Toppling a giant

Carl Murray previews Super Bowl XLVI and looks at both teams’ path to the final

For those who were willing to brave the very early hours of Sunday morning to watch the NFL Championship games, it was most certainly worth it.The Giants recorded a gritty 20-17 overtime win over the 49ers while the Patriots, through the misfortune of Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, secured a 23-20 victory over Baltimore. In many ways it was the tale of two kickers as the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes’ successful kick sent the New York side to their second Super Bowl since 2008, while Cundiff, who signed a five-year contract worth about $15 million in January of last year with the Ravens to become their long-term kicker, hooked a simple thirty-two yard field goal to the left and wide.Indeed, the way in which the Giants and the Patriots are coming into this year’s Super Bowl is almost identical as to the way in which both teams made it to Super Bowl XLII in 2008, a game which the Giants won. The Giants, who finished the regular season in 2007 with a 10-6 record, finished the regular season this year with a 9-7 record. Although the Patriots didn’t finish this season with the perfect 16-0 they had in the 2007 regular season, their 13-3 record tied them with the rest of the NFL’s top seeds.Similar to the build-up to Super Bowl XLII, the Giants are coming into Super Bowl XLVI in terrific form. Since they were 7-7 they have won five games in a row, most of them on the road, outscoring their opponents 141-67. The Giants’ defence, although only ranked twenty-seventh for the regular season, has succeeded in shutting out opponents’ offence by using the three or four man rush on the quarterback. This is something they will look to use against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.Brady struggled to find his man as the Ravens’ defence increased pressure on the pocket. Brady finished the game with a respectable 22/36 pass rate for 239 yards, but the big difference was that he threw no touchdown passes. This is in stark contrast to the joy Brady enjoyed in games at the end of the regular season such as against Buffalo, or in the playoff win against the Broncos.Brady is now in his fourth Super Bowl and is arguably the best quarterback to date, but doesn’t hit the numbers he usually throws if he’s forced to move around in or outside of the pocket. For his laser-guided arm to function to its full potential his feet must be set, and Brady’s numbers for throwing when running are poor in comparison to the likes of Tim Tebow. This is where New York will try to use their strength, the three or four man rush with varied zonal coverage, to unearth Brady’s weakness and cut off the Patriots’ supply.The Patriots come into the game in solid form on the back of a sort of anti-climatic AFC Championship victory. A positive for all Pats fans going into the game is that they won without Brady throwing a TD pass, as they normally rely so heavily on their quarterback. While it shows that the Ravens’ defence shut him down somewhat, it also instils confidence in the rest of the team that they can win a Championship whether Brady shows up or not. Another positive is that when the passing game wasn’t working Green-Ellis and Woodhead were able to carry the team’s offence quite literally, thus further indicating how flexible this supposedly one-dimensional New England team can be.The Giants seem to be the early favourites for Super Bowl XLVI as the statistics are most definitely on their side. They have won seven consecutive overtime games, have had no fumbles in seven games, have had no turnovers in three of their last four games, only allowing the 49ers one third-down conversion out of thirteen in the NFC Championship game.Whether the New York Giants can deal with being favourites this time around will be a huge talking point. In 2008, nobody thought that the Giants would be able to stand in the way of the then 16-0 Patriots. It seemed as if their underdog status, as it always does to teams, gave them a degree of freedom when playing in the Super Bowl that year, as if the occasion didn’t faze them. Although the Giants have displayed some of the grinding, hard-fought form they displayed in that 2007-2008 season, one wonders whether they will be able to replicate it on February 5th.The Patriots can see what stands between them and the Vince Lombardi trophy and won’t underestimate the Giants like they seemed to have done in 2008. Although the form guide points the way of New York, it is hard to see how such a proud, hard-working and grounded franchise as the New England Patriots will allow the Giants to beat them for the second time this season (24-20 to Giants in Foxborough, MA in Week 9), and for the second time in a row in the Superbowl.