NFC East: New England Patriots
ESPN.com New York Giants reporter Dan Graziano makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Detroit Lions
The Giants are coming off a mess of a preseason, undermanned and overwhelmed, with the offensive line still a mess and the new offense not clicking at all. No one will pick them to win this game. Except me. Prediction: Win
Week 2: Arizona Cardinals
This one's a comedown off the Week 1 surprise, as Arizona's banged-up defense still manages to flummox Eli Manning and collect a few interceptions. It's a bummer of a home opener as reality begins to set in. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: Houston Texans
Houston's defense is as liable as Arizona's to make life miserable for Manning and the offensive line. But Houston has bigger questions on offense than even the Giants, and this is a win for the New York defense against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Washington Redskins
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
The pattern continues, and the Giants overcome two Osi Umenyiora sacks to outscore the Falcons with a furious Manning comeback in the final minutes. The Giants poke their heads over the .500 mark as they make the turn into the most brutal stretch of their schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 6: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Giants don't have Matt Barkley to kick around this time when they visit the City of Brotherly Love. Chip Kelly and the Eagles show them what a truly innovative offense looks like. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Dallas Cowboys
The season-long debate about what gives when an anemic Giants offense meets a pathetic Cowboys defense tilts in Dallas' favor in the first meeting. Tony Romo & Co. have more than enough weapons to outscore Manning and his bunch, and the Giants hit the bye with a 3-4 record. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Indianapolis Colts
After a long break before the Monday night home game, the Giants get taken apart by Andrew Luck, Hakeem Nicks & Co. at MetLife Stadium for a third straight loss. The offense is starting to run more smoothly, but it still doesn't have enough playmakers to outscore one of the league's better offenses. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Seattle Seahawks
You're kidding, right? Prediction: Loss
Week 11: San Francisco 49ers
The Giants have obviously handled the Niners in recent years and in some high-profile situations. But by this point in the season, San Francisco's defense is back to full strength, and the 49ers can't afford to lose ground to the Seahawks by failing to beat the team Seattle just beat the week before. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Dallas Cowboys
A sixth straight loss is by no means out of the question here, as Romo and his crew still have the potential to outscore anyone in a given week. But from this far out, I'll forecast that something goes wrong for Romo late in this game, and the Giants get a gift. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at Jacksonville Jaguars
This is where the schedule starts to soften up, when the Giants start playing teams that insist on not starting their best quarterback. It's unfortunate they're 4-7 at this point and just about out of the playoff hunt, but they will get it going against the bottom-feeders. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Tennessee Titans
I think the Titans are going to be dreadful this year, and by December they won't be very difficult for anyone to beat, even at home. A third straight victory keeps the Giants' hopes alive. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Washington Redskins
Have to be honest: The NFC East is so unpredictable that, when doing these predictions, I just decided to give the Giants a 3-3 division record with victories in all three home games and losses in all three road games. It's as fair a way as any to do it, I believe. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at St. Louis Rams
After moving back to .500 with four straight wins, the season falls apart at the hands of the St. Louis pass rush. An offensive line that has once again been the Giants' biggest problem all year can't protect Manning in a must-win game. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Coughlin's teams can always find a way to play for pride. The Giants' playoff hopes are extinguished, but they still manage to end the season on a high note and with a .500 record. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
How long will it last? The team doesn’t want to set any sort of deadline.
|Calvin Watkins joins Galloway and Company live from Oxnard, Calif., to discuss the latest news from Cowboys training camp.
In other words, the Cowboys want the six-time Pro Bowler and aren’t about to screw things up with any sort of ultimatum.
There is a legitimate concern, however, about how much time Waters would need to be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener against the New York Giants, especially considering that the 36-year-old likely has some rust to chip off after sitting out last season. Ideally, the starting offensive line would get at least a preseason game’s worth of work, which require Waters to join the Cowboys next week.
However, recent history indicates that Waters doesn’t necessarily need preseason reps to be successful. He signed with the New England Patriots on Sept. 4, 2011, and started every game for a Super Bowl team, earning a Pro Bowl invitation in the process.
“Anytime you’re talking about a player getting ready for the regular season, guys need to play, but you understand what the situations are,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Certainly, some guys are more ready to play than other guys because of the experiences that they’ve had in this league. You kind of weigh where they are physically versus experience versus getting them to play with other people, and you try to make your best decision.”
