As I promised with that cliffhanger last week, more analysis and my prediction for the Super Bowl.
In my opinion, the biggest question mark of all is whether or not the Giants’ defense can stop the Patriots’ tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. On their current five-game winning streak, the Giants have five of the top tight ends in the league: Dustin Keller, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley, and Vernon Davis. Of those tight ends, Davis was the only one who has scored, making two touchdown catches last week in the NFC championship. However, besides those two catches, which were consequences of miscommunication, Davis has only one other catch the entire game. In the other playoff games, the Giants held Gonzalez and Finley for only 81 yards receiving.
However, when looking at the stats from when the Giants beat the Patriots 24-20 in Week 9, Gronkowski and Hernandez went to town on the Giants’ defense. The two tight ends combined for 12 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. With Gronkowski as an all-around great tight end, and Hernandez as the more receiver-like out of the two, the Patriots have lots of versatility when it comes to their offensive game plan. The Patriots ran a two-tight end scheme on over eighty percent of their plays all season; even though defenses knew the Patriots would throw both tight ends into the mix, the Patriots’ many offensive sets would often confuse defenses, most notably in the Divisional Round when the Patriots started Hernandez in the backfield and actually ran the ball with him. Overall, the Giants know that Gronkowski and Hernandez will be their focus for the Super Bowl, but the defense will have to figure out how the Patriots will go after them. And, of course, the Giants cannot forget about Wes Welker coming out of the slot.
The Giants defense has vastly improved since Week 9 and is peaking at just the right time. The secondary, from Antrel Rolle to Corey Webster, is playing its best football right now. Even though he will definitely play, Gronkowski is nursing a high ankle sprain. We will see how that injury impacts the game. In the end, I believe the Giants defense won’t let the Pats’ offense run wild, and Eli Manning will exploit the Patriots’ vulnerable pass defense. My pick: Giants 35, Patriots 24.
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