Friday, February 1, 2008
Updated: February 4, 2:20 AM ET
15 reasons Patriots will win
By Gene Wojciechowski
PHOENIX -- On Nov. 4, 2007, just after the New England Patriots had improved to 9-0, I committed all my Super Bowl Sunday delegates to Bill Belichick. I'd seen enough.
I mean, how can you ignore the polling numbers? The Patriots were beating the front-runners (San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts) and it was obvious they'd be the AFC nominee. So I wrote that New England wouldn't lose another game. Not in the regular season. Not in the postseason.
My name is Geno, and I approve this Patriots message.
Presenting 15 Reasons Why You Can Schedule Another Super Bowl Victory Parade In Boston:
1. Coach Hoodie
Giving Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for a game is like giving Albert Einstein two weeks to take the SATs.
Nothing against Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, but Belichick has no peer when it comes to devising a defensive game plan. Not only that, but he has the benefit of time, as well as smart, veteran players who know how to translate Belichick's complex schemes from the grease board to the field.
"You give him two weeks and you've got problems,'' said former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, a longtime Belichick admirer. "[His players] think he gives them an edge.''
He does. The Patriots had just five prep days between their Game 15 win against Miami and their Christmas-week Game 16 road win against the Giants -- and it showed. (And, yes, I know: The Giants only had five prep days, too. But this isn't a "Why-The-G-Men-Will-Win'' column. So live with it.)
New York scored 35 points and Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns, completed 22 of 32 passes and recorded his highest QB rating of the regular season (118.6). Belichick must want to ralph everytime he watches the game film.
Manning, even this new and improved playoff version, won't throw four this time. The Giants won't score 35. Or 25, for that matter.
It took Peyton Manning three playoff tries before he finally overcame Belichick and those schemes. Belichick will make Eli wait, too. After all, there's a reason the Hoodie is 15-3 in the postseason.
New England loves do-overs.
Beginning with the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 21, 2007, the Patriots have faced five opponents (Colts, Jets, Chargers, Dolphins and Bills) twice during the past 12 months. So how good are Belichick and the Pats at making adjustments?
Well, the Colts scored 38 the first time, 20 points in the '07 regular-season rematch. The Jets went from 14 points to 10; the Chargers from 14 to 12 (and no TDs); the Dolphins from 28 to seven. Only the Bills bumped up, from seven the first game to 10 (whooee!) in the rematch.
The Giants make rematch No. 6. Uh, oh.
3. Three letters
The American Football Conference champion has won four consecutive Super Bowls, six of the last seven and eight of the last 10. Is that any good?
4. Injury? What injury?
This pre-Super Bowl scenario sound familiar?
With his ankle heavily taped and wearing a plastic brace, Brady took his regular snaps as a starter in today's practice and showed no signs of being hindered by the injury.
"Tom Brady demonstrated in practice today that he is fit to play,'' Belichick said. "He will be our starting quarterback on Sunday.''
The passage is from a New York Times story written a few days before the Super Bowl -- the 2001 Super Bowl between the Patriots and St. Louis Rams.
Brady was nursing an ankle sprain back then, just like he is for Super Bowl XLII. The difference? He had only one week of rehab time between the 2001 AFC Championship Game and SB XXXVI. This time he has two.
How'd he do in his first Super Bowl appearance, on a semi-gimpy ankle? Only beat the favored Rams and won the game's MVP award.
5. The Prediction
I've got nothing against predictions. If Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress gets his 23-17 guarantee right, he becomes this generation's Joe Namath.
Problem is, the Patriots do take these things personally. Just ask Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith, who guaranteed a Week 14 win against New England, or San Diego's Igor Olshansky, who popped off about the Pats a week before their AFC Championship Game meeting.
Patriots 34, Steelers 13
Patriots 21, Chargers 12.
Brady sort of laughed off Burress' prediction ("We're only going to score 17 points? OK."), but don't forget this is the same guy who made a beeline for the Steelers' Smith after throwing a touchdown against him in the Dec. 9 win.
Put it this way: Burress didn't do the Giants any favors.
If any team is equipped to handle a Super Bowl and the weight of a first-ever 19-0 season, it's the Patriots. They are the ultimate live-in-the-moment team, almost never allowing themselves to get overwhelmed by the hype.
The Patriots actually practice humility, to the point of discussing in team meetings how much to reveal to the media during interviews. Typical Pats. Prepare for everything.
But just because they're guarded with their comments doesn't mean they've forgotten what's at stake Sunday. They have a chance at football immortality, no small thing in their business. Lose this game and the 18 previous wins mean bupkus.
Nobody appreciates that simple reality better than the Patriots.
7. X factor
Two years ago, I said Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El would be the Super Bowl X factor. Back pat for me: Randle El threw the TD pass that clinched the Steelers' win against Seattle.
Last year I picked Chicago Bears rookie defensive end Mark Anderson as the X factor, which just goes to show that you should never inhale oil-based paint fumes before writing columns.
This time I'm sweet on Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. I think strong safety Rodney Harrison will spend considerable time in the box (either blitzing or helping on run support), which means more responsibility for New England's corners. Samuel is the guy who will respond.