In this case, it appears the best decision for the Cowboys would be to give Waters all the time he needs.
I don't know why New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin played his starting offense for four series in Wednesday night's 6-3 preseason victory over the New England Patriots. It's kind of accepted that you're not supposed to play your veteran starters in the final preseason game, and it does seem silly to risk injury to them with a week left before the first game that actually counts. But Coughlin knows what he's doing, and he tends to do it his way. And hey, maybe Eli Manning really is indestructible -- and while we just joke about it, Coughlin knows for sure.
Anyway, everybody came out of it fine, including star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who only played the first two series as he got his first game action of the preseason. Nicks didn't show any effects from the foot fracture he suffered in the spring, and he should be good to go next Wednesday night against the Cowboys.
As for this game, in the four series he played, Manning didn't look in sync with his receivers, the offensive line looked awful in run-blocking and (likely as a result) the running backs didn't show much. No, not even David Wilson. What's it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course. There's no way the Giants game-planned for this game and no way they were going to put anything on tape Wednesday night that might have been potentially helpful to the Cowboys next week. Manning and his gang will be ready, of that there should be no fear. Not now that they've made it through the preseason games healthy.
What else did we see in this fiasco of a non-game?
- Defensive end Adewale Ojomo has to make the team, right? I don't know whether that means Adrian Tracy has to go or what, but Ojomo's done nothing to deserve being cut. Another sack, and man did he look good stuffing the run. If these games are ways for off-the-roster guys to make the roster, Ojomo could end up being this year's prime example.
- While we're on the defensive line, Linval Joseph has flat-out been one of my favorite players to watch in this preseason. He's playing like a man possessed, and between him and Rocky Bernard the Giants shouldn't miss a beat in the first half of games in spite of their injuries at defensive tackle. My only question is if they have the depth they need to spell those guys and make sure they don't wear down in the second half or as the season goes along. But when Joseph is on the field, they have another dimension to the line. He's everywhere making plays right now.
- The other line? Not so much. Chris Snee and Will Beatty sat this one out with injuries, and the issue with the line continues to be depth. Mitch Petrus had some trouble at guard, and the interior of the line just gets pushed back too easily, especially on run plays. They need to find better ways to extend forward and open some holes for the backs than they did this preseason. And last year, for that matter.
- Ramses Barden made a highlight-film catch, reaching behind himself and a defender, and continues to impress. Finally healthy and producing, Barden looks like he's got a chance to make the team and an impact. Jerrel Jernigan helps more on special teams, and it's hard to see them cutting him so soon after drafting him so high, but again, Barden has outplayed him.
- They're still using D.J. Ware as the third-down back, even with Wilson in the game, and that tells you what they think about Ware (and maybe Wilson) in pass protection.
- I saw some nice plays by linebackers Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich in the third quarter. But I was watching three games at once by that point, so I can't tell you how they looked overall.
- Can't imagine that Andre Brown fumble makes him feel real good about his chances with 36 hours left until final cuts are due.
- Steve Weatherford is fantastic. He must really like punting against the Patriots.
The first one is the new set of rules the Dallas Cowboys have made for receiver Dez Bryant, and the team's motivation for putting those rules in place. You know where I come down on this. I think the Cowboys are doing what they feel they need to do to protect and maximize an investment, but they're also following through on the responsibility they took on when they drafted Bryant with full awareness of his off-field issues. You can listen to more from me, Ashley and Mike on this.
We also talk about Seattle's decision to start rookie Russell Wilson at quarterback and the Patriots' decision to give a contract extension to Aaron Hernandez but not Wes Welker. Check it out, and enjoy.
The story of the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-17 preseason victory over the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" was one of quarterbacks. Eagles starter Michael Vick was knocked out of the game by an injury for the second time in two weeks, taking a shot to the ribs that required X-rays (which were negative) and raising old red flags about his fragility and the manner in which his style of play contributes to that. That injury, combined with Mike Kafka's absence due to his own injury, pushed rookie Nick Foles into significant playing time, and Foles looked very good.
