It's tempting to say the New York Giants possess the secret ingredient to beating the New England Patriots. After all, the Giants defeated the Patriots in Super Bowls 42 and 46, holding the Pats to a combined 31 points in both contests. But when the two teams match up on Sunday, expect the game to go quite differently.
Unlike in Super Bowl 42, the last time the Giants had a chance to curtail the Patriots' dreams of an undefeated season, New York doesn't appear to have the defensive manpower to stop Tom Brady. Eight years ago, the Giants brought down the opposing quarterback more than any other team in the game. This season, they're last in the league in sacks.
The biggest reason for that, of course, is personnel. In 2007, the Giants' vaunted defensive line consisted of future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, Fred Robbins, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka. That's a stark difference from this year, in which an essentially one-handed Jason Pierre-Paul is the Giants' most dangerous pass-rushing threat.
Overall, the Giants have been unable to rebuild their defense. The unit has declined across the board in every significant category over the last eight seasons.
Injuries have played a role in the Giants' defensive ineptitude this year. Pierre-Paul's fireworks accident kept him sidelined for the first eight weeks, star cornerback Prince Amukamara has missed a month with a torn pectoral muscle and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was recently added to the IR. But injuries affect every team, just look at the Patriots, who played last Sunday's game against Washington with their fourth left tackle of the season.
The Pats have the depth to cover for their starters when they go down and the Giants do not. Just two weeks ago, the short-handed G-Men surrendered 52 points to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Considering the Patriots have scored more points than any other team in the league, Brady could put up a crooked number at the Meadowlands on Sunday.
The Giants' offense isn't as potent as New England's, but it's dangerous in its own right. Eli Manning is protecting the ball better than he ever has in his career, throwing 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His 96.9 QB rating is also the highest it's ever been.
Though the Giants' offense is third in total points, it's relatively one-dimensional. If Odell Beckham Jr. can't get going, Manning doesn't have a lot of secondary options to lean on. Expect the Patriots to stick No. 1 corner Malcolm Butler on Beckham Jr. with a lot of safety help over the top from Devin McCourty for the duration of the contest. Bill Belichick prides himself on taking away his opponents' best weapons, and that's what he'll likely aim to do with Beckham Jr. He has the players to do it, too, as this young Patriots' defense is coming into its own.
Belichick has selected a defensive player with his first pick of the draft in six of the last seven years, and almost all of those players have developed into stars. Chandler Jones leads the league in sacks, linebacker Jamie Collins is arguably one of the most versatile linebackers in the game and Devin McCourty is a perennial Pro Bowler. The Patriots' offense gets the majority of attention, and rightfully so, but the defense is proving to be a worthy co-star.
Given how the Giants shut down the Patriots in Super Bowls 42 and 46, it's easy to predict that history will repeat itself. But the truth is, this is a vastly different Giants team than those two squads. On Sunday, don't expect the Patriots to be held under 20 points again. In fact, it's more likely they'll eclipse their combined points total from those two Super Bowl defeats.
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