X-factor runner-up: wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.
The Patriots have 42 players on their roster with playoff experience. Twenty Patriots have a combined 46 games of Super Bowl experience. Eleven of the Patriots starters have started in previous Super Bowls. And this will be Belichick's fourth Super Bowl as a head coach.
The Giants? Not so much.
Only three of the Giants' 53 players on the active roster have played in a Super Bowl. Only one of those three owns a Super Bowl ring: backup offensive lineman/special teams player Grey Reugamer, who earned his ring with the Patriots in 2001.
"Playing in three or four Super Bowls really isn't going to make any difference whether you make the plays that you need to make to win the game,'' said Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel.
That Vrabel. Such a kidder.
Will experience help you make a key tackle? No, but it will help prepare you for the sometimes suffocating pressure of playing in a Super Bowl.
9. Numbers that matter
Have you noticed that Randy Moss has exactly two catches for 32 yards and no touchdowns in the Patriots' two playoff victories? Did you notice that he had six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-35 win against the Giants on Dec. 29?
Something has to give, and I think it will be the Giants' secondary. It isn't an accident that Moss is 10th on the league's all-time career touchdown list and first on the single-season list.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Chargers double- and triple-teamed him. Chances are the Giants will do the same. Makes sense. But I still think Moss will get a handful of openings to make plays. And if he doesn't, Wes Welker (11 receptions, 122 yards vs. the Giants), Donte' Stallworth or Jabar Gaffney will roam relatively free.
Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour has it right when he says New England must pressure Giants quarterback Eli Manning and do something about New York's running game.
Manning was sacked just one time while completing 22 of 32 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Pats in the December game. And in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, the Giants rushed for 134 clock-consuming yards and two touchdowns.
"If we don't stop the run, we definitely have no chance in this football game,'' said Seymour.
This is the part of the Giants that probably gives Belichick the heebie-jeebies. Jacobs is a bruiser, and Ahmad Bradshaw, who was inactive against the Patriots, is a slasher.
But the Patriots have seen similar tag teams like this: the Jaguars' Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew (a combined 66 yards and zero TDs in the recent divisional playoff loss to New England) and LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner (a combined 46 yards and zero TDs in Game 2 of the regular season).
I think Belichick's game plan will center on stopping Jacobs/Bradshaw and forcing Manning to beat them.
"I've been able to play smart,'' said Manning, who has yet to throw an interception during the Giants' 3-0 postseason run.
Belichick and that experienced defense will figure a way to make Manning play dumb.
"They're a better team than the one that lost to us by three points,'' said Vrabel of the Giants.
He's right. The Giants are good enough to win. The Giants know it (just ask Plax), but more importantly, the Patriots know it.
Maybe the smart guys in Vegas have it right, but the 12-point spread feels like too much. So any chance of the Patriots' being even remotely overconfident goes directly into Rich Rodriguez's shredder.
The Patriots will take New York's best shot -- and it will be a solid stomach punch -- but recover and eventually impose their Hoodie will.
12. I'm just saying
Despite playing one less playoff game than the Giants, New England's offense has gained only 137 fewer yards. In nearly every meaningful offensive category, the Patriots are better than the Giants. And no team has given up fewer points per game during the playoffs than the Patriots.
By the way, the Patriots set or tied 13 NFL offensive team records this season.
13. Man crush
I don't want to make a big deal about it, but Brady is god.
"Not the best quarterback I've ever played with, but the best quarterback that has ever been put in this league,'' said Moss.
Look, I've never actually met supermodel Gisele Bundchen, but she doesn't deserve two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady. She probably can't even name any of the 18 NFL records Brady set or tied in 2007.
And it's true: There's no getting around Manning's improvement, especially during the crunch time of the postseason. But Manning is still two or three elevator stops below Brady.
Brady is 14-2 in the playoffs. Only Green Bay's Bart Starr (9-1, .900) has a better winning percentage than Brady (.875). Brady is 30-5 in games decided by six points or fewer (6-1 in the playoffs). He's 3-0 in Super Bowls.
So not to put too fine of a point on it, but when you start comparing positions, you place a very large checkmark next to Brady's name.
The guy doesn't even start, but you can argue that he might be the third-most valuable player in the Patriots' offense, just behind Brady and Moss.
Faulk rushed for minus-2 yards against the Giants in the Dec. 29 win, but his real worth is as a receiver out of the backfield, especially in key third-down situations.
He had eight catches for 64 yards against New York. He had five catches for 36 yards against Jacksonville in the divisonal playoff. He had eight catches for 82 yards (to lead all NE receivers) in the AFC Championship Game.
He's the ultimate role player.
15. The Pick
I won't be shocked if the Giants somehow win this game. Surprised, but not shocked.
New York has won 10 consecutive road games. Manning hasn't thrown a postseason interception. The Giants' D-line is to die for. Jacobs and Bradshaw are difference-makers. Burress is a matchup nightmare.
But I simply think more matchups favor the Patriots. I think they have more depth, more experience, more Brady, more everything.
Patriots 30, Giants 23
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.