Foles was 18-for-28 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was his second impressive performance of the preseason. And while it's important to note that he has not played against first-team defenses, it's also worth raising the question of whether Foles could beat out Kafka for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Vick. He's a rookie, and he'd likely make more mistakes than Kafka would if pressed into fill-in duty. But in practices and games he has shown a stronger arm and better touch on deep throws than Kafka has, and that matters in Philadelphia's speed-based offense. That difference alone could set Foles apart if he continues to impress and Kafka can't get on the field, and Foles showed impressive poise Monday night, along with the ability to handle many different aspects of the playbook.
I don't personally believe the Eagles can contend this year if Vick has to miss a significant period of time. But if he does need to sit out here and there due to injury, the Eagles and their fans have at least seen something from Foles that would make them feel a little bit better if they had to go with a rookie.
Here are some other things I noticed/saw/thought about the Eagles on Monday:
1. What was Andy Reid yelling about? I am certain that, if the Eagles have a great season, the head coach's first-half sideline shouting match with Cullen Jenkins and the defense will be looked back upon as a brilliant bit of motivation and leadership. I am equally sure that, if the Eagles have a poor season, that exchange will be regarded as a sign of insurmountable discord. Of greater likelihood than either of those is that it was an emotional outburst by a coach who was getting sick of dumb third-down penalties. And if you're worried about whatever happened there causing lasting damage to coach-player relationships, Reid's track record more than earns him the benefit of the doubt.
2. That said, penalties are unforced errors and a worthy subject of coaching scorn, even in the preseason. I've written many times here that preseason games are poor predictors of regular-season performance, because we don't know which teams are game-planning for these games and which are not. But penalties have little or nothing to do with whether the opponent is scheming to beat you. They're about discipline, attention and focus. The Eagles had 16 of them on Monday, for a total of 131 yards, and I would not be looking forward to my next practice right now if I were an Eagles player.
3. Mychal Kendricks was a defensive star in this game. He showed speed and instincts closing on running back Shane Vereen on a screen pass early in the game, and he got himself into the backfield to disrupt a couple of running plays. The Eagles' big linebacker addition was veteran middleman DeMeco Ryans, but Kendricks looks as though he could be an asset on the outside. The Eagles' defensive scheme is going to make its linebackers look bad at times. Even at its best, it relies on aggressiveness by the linemen up front. Because of they, they're likely going to get a lot of sacks and pressure a lot of quarterbacks. But an offshoot of that aggressiveness is that sometimes over-pursuit will open them up to the possibility of a big play. That puts a lot of responsibility on the linebackers to limit those plays, and when they don't, it's going to look ugly. The Eagles seem willing to accept that risk in exchange for the long-term reward their pressure schemes bring them. And they appear better equipped this year to limit damage at the second level.
4. Don't forget Brandon Boykin. The Eagles' fourth-round pick is more than holding his own in his fight with veteran Joselio Hanson for the role of nickel cornerback. He also showed explosiveness on a kickoff return and helped cause a turnover with his speed as a gunner on the punt coverage team. Hanson looked good in his turn at cornerback, too, but what Boykin brings on special teams should keep him on a roster and, at the very least, a persistent threat to Hanson's spot.
5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked very active and very good before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Reid said Rodgers-Cromartie wanted to go back in and didn't sound overly concerned.
6. King Dunlap played the whole first half at left tackle, and Demetress Bell was flagged for a couple of penalties during the second half. At this point, it would not be a surprise if the Eagles opened the season with Dunlap as the starting left tackle. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Bell worked to learn the schemes in a backup role and threatened to take the job back from Dunlap as the season went along, the way Danny Watkins did last year at right guard. Howard Mudd's schemes aren't easy for everyone to get right away.
7. The Eagles have some tough roster decisions at defensive line, but Phillip Hunt is going to be impossible to cut. Say whatever you want to say about his size, but they don't have anyone faster among their pass-rushers (which is saying something), and he's just made too many plays to overlook.
8. Punter note! Mat McBriar averaged 49.8 yards on his four punts. Chas Henry dropped both of his inside the 20 and one inside the 10. I don't think it's a real competition if McBriar proves himself healthy, but it's nice to see that Henry won't go down without a fight.
