I chuckled when I saw the initial point spread for the Super Bowl that showed the New England Patriots as two-touchdown favorites over the surprising New York Giants. Even in a game that has featured a few blowouts over the years, there is no way that so many bettors can be suckered by such odds.
Now, let me be upfront: I am in no way a Patriots hater, though I am a bit tired of seeing them in the Super Bowl. The idea that I might witness a perfect 19-0 season intrigues me, at least in the way that I will someday be able to bounce a grandkid on my knee and talk about the good old days.
But what I have seen of the Giants in the past four games leads me to believe that we are looking at one of those teams that is starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time. Eli Manning has finally shown the type of leadership expected of him as the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and he has eliminated the occasional stupid pick that leaves Giants fans groaning. Since Manning was intercepted by the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs with 9:53 remaining in the fourth quarter of the regular season finale, the Giants offense has had 33 possessions and run 194 plays without a turnover.
The Giants' running game is one of the best in the league, and the two-headed, four-legged monster of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have averaged 108 yards per game against some stout rushing defenses. The receiving corps of the Giants has also cut down on the league-leading 42 drops that at times crippled the team this year.
But it is the defense of the Giants that has carried the team so far in the playoffs, and this team always seems to get a turnover or a stop just when it is most needed. During the playoffs the Giants are plus-five in turnover differential, and plus-eight in penalty differential, committing only 14 penalties to 22 by their opponents.
It is a gut reaction, more than anything else, that leads me to believe that the Giants will prevail. There is infinitely more pressure on the Patriots to close out this season with a victory in order to seal their status as perfect 19-0 team, while no one expects much from the Giants besides putting up a good fight.
At least, no one but the Giants seems to expect much from the team. I think the difference will be the lanky Plaxico Burress making receptions against safeties and corners 5-8 inches shorter than he, along with a couple of timely interceptions against the suddenly-human Tom Brady.