Friday, February 3, 2012

Patriots! Giants! Its Super Bowl XLVI on NBC!

If you can't tell, I'm pretty pumped about this Super Bowl. Even though I have the unenviable task of dealing with a midterm the day after the big game...and that Wednesday...and Thursday. How that's legal, I don't know. Anyway, that may delay the basketball posts I have cooking, but right now it's all about Super Bowl Sunday!

The pick: to save you some time, I'll say straightaway that I'm sticking with my guns from the preseason and taking New England -3.You may notice where I picked the Giants to finish; I thought their myriad of injuries would be too much to overcome. Obviously, I was wrong, and they were able to sneak into the playoffs in the last week and got hot at the right time. They're actually very reminiscent of last year's Packers.
So why exactly am I picking the Patriots? Let me explain.
Hold on, let me explain.
Everyone thinks this is going to be a non-stop scoring affair, but I think it's going to be more like Super Bowl XXXVIII between the Panthers and Pats: a defensive struggle that suddenly has a series of big plays in succession. And I swear I thought of this before Bill Simmons said it on his podcast. Great minds just think alike.

Gronk doesn't need an ankle to spike.
When the Patriots have the ball, expect to see a lot of no huddle by Tom Brady, but it won't be to speed up the game for more scores. In fact, I think they'll call their plays at the line of scrimmage while still taking up the full play clock in an attempt to control the ball and keep the Eli Manning off the field. The reason for the no huddle is to tire the Giants' fearsome pass rush and not allow them to substitute their defensive personnel against New England's versatile two tight end package. I think star tight end Rob Gronkowski is playing despite the lingering pain of a high ankle sprain because 1) he's had two weeks to rest, 2) he's a beast, and 3) it's the freaking Super Bowl! I'm sure Bibi Jones can help him recover over the summer.

The biggest matchup is between the offensive and defensive lines. Like I said, stopping the Giants from getting pressure with just their front four is the biggest obstacle for New England. That would allow New York to drop seven into coverage instead of blitzing because Brady is so good at making the right calls at the line of scrimmage that he'll tear a defense apart if they have to blitz. Having right tackle Sebastian Vollmer back in the starting lineup for the Patriots would allow rookie first rounder Nate Solder, who's done an admirable job in his place, to operate as an extra "tight end." I wouldn't put it past Bill Belichick to throw it to Solder in the end zone, a la Mike Vrabel, since he is actually a former tight end. More importantly, having six offensive lineman in for certain situations would provide extra protection for Brady and take some of the run blocking responsibilities from an injured Gronkowski.

I expect a lot of running out of the no huddle because that's an area they can exploit against New York's defense. Because they have three stud defensive ends (Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora) that they like to rotate and stay fresh, the no huddle could keep one of them off the field. Furthermore, if either JPP or Tuck is lined up as a defensive tackle on a passing down, the Patriots could hurry to the line of scrimmage and run up the middle against that front with Benjarvus Green-Ellis or Danny Woodhead.

If New England can protect against this front, then I think they'll have strong matchups against this secondary. Backup safety Deon Grant had a big day as the nickelback in the meeting between these two teams in Week 9, but he and starting safeties Antrelle Rolle and Kenny Phillips gave up two big touchdowns to Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship game. Gronk and Aaron Hernandez are matchup nightmares against either of the safeties or the linebackers, and star corner Corey Webster has a tough assignment trying to stay with the quickness of Wes Welker. In fact, Welker has +270 odds (bet $100 to win $270) of scoring in the first half, and I like those odds since he had a successful 9 catches for 136 yards in Week 9 against the Giants. Prince Amukamara could do a good job against Deion Branch, but the rookie might fall for some crafty veteran tricks. And if Chad Ochocinco actually gets on the field, it might be pure comedy to see him beat Aaron Ross deep.

When the Giants have the ball, Manning won't have nearly the same kind of pass rush breathing down his throat like Brady. His offensive line isn't as good, but the Patriots defense is much less dangerous, especially after they lost Andre Carter, their best pass rusher, to an ACL late in the season. However, I have a feeling that at certain moments, journeyman defensive end Mark Anderson is going to come up big in order to give this secondary a chance. If they put him on the same side as monster defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is sure to draw a double team, then they can attack the weakened left side of the offensive line that has David Diehl back at left tackle instead of guard because of Will Beatty's injury.

Eli Manning has quite the trio to throw to.
The reason Anderson needs to have a big game is because this secondary is in shambles and has to deal with the superb receiving crew of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. If receiver/return man Julian Edelman has to play a significant amount of snaps as a backup defensive back, they could be in trouble.  I think the prop bet of Kyle Arrington having an interception is a really fun wager at +325 odds because the ball always seems to find him, but I think he'll need a lot of help over the top if he has to deal with Cruz in the slot.

Devin McCourty is probably the Pats' best bet against the bigger Nicks because he is their most talented corner even if he has struggled after his rookie brilliance. Sometimes they line him up as a safety over the top with former practice squad member Sterling Moore lining up at corner, and Moore actually saved the game against the Ravens when he broke up the touchdown pass to Lee Evans. Moore could have the coverage against Manningham since he's better than Edelman, but I like the prop bets for Manningham to have over 3.5 catches (+140) and scoring a TD (+170). There's also big Jake Ballard at tight end, who caught the game winning catch in Week 9 and wears that dreaded #85 that haunts New England fans' nightmares. With McCourty at corner against Nicks instead of providing safety help, that puts star safety Patrick Chung under a lot of pressure. Of course, Chung is going to have a huge day no matter what because Giants really put a lot of pressure on secondaries with their read concepts.

Furthermore, I think Manning is going to be throwing a lot of passes again because New England can take a away the ground game with Wilfork in the middle and their linebackers fully healthy. Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Rob Ninkovich have been playing great, so I think Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs won't be huge factors. This defense may be maligned, but if you give Belichick two weeks to prepare his defense, he's likely to take away what you like to do on offense. He might blitz to force the issue since his secondary will get burned either way, or he might play his consistent bend-but-don't-break defense that gives up chunks of yardage between the 20's but holds firm in the red zone. No matter what, you know he'll be ready.

Besides that extra preparation and time for Gronk's ankle to heal, I think these past two weeks of off time favors New England because it took away New York's momentum. You could say both teams had lucky wins to get here, but the Giants felt a lot better about it how it happened than the Patriots did.
Now? Both teams are confident and eager to play what should be an excellent game. I expect it to be close throughout; the largest league will be under 13.5 points (+130). Neither team will score three straight times without the other team scoring (+140), there will be some redzone stops resulting in over 3.5 field goals (+140), and the game will be tied after 0-0 (-105). And in the end, I expect Brady and Belichick to come out on top for their fourth championship together.

Can you believe this was 10 years ago when Brady won his first?
As for the MVP, QB's usually get the award, and Brady (+125) would tie his idol Joe Montana for the most all time with his third Super Bowl MVP. Joe missed out on the award after his third championship when Jerry Rice set the Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 215 and a score, and Brady also loss to his receiver after his third championship when Deion Branch had 133 yards and tied the record of 11 catches. Thus, receivers have to have pretty monster days to claim the award, but there's good value in dark horse candidates are Gronk (+800) and Welker (+1200).

If the G-men win, Manning (+175) would claim his second MVP, of course. Although it's easy to see Cruz having double digit catches out of the slot, my dark horse pick if New York wins is Pierre-Paul (+600, under "field") because JPP would probably be the reason Brady is brought down. We'll see.

Prediction: 27-23 New England

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