Most closely: Michael Vick's performance. Eagles coach Andy Reid has said he plans to play his starters longer tonight than he does in next week's preseason game against the Browns, since the Eagles open in Cleveland 16 days later and he doesn't want to give the Browns any more help than he has to. That means this will likely be the longest look we get at the Eagles' starters this preseason. And that means a chance for Vick to show us the fruits of all of the hard offseason work he and the Eagles say he's been doing. The Eagles' party line is that this is the first real offseason Vick has had as the starting quarterback since 2006 in Atlanta, and as a result he's worked harder and better on refining his game. Vick says he's watched more film than ever before in his career, and that he's determined to fix the mistakes that led to all of his turnover problems early in 2011. What Eagles fans should want to see from Vick is improved decision-making -- not just with regard to his personal safety, but also in terms of knowing when to give up on a play for the sake of valuing the ball. I'm interested to see whether the offseason classroom work has made him a more proficient reader of the field and the defense, and how it works with him and center Jason Kelce in terms of changing the protection calls at the line. Vick is under the most pressure of any player in the NFL to perform this year, and while it doesn't matter what he does until Sept. 9 in Cleveland, it'd be encouraging for Eagles fans if they could come out of tonight's game convinced something about their quarterback looks different.
On the other side of the ball: Tackling, especially at the second level. I'm willing to believe that the defensive line will be the strength of the team once everyone's healthy, and I'm eager to watch Brandon Graham again after last week. But the Eagles' preseason opener featured some communication and tackling issues in the linebacker corps and in the secondary that were reminiscent of last season. And while I fervently believe that on-field preseason performance is a poor predictor of regular-season results, it can make fans (and, I assume, coaches) uneasy when a preseason problem reflects a prior-season problem you believed your team had solved. The same way a sharp Vick performance could help Eagles fans' optimism for the season, a sharp performance by the linebackers and the cornerbacks could help everyone feel better about the defense.
If I think of it: The backup running backs remain interesting. Does Dion Lewis look like he could be an effective fill-in for LeSean McCoy? Is Chris Polk or Bryce Brown the leader for that No. 3 spot? Could that come down to something as pedestrian as special-teams work or blitz pickup? ... Second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett could stand to show something, as the organization appears to be souring on him, if it hasn't already. ... The left tackle position is also one to watch in this game. Demetress Bell is the player they signed to replace injured star Jason Peters, but he's struggled badly enough to get demoted to the second team, and perennial backup King Dunlap has been starting in his place in practice. The coaches will have their eyes on both of those players, and I'm interested to see if McCoy is going to run more up the middle and to the right this year with Peters gone. ... The Eagles also have a punting competition going on between Chas Henry and Mat McBriar.
As the draft wound on into the middle of the first round, I was thinking my top Cowboys target, Alabama safety Mark Barron, would be there at No. 14. So when James Walker of the AFC East blog called on behalf of the Patriots and offered a first-round pick (No. 27 overall) and a second-round pick (No. 48), I said no. James pointed out that each side of the deal added up to exactly 1,100 points on the NFL draft trade value chart, and for a second I thought we should make the deal just based on that coincidence alone. But I held off, thinking Barron would fall to 14.
Little did I know, James was also talking to Mike Sando about the Seahawks' No. 12 overall pick. James offered Mike both of the Patriots' first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for the No. 12 pick and a fourth-rounder (N0. 106). Guess I should have asked James for more, because that's a steal for Sando, who happily gave up the No. 12 and began making plans for what to do with his two first-rounders. James moved up to 12 and took Barron for the Patriots, and I started fielding offers for the No. 14 pick.
No one was interested, though, so when 14 rolled around, I took the player I believed would be the highest on the Cowboys' board at that point -- LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers. What I like about Brockers for the Cowboys is that he's a more polished, NFL-ready prospect than is Dontari Poe (who would fall all the way to the Steelers at No. 24!) and that he's versatile enough to play any spot on the Cowboys' defensive line. He can play inside as a defensive tackle alongside Jay Ratliff when they line up in 4-3 sets. He can play end in a 3-4 (and allow them to move on from Kenyon Coleman or Marcus Spears if they so choose). He can spell Ratliff at the nose when and if they decide to move Ratliff outside. I just felt as though he'd appeal to Rob Ryan as a guy who could do a lot for him -- and do it right away -- in a defense that relies on constantly changing looks and fronts.
I thought about Poe, and Quenton Coples, and Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick, and Courtney Upshaw. But in the end, I believe that, of the post-Barron choices, Brockers was the one that fit the Cowboys the best.
