As you can see, it doesn't get any better than those predictions on last year's big game. I will attempt to do that once again this year. And now for my Super Bowl analysis and predictions!
Super Bowl 46, Analysis:
There's no question that this is one of the closest matchups we've seen in the Super Bowl in years. It will be a game of strengths versus weaknesses as the Giants have one of the more potent pass offenses in the NFL right now versus the first defense in NFL history to finish dead last in pass defense and second to last in total defense, to ever make a Super Bowl, in the Patriots.
The Patriots have QB Tom Brady at the helm and anyone who has paid any attention to the NFL in the last decade knows what he is capable of in the Bill Belichick offense of New England. Though they are potent on offense, they lack a couple of very important pieces that will ultimately cost them in this game. First, is their lack of a deep threat WR. The Patriots have no one on the offense who is very fast and can make a secondary have to play deep and let the underneath coverage stay soft for those post routes and deep ins. Because of this lack of a speed receiver, the Giants secondary, which is the most suspect unit on the team, will be able to cheat up towards the line of scrimmage without that deep threat to account for. This will make passing much more difficult for Brady because it will clog up those short and intermediate routes that he loves to hit on 3rd downs. Add to that the unknown status of their second biggest offensive weapon, TE Rob Gronkowski, who scored 17 TD's, an NFL record for a TE in a season, hobbled by what looked to be a very badly sprained left ankle in the championship game two weeks ago. Having Gronk, at likely much less than 100%, is a big blow to the sustainability of the Patriot offense.
The second problem the Patriots face is the lack of a real running game. They have made due with a make-shift backfield all year between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, probably better than any other team could have considering the football IQ of Bill Belichick. Green-Ellis is a solid back, but not someone you have to stack the line to stop. This will give the Giants the opportunity to drop back linebackers into coverage instead of needing them to crash down on blitzes to stop an elite running back that commands 8 or 9 men in the defensive box. This will make throwing lanes get even tighter for Brady, already at the disadvantage of having the Giants secondary playing up because of that lack of a Patriots deep threat. Having no deep threat and a mediocre backfield will allow the Giants defense to play within their strengths and slow down the Brady led offense.
Conversely for the Giants, they hold a distinct advantage in this game in the matchup between the Giants trio of excellent receivers versus the Patriots' all-time worst pass defense in NFL history in terms of yards allowed per game average. The Patriots lack any form of formidable pass rush which will give Eli Manning and those receivers; Nicks, Cruz and Manningham, lots of time to absolutely torch that very bad secondary. A secondary so bad, mind you, that Patriots bench WR Julian Edelman checks in at defensive back regularly. After watching what the Giants were capable of against the 49ers top 5 ranked defense in the NFC Championship, it would seem that the Patriots atrocious defense would not stand a chance of limiting the Giants offense. Because the Patriots are so bad on pass defense, they may give extra help to the secondary by running a lot of zone-cover 3 looks from the Nickel package to plug up passing lanes. If the Pats give secondary help though, it will break open some very wide rushing lanes for the very talented RB Ahmad Bradshaw and bulldozer RB Brandon Jacobs. The Patriots D will be scrambling to give help both to the secondary and rush defense and as long as the Giants can recognize these looks by the Patriots, they will be able to take advantage of whichever end of the defense is not getting the help it needs to make successful plays.
So in the end, it will be the lack of Patriots defense against those skill position players of the Giants and a lack of any major offensive fire power against the Giants defense that will cost them this game. When you look at those matchup advantages for the Giants and additionally throw in their most feared pass rush in the NFL, this game seems like an easy pick. It will take some very serious Brady and Belichick magic to win this one but I just don't see it happening. Something else to keep in mind going into this game is that the Patriots did not win a single game against a team with a winning record the entire year until they won their conference championship over the Ravens, but they looked awful in doing so and had to rely on a Lee Evans dropped TD catch late in the game to advance. All of this considered, my final pick of the 2011 NFL Season is as follows:
New York(N) vs. New England(-3) (o/u 53.5)
Savant Spread Pick: New York(N) to win ~ 27-21
Over/Under Pick: Under
Here are my individual statistical predictions for key players on each team:
New England Patriots
Tom Brady - 28/42(66.7%) 282 yards 2 TD's 1 INT 1 Fumble
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - 12 carries 68 yards/rushing 1 TD 2 receptions 14 yards/receiving
Aaron Hernandez - 5 receptions 58 yards 1 TD
Wes Welker - 8 receptions 96 yards
Rob Gronkowski - 4 receptions 21 yards
Deion Branch - 3 receptions 16 yards 1 TD
New York Giants
Eli Manning - 23/34(67.6%) 337 yards 2 TD's 0 INT
Ahmad Bradshaw - 19 carries 92 yards/rushing 1 TD 4 receptions 54 yards/receiving
Brandon Jacobs - 6 carries 31 yards/rushing
Hakeem Nicks - 5 receptions 114 yards 1 TD
Victor Cruz - 8 receptions 124 yards 1 TD
Mario Manningham - 3 receptions 28 yards
Jake Ballard - 4 receptions 39 yards
A big thanks to all who followed my picks this season. Thanks for joining me on what was an extremely successful year making game picks. Look for continued blog posts throughout the year on other sports topics and of course, next season when I will be picking all of the NFL games in the 2012 season!