Sunday, February 3, 2008

Action-Reaction: February 3, 2008

I'm actually writing this on Saturday like I'm writing it on Sunday, but that's because I want to get up and post it before the Fox pregame starts at 9:00 AM ET. Really, who even watches it? I'm going to be homework. But now it's Sunday. And it's 8:51 AM. Probably won't beat Fox.


Action: The New England Patriots put their quest for an undefeated season on the line tonight against the New York Giants in Glendale, Arizona in Super Bowl XLII.
Reaction: The ________ will beat the _______ by a score of __-__.

Ha sorry. Didn't want to get too far ahead of myself. So here's a little meditation on each team.

The New England Patriots. Love them or hate them, they are still 18-0, looking to go 19-0 and complete the first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They have boyishly good-looking Tom Brady and the highest scoring offense in NFL history. Fun for the defenses.

The New York Giants aren't supposed to be here. They were left for dead after Week 2. But they're here. They've won 11 straight road games (not that it matters, neutral site) and have plenty of momentum.

Let's take a closer look.

Tom Brady. Yes, the man has three rings (and Gisele Bundchen). Eventually, he'll probably have to sprout extra fingers, but you cannot deny how great his play has been of late. The addition of Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, and Wes Welker has helped him even more, as he had been doing more with less for years. Brady's been here before, so he knows the drill.

On the other side of the ball is Eli Manning. Manning has been consistent this postseason, but he did throw an NFL-high 20 interceptions during the regular season. Many people are playing the waiting game, waiting to see if the Eli we all know and love (except Giants fans) shows up.

Edge: New England (duh).

Running Back
Laurence Maroney
has come on strong of late and showed he can carry the load if the passing game is not producing desired results. Kevin Faulk is the most underrated member of the Patriots, but, hey, he has three rings. Faulk is definitely a player to watch. He can do it all. He can run, block, and pass, and, along with Welker, is Brady's safety valve on third downs. Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel provide bruising short-yardage ability.

Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have made everyone forget Tiki Barber (except Tiki Barber) and the two combine for a great change of pace combination. Jacobs, weighing in at 264 pounds, is a wrecking ball, while Bradshaw is fearless and quick. Bradshaw has had some fumbling issues this season which should be something to watch. Jim Finn is a solid fullback.

Edge: Even. We'll only know after the game.

Wide Receivers
Ah yes, the Patriots' wide receiving corps, the most daunting in the league. Randy Moss has not shown up at all this preseason, but has still managed to impact games on the ground, showing the Belichick will get him involved as much as possible. Moss can stretch the defense like he did on his record-breaking touchdown catch in December, or go across the middle. The Giants will use Gibril Wilson to try and get some hits on him early and intimidate him across the middle. Donte' Stallworth has not produced as much as people expected this season, but his value is still there. He provides a decoy to stretch the field for Moss, Welker, or Gaffney to get underneath. Speaking of Wes Welker, no one expected him to do this at all this year. I thought he was the most overrated acquisition in the history of the NFL, but he has proved myself and everyone else wrong. Welker is essentially another running back on the field, but one's been able to stop him. Teams seem more willing to left him hurt them underneath than to let Moss or Stallworth hurt them deep. Finally, Jabar Gaffney. This is the one member of the Patriots organization I hate the most. Was he even supposed to be on the team this year? I don't think so. But he's still there, making crucial plays. It's one of those things that's like, "They have Moss, Stallworth, and Welker. Why are they going to Gaffney?"

If the Patriots do anything in this game, it should be to double cover Plaxico Burress. This is the one thing the Packers did not do that really miffed me. They don't need to double him the entire game, but every once in a while, throw another safety over the top on him. Burress absolutely did not many things to Al Harris that cannot be mentioned on this blog, but getting some extra hits on him with a safety should do some good. Amani Toomer is still quick (witness his touchdown catch against Dallas), but the man is playing on a reconstructed knee and the Patriots corners are faster. Belichick should be able to spare some single coverage on Toomer to cover Plexi-glass. Steve Smith provides a viable third option, but he is inexperienced which could cause some problems.

Edge: New England.

Tight Ends
The Patriots tight ends are solid. Ben Watson is a viable red-zone target (3 catches, 2 touchdowns in the playoffs) and he has the right combination of size and speed to create mismatches within the linebackers. Kyle Brady is primarily a blocking tight end who is used most of the time in motion.

Kevin Boss has been a pleasant surprise in place of Jeremy Shockey. Heck, The Baltimore Sun says that Boss is a more complete player than Shockey. Who knew? After Boss however, the depth isn't there like it is in New England. Boss will garner some looks from Manning, but he will have a hard time shaking the Patriots linebacking corps.

Edge: New England.

Offensive Line
The New England offensive line has been flawless this year. Matt Light will have his hands full with Osi Umenyiora, but when these two teams met in December, the Patriots O-line was not at full strength. The line will switch around its blocking schemes, sometimes doubling Umenyiora, sometimes doubling Strahan.

