TIGHT END DUO PUTS PATRIOTS OVER THE TOPBy Mike Reiss
The tight ends are the clincher. When filling out the New England Patriots vs. New York Giants "offensive weapons" scorecard, it looks like this:
• Quarterback -- Patriots
• Running backs -- Even
• Wide receivers -- Giants
• Tight ends -- Patriots
The first three categories are relatively close. Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning goes to Brady, but Manning continues to pick up believers with his clutch play. The Giants' running attack ranked last in the NFL during the regular season, but those stats don't reflect how tough Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are to tackle, so we called it a draw. And while Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions, the Giants earned the nod at receiver because of their impressive combination of quality and depth.
Now go to the tight ends. That's where it's a decisive knockout -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe.
Gronkowski and Hernandez combined to make 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns during the regular season. They are a huge part of an offensive attack that runs the majority of its plays with multiple tight ends on the field, their versatility providing important flexibility to do different things.
Meanwhile, Ballard, Beckum and Pascoe teamed up for 55 catches for 833 yards and five touchdowns. They aren't focal points of the offense.
So when looking at the complete weaponry of each team, how do the Patriots -- pushed over the goal line by their tight end duo -- not get the nod?
Just in case we haven't been convincing enough, consider some of these stats:
• The Patriots ranked third in points scored this season, the Giants ninth.
• The Patriots were fifth in third-down efficiency, the Giants 14th.
• The Patriots finished second in first downs gained, the Giants 10th.
This isn't to say the Giants aren't explosive in certain facets. But matched up against the Patriots, they come up short in the "offensive weapons" category.
The presence of Rob Gronkowski, assuming he can be effective on his sprained ankle, and Aaron Hernandez is the main reason.
Mike Reiss is in Indianapolis covering the Patriots in the Super Bowl for ESPNBoston.com.
PUT AWAY YOUR CALCULATORS. MANNING & CO. HAVE THE EDGEBy Rich Cimini
If numbers are your thing, then, yeah, you'd have to say the Patriots have better offensive weapons than the Giants. But we're talking real football here, not the Madden video game, and stats are like politicians: They can be deceiving.
From top to bottom, Eli Manning's arsenal is more dangerous than that of Tom Brady. Let's be specific: More dangerous right now.
So much of postseason football is about momentum and health, and the Giants' receiving corps is peaking at the right time. Victor Cruz is coming off a 10-catch, 142-yard performance in the NFC Championship Game. Hakeem Nicks already has 335 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason, one of only four players in history to reach the 330-yard/four-touchdown plateau, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Patriots? Wes Welker has only four touchdowns in his past 12 games and Rob Gronkowski is dealing with a high ankle sprain, which is bound to affect him in the Super Bowl.
The Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez tandem gives the Patriots the edge at tight end (duh!), but in terms of speed and versatility of all pass catchers, the advantage goes to the Giants.
Even though Cruz and Nicks were the league's most prolific outside receiving tandem during the regular season -- they combined for more than 1,500 yards outside the numbers, per ESPN Stats -- they have the ability to work inside. They did it against the 49ers in the title game.
The Patriots can't sleep on Mario Manningham, either. The Giants' No. 3 receiver is bound to see favorable matchups against the Patriots' thin secondary, and we know Manningham is capable of stepping up in a big moment. See his fourth-quarter touchdown against the 49ers -- his first and only catch of the day.
In the regular season, the Giants' top four receivers/tight ends had 107 fewer catches than the Patriots' top four. But that was then, this is for the money.
Rich Cimini is in Indy covering Super Bowl XLVI for ESPNNewYork.com