(NOTE: Stanford guard David DeCastro was also gone, at 11 to the Chiefs, but as you know I believe the Cowboys should be focused on defense in this round. And probably all of them.)
So what do you think, Cowboys fans? Did I get it right? Did I pick the wrong guy? Was I wrong to turn down the Patriots' offer? I eagerly await your feedback.
"I had to carry Gronkowski," Blackburn said after the Giants had secured a 21-17 Super Bowl victory. "I heard the crowd go wild a little bit, and I thought we had a sack. But I continued to see Gronk go up the field, and I just tried to stay with him. When I saw him look back, I looked back for the ball, and when I spotted it, I tried to just block out and go up for a rebound like in basketball."
Sure. Basketball. In case you're wondering, Gronkowski's University of Arizona media guide bio says he averaged 18 rebounds per game during the 2006 season at Pittsburgh's Woodland Hills High School. He has three inches and 20 pounds on Blackburn, who as recently as Thanksgiving weekend was hoping to land a gig as a substitute high school math teacher before the Giants called and said hey, how about middle linebacker instead? But Gronkowski also was playing the Super Bowl on a bad ankle, which Blackburn and the rest of the Giants knew. It's why they were, at that point in the game, using their better coverage linebacker, Jacquian Williams, on the Patriots' other tight end, Aaron Hernandez. After the check, Blackburn knew he had the big guy by himself.
"I knew it was a long way," Blackburn said. "He stopped for a second and I stopped with him. I was thinking it was a sack, but then as soon as I saw him go vertical, I knew I had to run and catch up with him."
They both jumped for the ball, but Blackburn came down with it for an interception that was the only turnover of the game. The Patriots led 17-15 at the time, and had Gronkowski caught the ball the momentum might never have swung back the Giants' way. Instead, the Giants secured the kind of big stop they knew they needed to make all fourth quarter to put Eli Manning and the offense in position to win.
"We're confident in our defense," linebacker Michael Boley said. "No matter who the quarterback is, we know our front four is going to get pressure and so we need to give coverage on the back end."
For much of this game, though, they weren't. Brady led easy-peasy touchdown drives at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to turn a 9-3 Giants lead into a 17-9 New England lead. The Giants, whose game plan had been a man-coverage defense because they believed (correctly) that Brady would try to beat them with "dink and dunk" short passes instead of deep shots, had strayed from the plan. They'd been so focused, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said, on lining up quickly that they weren't lining up in the right spots. So they pulled back a little on the man-to-man and switched to more zone, only to have Brady find holes in the zone. At one point, Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 16 straight passes.
"We just couldn't get the right people in the right coverage situations," Fewell said. "They created some mismatches, so we had to get our guys together on the sideline and get them to lock in a little bit and get back to the plan, which was man."
In a lot of ways, the defense is the Giants' 2011-12 story in a microcosm. This Giants team was about patience, perseverance and a belief that everything would get better if they just kept working at it. The defense finished 27th in the league in the regular season. Their coverage units were being ridiculed on national television. But they got healthy at the end of the season. They talked their coaches into letting them play man-to-man, and they did it well. Led by that front four and the pass rush, they allowed an average of 14 points per game during their four-game postseason run.
If someone had told you that the touchdown the Patriots scored to open the second half would be their final score of the Super Bowl, you wouldn't have believed them. Not the way the game was going at that point. But the Giants are water torture. They drip and drip and drip until they finally break you. They won the NFC Championship Game by playing smart, sound, physically tough, mistake-free football and waiting for the other team to make a mistake. They won the Super Bowl the same way. Blackburn picked off Brady. Wes Welker dropped a ball he catches every time. The Giants' defense looked lost for long stretches, but bottom line, theirs was a Super Bowl-winning effort. And they were justifiably proud of it.
"At the end of the day, we knew it was going to come down to our defense," Osi Umenyiora said. "We pressured them. We sacked them. We came through victorious."
Doesn't matter what happened along the way. Doesn't matter that a substitute high school math teacher who wasn't on the team until almost December was making plays in coverage against the best tight end in the league. Doesn't matter how it looked or what came before, and it doesn't matter that this was, two months ago, one of the least likely sentences anyone would have been expecting to type on the night of Feb. 5: The Giants' defense helped win them the Super Bowl.
INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts from the New York Giants' 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVI:
What it means: Legacy. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are two-time Super Bowl champions. The Giants have won their fourth Super Bowl and completed one of the most stunning in-season turnarounds in recent sports history. They were 7-7 after losing their second game of the season to the last-place Redskins but won six in a row to claim their second Super Bowl title in five years. It’s a run that at least rivals and may even top their 2007-08 run, which also culminated in a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
The quarterbacks: Early on, it looked as though Manning and the Giants might run away with it. The Giants' pass rush forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone on his first throw of the game and were rewarded with a safety and a quick 2-0 lead. Manning got the ball back off the free kick and went down the field in nine plays, hitting Victor Cruz for the touchdown that put the Giants up 9-0. They were being physical with the Patriots, dominating time of possession and more or less doing anything they wanted. Then, the pass rush dried up and Brady got hot, at one point setting a Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive pass completions as he orchestrated a touchdown drive to end the first half and one to begin the second. The quarterback play in this Super Bowl was expected to be stellar, and Manning and Brady lived up to the hype. In the end, though, it was Manning who led his team on the game-winning fourth-quarter comeback drive -- the third time in a row he’s done it to Brady and Bill Belichick. Brady had a shot at the end, but the Hail Mary didn't get answered.
The two tight end thing: The question all week was whether the injured ankle of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would limit him in the game, and it clearly did. But it appeared as though the Giants took a while to adjust to that knowledge. They devoted much of their coverage early on to Gronkowski and not enough to the Patriots' other outstanding tight end, Aaron Hernandez, who had five catches for 40 yards in the first half and caught the touchdown pass on the Patriots' opening drive of the second half. The Giants adjusted in coverage and were able to slow down Brady better as the third quarter went along and the fourth quarter opened. Meanwhile, the Giants couldn't keep their own tight ends on the field. Travis Beckum left with a knee injury in the second quarter and Jake Ballard did the same in the fourth.
Turnovers kill: The Giants won the Super Bowl by beating the three best turnover-ratio teams in the NFL -- the Packers, 49ers and Patriots -- and winning the turnover battle in each game. Chase Blackburn's second-half interception of Brady was the only turnover in the game.
What's next: Free agency begins next month, and the Giants will triumphantly pick 32nd in the NFL draft in April. It looks to me as though offensive line might be a good target area, but that’s a discussion for another day.
After dominating the time of possession, the line of scrimmage and the New England Patriots for almost the entire first half, the Giants watched as Tom Brady led his team down the field in the final four minutes of the second quarter on a 15-play touchdown drive that put the Pats in front. It was an eye-opening drive by Brady, who'd begun the game by intentionally grounding the ball from the end zone and awarding the Giants a safety and a 2-0 lead. And with the Patriots set to get the ball back to begin the second half, it could well be a turning point.
The challenge for the Giants is to remind themselves how well they played and stick with what they're doing. Eli Manning is 13-for-17 for 120 yards and a touchdown, having completed passes to seven different receivers. The defense, in spite of its obvious lingering coverage issues, has been hitting and tackling hard, batting down passes and limiting big plays. Punter Steve Weatherford has been a monster field-position weapon.
The Giants are a very mentally tough team that don't get down on themselves or get out of their game plan, so I seriously doubt they're in there listening to Madonna and lamenting their poor fortune. If they can get a stop on New England's opening drive in the second half, there's no reason to think they can't continue to win the physical battles and, ultimately, the game.
For the New England Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski is active as expected in spite of spraining his ankle in the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago. What remains to be seen is how the ankle injury affects his performance and the ways in which the Patriots can use him.
The full lists of inactives:
- LB Mark Herzlich
- WR Ramses Barden
- RB Da'Rel Scott
- OL Jim Cordle
- DT Jimmy Kennedy
- OL James Brewer
- DE Justin Trattou
Earlier Sunday, ESPN talent producer Jason Romano (@JasonRomano) asked his Twitter followers to send him their predictions for the game and offered a prize to whichever follower came the closest to picking the final score. Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty (@ChrisCanty99, a verified account) tweeted back "Giants 28, New England 17."
If the Giants lose the Super Bowl tonight, I can safely predict that one of the popular story lines will be their pregame overconfidence and/or the question of whether they gave the Patriots added motivation with all of these quotes. I don't think the Patriots need any more motivation than being in the Super Bowl, but we'll see what they all say. I'm also interested to know whether Jason sends Canty the prize if he nails the pick.
