explosive offenses on a fast track that should each have their way for long stretches on Sunday night. Two elements point to the Giants: the likelihood that they’ll get to Brady with that pass rush in a few key instances and the pathetic New England secondary that cannot possibly put sufficient protection on Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. Look for Belichick & Company to try addressing the former with some runs out of the spread, including runs from tight end Aaron Hernandez that have proved so effective when used. They can also try to send Deion Branch and Ocho deep once or twice early, if only as decoy plays, to try to keep the Giant defense from bunching up in the intermediate area between the hashmarks. The latter point above, about New England’s secondary, is one that it is much harder to imagine the Patriot braintrust solving, as Fox correctly points out in her column. And in a final salient point to reference from the above columns, Cosell’s contention about the revenge angle being overblown is right on the money as well. Do Brady and Belichick want it worse, because of what was wrenched from them four years ago? Quite possibly. But their ability to affect the outcome, given what the New York passing game can inflict on them, is far from overwhelming. This should be one of the most entertaining aerial conflicts in Super Bowl history, but in the end, four years later, the outcome will be the same. New York Giants 34, New England 27 with Eli Manning as MVP.