Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
-William Shakespeare (Henry IV Part II)
It’s a lot easier to win the Championship than it is to defend it.
-Mark Schlereth (Broncos ’97 and ’98)
G.I. Joe clone, former NFL Olineman and ESPN analyst Schlereth is on record as saying that while he was overcome with joy and jubilation when Denver captured their first Super Bowl, all he felt when they successfully won their second in two years was – relief. The Bard’s King Henry certainly understood as he paced the night away worrying about who would try to steal his throne.
Were you watching between the lines during media day? The Patriots do not seem to be having the time of their lives out there at the newest and most beautiful stadium in America. Junior Seau looks tired and tense. Brady could barely summon a smile for a propositioning Mexican reporter wearing a wedding dress. On the other side of the coin, Strahan practically salsa danced in his chair, Burress pulled a Joe Namath win guarantee and even “unemotional Eli” got that shy grin going as he mouthed his ever-correct-and-gracious responses. You have to wonder – can the Giants ride the wave over a New England team under more pressure than any Super Bowl contender in NFL history. Pressure to be perfect. That’s a weight even for this icy-veined group.
Conversely, New York is an extreme mix of veterans like Strahan and Toomer at the tail end of their careers and one of the hottest rookie classes in the league: RB Bradshaw, WR surprise Steve Smith (no, the OTHER one), hithertofore completely unknown Shockey backup Ross, Dlineman Jay Alford and even more. Will the youngsters lose focus in the “all things Super” atmosphere?
I look forward to a fantastic contest, totally belying the 12-14 point spread. It’s amazing how swayed handicappers are by that 18-0 streak. One would think the Pats hadn’t won by a whisker in several of their last games – including the one they played against the Giants by the way.
Home: Patriots (don’t you always wonder who decides the whole home team thing?)
Bruno’s Picks: Straight Up – Pats,
Against the Spread – Giants (We’d love to pick them to win it all. And they just might, too.)
Over/Under: Under – definitely under, as Rainman would say.
Weather: Not likely. Well, yes, it has been raining during Super Week – but in the desert in the winter it’s much more likely to be just plain lovely. Besides – there’s a roof.
Injuries: Brady’s ankle has captured all the headlines the way his girlfriend captures masculine, uh, hearts. But it seems to be healing all too rapidly for those of us who are sick of the New England dynasty. Guess the Giants will have to do it the old-fashioned way – and earn it. Which could be a bit hard to do when Plaxico Burress has a REAL ankle issue to go with all the rest of his dings and scrapes. But what the heck, hasn’t really stopped him all year. But he also hasn’t played against Samuel and Gay all year. Watch early to see if he can get free on any of those deep routes. And expect Toomer and the younger WR’s to get a lot of action and try to draw coverage from lanky #17.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Patriots’ D versus Giants’ O: Can Brandon Jacobs power rush against New England’s under-rated D line and mature but smart LBing corps? He must for Big Blue’s O to have a chance. How about rookie RB Bradshaw? After a slow start, the speedy rusher should prove whether Seau, Bruschi, Vrabel and company are experienced – or old. Jacobs and Bradshaw are a great one/two punch against a normal team. But New England hasn’t been a normal team in many seasons and this year they are stuffing the best rushing tandems in the league. If Jacobs and Bradshaw are to have any success, Coughlin’s Oline must do what he’s created them for: make holes and protect Eli. The hyper-critical New York media seems to have forgotten that just a few short seasons ago, the Big Apple upfront squad couldn’t protect a quarterback to save their collective souls. But Coughlin’s biggest contribution to this offense has been a disciplined and now cohesive line. Indeed he’s focused so much on the big men that his own daughter must have picked up on it; she married Chris Snee! Finally of course, which Eli will show up? The one who hasn’t thrown a single interception during this entire amazing playoff run or the one with the defeatist body language? Hall of Famer Steve Young remembers thinking on the morning of his Super Bowl: “My life will be different after tonight. Maybe better, maybe worse, but permanently different.” Betcha the youngest Manning brother knows exactly what Steve meant by that. He will end this day as either a leadership-challenged near bust or an emergent star nicknamed “Easy E.”
Since the New England secondary and the Giants’ WR’s are both very high quality units and should match up evenly, the advantage in this aspect of the game may hinge on whether or not New York can run the ball.
Patriots’ O versus Giants’ D: It’s ALL about the lines. If Strahan, Tuck, Umenyiora and Mitchell can get to Tom Brady early and often then New York has a chance. If they don’t – I doubt New York can prevail. Most of New England’s Oline is ProBowl bound while only Osi is making the Hawaii trip for Big Blue (did we mention the Patriots’ hype?). You know the analysts always say the war is won in the trenches – every time they can’t think of anything else to say? Well, this time they are right on the money. If Brady has to start running around or re-adjusting his jersey as he’s getting up off the turf, Big Blue might stay on him like sharks smelling blood. If he can stand back there and pass at will, forget it.
Seldom has a QB had choices like this: Stallworth, Welker, flex-back Faulk and, oh yes, Randy Moss. Even TE Graham can catch. Moss will spend most of the game blanketed by guys in Giants’ helmets, so the key will be little Wes Welker – the secret weapon Belichick picked up this off-season from Miami. Wes is so quick and so tough over the middle that we’d swear he was channeling Wayne Chrebet. Except that we think Chrebet is enjoying a well-earned retirement somewhere in Jersey! The other killer yardage-eater is seemingly ego-less Kevin Faulk. Third string running back for years and now still the backup, Faulk is a better receiver than starter Maroney and an almost sure bet on third down. Hint to Giants’ linebackers: if Faulk is in the game – he’s PROBABLY going to get the ball! Except for Faulk, the NE rushing game is still missing power hitter Corey Dillon. Maroney seems talented, but streaky. This game would be a bad time for him to slump.
Special Teams: We have to give the nod here to New England. Both Ellis Hobbs and Maroney are returning kicks for the Pats and both can fly. And much as I hate to admit it, second year kicker Gostkowski has proven every bit as reliable as high-priced Vinatieri. New York’s ST’s have also benefited from Coughlin’s disciplined tenure, but they aren’t quite as scary as New England.
Coaching: Both Belichick and Coughlin are members of the Bill Parcells’ “Coaching Tree”. Belichick worked his way up to defensive coordinator when Parcells was ruling New York with an iron fist in the late 80’s. Coughlin was the WR’s coach. Hmmm, see that means that they practiced AGAINST each other for several years before they both won the 1990 Super Bowl with Big Blue.
Belicheat’s rep has taken quite a beating this season in the wake of SpyGate, while Tom Coughlin has metamorphosed into a kinder, gentler Coach. (How’s that for mixing political metaphors?) Belichick looks like an even more dour and humorless win-at-any-cost type while Tom took a page out of some self-help management book and started listening to the needs of his players. The result? Strahan went from hating his coach’s guts to speaking of the guy with genuine respect. Wow. Both locker rooms totally have their guy’s back – for different reasons.
I think that Belichick’s ego took such a hit from the video scandal that he’s sacrificed his team’s energy trying to be perfect out of spite. Coughlin seems to have tuned into his player’s psyches and has his squad peaking at just the right time – because HIS ego could handle a fundamental adjustment in leadership style. See if that flexibility allows him to handle Belichick’s undisputed genius for defensive scheming.
Bottom Line: The Pats should win: they have the experience, the amazing offensive talent and a great coaching ethos. But the Giants certainly have momentum, chemistry and Gestalt on their side. So, don’t touch that dial, boys and girls……….it’s gonna be a beaut!