INDIANAPOLIS -- So apparently, after all of that, there's a football game today. I know, right? I couldn't believe it either when they told me.
I'm going, as is the rest of the army ESPN sent out here to cover the week. We'll have updates for you from the stadium starting at some point this afternoon. We'll have a live chat starting at 4 p.m. ET and running right through the end of the game. And we'll have plenty of postgame coverage right here on the NFC East blog and everywhere else on the site.
But for now, one last time, as you get ready for Super Bowl XLVI tonight against the New England Patriots, here's one reason for New York Giants fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern.
Feeling good: If this kind of thing matters, the Giants are by far the more battle-tested team in tonight's game. Their playoff run includes road victories over the Packers and the 49ers, who were the two best teams in the league this year, and they've only played one team since Halloween that finished the season with a losing record (the Redskins, to whom they lost). The Patriots' current 10-game winning streak has come at the expense of quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, Tyler Palko, Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow, Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tebow again and Joe Flacco. They have not played a team as tough as the Giants or a quarterback as good as Eli Manning since the Giants beat them in Foxborough in Week 9, and as I'm sure you've heard they only beat one team all year that finished with a winning record (the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game). The Patriots went 13-3 in the regular season while the Giants went 9-7, but there appears to have been a stark difference in degree of difficulty between the Giants' current hot streak and that of the Patriots.
Cause for concern: Tom Brady can read, and likely has televisions in his gigantic house, and so he's surely seen and heard everything that's been said about the Giants having his number and having beaten him the last two times they played him -- especially in the Super Bowl four years ago. It's doubtful that Brady's watching and listening to all of this and just sitting there nodding his head and accepting his fate. He's likely as driven and motivated as he's been at any point in his career to exact revenge for the Super Bowl loss that spoiled the Patriots' attempt at a perfect season and to quiet all of the talk about the Giants knowing how to beat him. A player as great as Brady can be pretty scary when he's motivated.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Super Bowl XLVI:
Home sweet road: The New York Giants have won six straight playoff games on the road or at neutral sites dating to 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Eli Manning has been the quarterback for all six of them, and his six career postseason wins away from home tie him for the record with four other quarterbacks, including the New England Patriots' Tom Brady. (The others are Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Joe Montana, so not a bad list.) Manning's ability to remain cool under all kinds of pressure has been well-documented, and his record in hostile or neutral environments in postseason games offers yet another example.
Hot at the right time: The Giants are the third team in history to reach the Super Bowl after failing to win at least 10 games in the regular season (not counting strike-shortened seasons). The previous two were the 2008 Arizona Cardinals and the 1979 Rams. Each of those teams lost its Super Bowl, so a Giants win would make them the first Super Bowl champion to enter the playoffs with fewer than 10 wins. The Giants are already the first team to reach the Super Bowl after being outscored by their opponents in the regular season. They scored 394 points and allowed 400 on their way to a 9-7 regular-season record. Those 2008 Cardinals (plus-1) and 1979 Rams (plus-14) were the teams with the worst point differential in Super Bowl history until this year.
Peyton's place: Eli Manning is playing the Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where his brother Peyton Manning has established himself as an all-time great quarterback with the Colts. Peyton had a head start on Eli and has fashioned a brilliant Hall of Fame career, but little brother's playoff numbers stack up with big brother's. Peyton Manning is 9-10 all time in postseason games with a 63.1 completion percentage and a 29-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Eli Manning is 7-3 in the postseason with a completion percentage of 59.8 and a TD-INT ratio of 16-8. If Eli throws three touchdowns on Sunday, it would give him 11 touchdown passes this postseason, which would tie the record for a single postseason set by Montana in 1989 and equaled by Kurt Warner in 2008.
Tough guys: According to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" stats, the pass-catchers in this game are very difficult to tackle after they catch the ball. The stat they use is "yards after contact," which differs from "yards after catch." Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who's been struggling with an ankle injury since the AFC Championship Game, led the league with 290 yards after first post-catch contact. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was second with 245. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker was third with 242 yards, and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was fourth with 231.
INDIANAPOLIS -- My fellow ESPN.com NFL division bloggers and I got together Friday to enjoy some lovely midwestern February weather and talk about some of the big issues facing the New York Giants and the New England Patriots on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVI.