We’ve complained about the coverage for two weeks now, and now it’s finally time. Time to learn where Peyton Manning really wants to play, time to learn just how many prime time games each team will actually get, and time to find out Darren Rovell’s thoughts on everything.
Oh, and the game. Yeah, it’s about time for that.
You know who is playing, you know the issues, so let’s just make a list of five key factors in today’s game, as you load up on food and actually watch commercials in this DVR age.
1. Patriots keeping New York Giants’ defensive line off balance. New York is a much better defense when they can throw Pierre-Paul, Tuck, Umenyiora, and Kiwanuka in waves, and also use all of them in pass rushing downs. The Patriots want to keep them at bay by using no-huddle to affect substitutions. They will also run at New York, just like they did at Baltimore, if they can get them in favorable situations with those pass rushers. I expect to see a couple of 3rd and mid-to-long runs for the Patriots on plays designed to counter the rushers.
2. Rob Gronkowski’s ankle. Of course it’s a huge question as to whether he can play. How much can he play, and will he be effective?
3. Giants offensive line versus Patriots pass rush. This isn’t the strength of New York anymore, and Eli gets rid of the ball quickly. New England’s front four did a great job in the AFC Championship game, but don’t really have a true pass rush specialist. Can they generate early heat on Manning to force quick throws before receivers get open.
4. Giants in Short Yardage. You know there will be some key short yardage or goal line plays. New York hasn’t been very good in this area in 2011. This is the type of game, given the opponent, where aggressiveness is required. Will Coughlin go? and Will New York convert?
5. Giants receivers versus Patriots secondary and linebackers. Let’s face it, the Patriots haven’t been great at stopping people in the passing game this year, and with Cruz and Nicks will have opportunities. Who will cover Manningham when they go three wide? Eli will be salivating if he sees Julian Edelman in coverage on any of them.
New York is a much better defense now with the line healthy. Deon Grant as the nickel corner, who can drop into the box as a quasi-linebacker, can cover Gronkowski as well as most. New England counters with a diverse offense that does need the tight end to be a factor. The Patriots will run it when the opportunity presents, and I would look for play calling against tendency in this game. I do not expect this to be like last year, when the matchup dictated the Packers throw it all the time.
New England was the better team over the course of the season, and they have been more even recently.
I made my pick on Friday, and I will stay with it. Patriots to win, 30-24.
[photo via Getty]