The Giants offensive line is a little banged up. Rich Seubert is probable, and I think the durability of this line is in question. Other than that, The Sun says that the Giant's O-line is "nothing special."

Edge: New England

Offensive Edge: New England.

Defensive Line
New England has a front line of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Sir Fine-a-Lot himself, Vince Wilfork. Seymour and Warren get good pressure from the end spots while Wilfork can push through almost everything up the middle. Combined with the fact that the Patriots use many different looks with their linebackers on the line to confuse the offensive line, Manning could be in for a long day. Seymour and Warren have good speed for defensive ends as well as monstrous strength.

The crux of the Giants defensive line is their defensive ends. Tackles Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield can hold their own stuffing the run, but if the Giants want to have a chance in this game, they need to put constant pressure on Brady the whole game. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora got pressure on Brady in the December meeting, but neither of them could get to him and sack him. The X-factor becomes Justin Tuck who will have to be rotated in to keep Strahan and Osi fresh the entire game. Strahan really wants this ring, and I think this will be a defining moment for Osi. Osi had 13 sacks during the season, but six came in one game and only seven came in games against first string offensive tackles. Something to think about.

Edge: Even.

New England is old, no question about it. Based on name recognition, Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas, and the other dude I'm forgetting would be the best corps in the league. However, they are not Methuselah and have accepted age. They're still good, don't get me wrong, but the first time Brandon Jacobs takes aim at one of these linebackers, how they react will be imperative to the outcome of the game.

New York's crew might actually be better. Antonio Pierce anchors the middle with Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor on either side. If I recall correctly, Torbor got some great hits on Brady in December, but with Belichick's mind, I don't see that happening again. The linebacking corps will have to change up their looks, adjusting the fact that they will have to cover Wes Welker occasionally. They are definitely more athletic than the Patriots group, but they don't have the experience.

Edge: New England, but only because of experience.

Defensive Backs
First off, Plaxico Burress and Randy Moss have a height advantage on all of these corners.

Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs will be on Toomer and Burress the whole game. James Sanders will most likely be used to shade and give help to whichever needs it the most while Rodney Harrison will be a fifth linebacker in the box, taking aim at Jacobs.

The Giants cornerbacks are very inexperienced. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have both been in the league less than four years. The Giants aren't putting Jason Seahorn out there either (hey, he got burned by Brandon Stokley seven years ago, maybe he wasn't that good anyway). Sam Madison is another solid corner, but he has been injured this year and has gotten burned occasionally. R.W. McQuarters will come in on some nickel and dime situations. James Butler will probably in the box like Harrison, while Gibril Wilson will have the daunting task of playing centerfield against this passing attack.

Edge: I'll say Even again.

Stephen Gostkowski is 1-2 in the postseason but has made nine of his last ten. He isn't Vinatieri, but he has a good leg and the game may be under the retractable roof.

NFC Championship Game hero Lawrence Tynes will have scrutiny thrust upon him again this week. If he misses, he probably won't have a chance to redeem himself. Bill Belichick does not like to give second chances.

Edge: Even.

Chris Hanson has been solid this year, but the Patriots have not really had to punt that much either.

The roof might be closed due to chances of showers, so Jeff Feagles, one of the best directional punters, should have a great day.

Edge: New York.

Ellis Hobbs holds the NFL record for longest kick return, a 108-yarder in Week 1, while Wes Welker is dangerous in the open field. Both are fast (no dip, why did I write that?).

Domenik Hixon is hoping for déjà vu again against New England. Hixon broke off a kick return for a touchdown in Week 17. R.W. McQuarters handles the punt return duties, but he fumbled last week, so watch for New England to go for the strip.

Edge: Even.

Bill Belichick is the master motivator. He has drilled the us-against-the world philosophy into the heads of his players. The news that the Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams final walk through before Super Bowl XXXVI will not distract them. It only provides more ammunition for Belichick to use. He knows that there are a lot of people out there who don't want the Patriots to win. He wants to win and he knows that he can win.

Tom Coughlin was a dead man after Week 2. The Giants were 0-2, had been blown out 35-13 at home by the Packers, and had lost 9 of their last 11. He quickly righted a sinking ship and has taken them all the way. Hopefully, he has defrosted by now.

Edge: New England.

Now for the moment of truth. Kimmie Meissner is picking New England, and I will have to agree with my hometown hero (my sister went to middle school with her).

The New England Patriots will win Super Bowl XLII, their fourth title in seven years, over the New York Giants by a score of 34-24. Tom Brady will throw three touchdown passes to Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Jabar Gaffney while Laurence Maroney adds another on the ground. Stephen Gostkowski will add two field goals. Eli Manning will throw two touchdowns, one apiece to Plaxico Burress and Kevin Boss, while Ahmad Bradshaw breaks the plain once. In addition, Lawrence Tynes will go 1-2 on field goals.

Tom Brady wins Super Bowl MVP for the third time as he completes 24 of 32 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns.


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