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Still, if you have to choose between the two quarterbacks, you'd have to go with Brady. Manning got the upper hand four years ago, but Brady has punched his ticket to Canton and shows no sign of hanging up his jockstrap anytime soon. The distance between the two has narrowed, but Brady unquestionably remains at the top of the heap in the NFL.
Offense The Patriots have the edge on offense by a fair margin. Rod Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are elite players, and New England has more than enough talent around them to force defenses into uncomfortable, and often untenable, situations.The Giants have a remarkable combination in Eli Manning and Victor Cruz, but the offense as a whole simply doesn't boast the kind of weapons as New England. Advantage: New England
Defense The Giants have the advantage on defense, and it might be the biggest plus of all. Their front four may well be the most explosive unit in the league, and the constant pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks is the engine that drives their defense. It has been suggested that in this modern, pass-happy NFL, quarterback pressure is the single most important aspect of a team's performance — that sacks correlate more meaningfully with success than any other indicator. If that's the case, then the Giants are an elite team, regardless of their other shortcomings.
New England's defense in 2011 was putrid. Dead last in beaucoup statistical categories, and 31st (out of 32 teams) overall. The Albert "Haywire" Haynesworth Experiment turned out to be a disaster, and the Patriots struggled all season long to prevent teams from throwing the ball on them at will, surrendering 294 yards per game in the air. Only the Green Bay Packers had less success defending against the pass. If you're tempted to believe the Pats can turn it up when the stakes are high, consider that they allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens — not exactly the Greatest Show on Turf — 282 yards passing and another hundred on the ground. Advantage: New York
Special Teams The Giants' return game is better on kickoffs, weaker on punts. The Patriots were better in coverage on both punts and kickoffs. Bottom line, both teams are serviceable here and maybe better than that. There's no true game breaker here, though, no Patrick Peterson to blast out of either team's tunnel on Super Bowl Sunday. Special teams could play a role, of course, and potentially a huge one. But predicting which team is more likely to bust a big play is a fool's errand. Advantage: Push
Coaching Here's where the New England rubber meets the New York road. Sure, Tom Coughlin beat Bill Belichick four years ago, but Belichick isn't voted Most Likely to Add Darth to His Name year in and year out for no reason. Remember Steve Spagnuolo? Remember Josh McDaniel? Hell, maybe that's not a factor. But can it hurt to have a guy on your sideline who just spent a full season standing next to the guy who designed your opponents' defense? Advantage: New England
Putting aside the incalculable probability of glaring errors, Super Bowl XLVI will come down to the Giants' pressure defense versus the Patriots' nimble aerial attack. New England moves the ball at will and makes sure its QB stays on his feet; New York is as good as any team in the league at putting the opposing quarterback on his back.
These are two flawed teams. Each has holes that can be exploited. Each possesses elite talent that can execute at the highest level. Whichever team's strongest suit is the strongest will come out on top. Say hello to Darth Belichick. Prediction: Patriots 24, Giants 21
Aaron Schafer writes about sports for Daily RFT