I am not here to try to convince you the New York Giants are a cross between the 1985 Chicago Bears and 1989 San Francisco 49ers.
Despite what you’ve no doubt heard and read all week, the Giants are not unbeatable. The New England Patriots are not lambs for the slaughter. The Giants are not in their heads. Eli Manning is not a better quarterback than Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning. New York’s defensive front four isn’t Deacon Jones, Randy White, Mean Joe Greene and Reggie White.
But the Giants are better than the Patriots. And they’re a bad matchup for them to boot.
New England has gotten this far with an exceptional offense based on the precision of its quarterback, the ability of its inside receivers to get open and run after the catch, and the defense’s ability to minimize its own mistakes by capitalizing on its opponent’s.
New York has answers for all of that. It should be the three-point favorite, not New England.
The Giants can take care of the precision thing by getting in Tom Brady’s face. They proved four years ago that Brady can be rattled, not just with sacks and hits, but by collapsing the pocket up the middle. And they are even more capable now than they were then of making that happen.
The Patriots have faced some good pass rushers during their 10-game winning streak, but not a group this talented. The Giants have a lot of options in their front four — sometimes they will line up four defensive ends. The chances of them finding a matchup they like in the trenches and being able to exploit it are pretty good. New England starts a backup center (Dan Connolly) and either a rookie (Nate Solder, who looked shaky at times against Baltimore) or a rusty Sebastian Vollmer who hasn’t played in nearly two months, at right tackle.
Even if the offensive line keeps Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora off Brady’s back most of the night, the Giants can make things difficult for him by loading up its coverage between the numbers and challenging Brady to throw outside, where his options are limited to Chad Ochocinco and that guy he tried to throw the foolish fourth quarter interception to against Baltimore.
The secondary is New York’s biggest weakness, but the Patriots may not have the tools to expose it.
Since Rob Gronkowski’s ankle likely won’t be 100 percent by Sunday, Brady may have to do without his best deep-middle threat. If Gronk’s mobility is severely limited, the G-men won’t have to double him and could turn their attention to Wes Welker or Aaron Hernandez.Regardless of where Brady throws the ball, yards after the catch will be tough to pick up because the Giants a) tackle well and b) will have lots of people in coverage to chase the receiver.
New York’s defense struggled for much of the year, but for the last five weeks, it has been close to dominant. It’s given up more than 14 points just once, in a 37-20 win over Green Bay. New England’s defense is playing the best it has all year, but New York’s is playing even better, and it is clearly the unit that is more likely to make a game-changing play.
Chances are, the Giants offense won’t be handing the Patriots any game-changing plays, unlike Denver and Baltimore. New York has turned the ball over once in three postseason games. It has dominated time of possession despite having a mediocre running game. And it has the best quarterback the Patriots have faced this season.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Eli Manning right now. Some people who apparently haven’t watched him play besides Super Bowl XLII and this season insist that he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame if he wins his second Super Bowl title this Sunday.
But Manning did have an excellent 2011, and he’s been great so far in 2012. He outplayed Aaron Rodgers by a mile at Lambeau. He took one of the worst beatings a quarterback has ever taken in the playoffs against San Francisco and prevailed.
If the Patriots can’t put that kind of pressure on Manning, their secondary will be shredded by a deep, speedy group of receivers.
I’m trusting that Bill Belichick isn’t dumb or arrogant enough to line up Julian Edelman in the slot against Victor Cruz. But even if the Patriots stay in zone or get their preferred matchups in man-to-man, their defensive backs won’t be able to keep up with Cruz, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, who didn’t play in the Giants’ 24-20 over New England on Nov. 6.
And why does an undrafted, rookie tight end that caught 38 passes all year scare the hell out of me? Oh yeah, Jake Ballard owned the Patriots on the game-winning drive.
If the Giants have a chance at another one of those drives on Sunday, say the ball at their own 20 with less than two minutes left, you will find me on my living room floor in the fetal position.
Obviously, this brings me no pleasure. I hate the Giants. I hated them long before Super Bowl XLII. Growing up in the 1970s, I hated that Channel 13 always insisted on subjecting me to Joe Pisarcik, Doug Kotar and Brad Van Pelt and their truly putrid and boring teams on a weekly basis.
I’ve built up a lot of resentment for the Giants, and the fact that some of their fans still want Tom Coughlin fired makes me want to strangle them with their “18-1” t-shirts.
I can only hope the Giants are as cocky as their fans are and believe they are as invincible as the national media is making them out to be. But I doubt Coughlin will allow that.
And I can’t ignore the facts, which all add up to the final painful fact that the Giants are the better team.
So, since every Patriots Super Bowl in the last four has been decided by three points, the Giants will win this on a Lawrence Tynes field goal with eight seconds left, 26-23.
Now please excuse me while I repeatedly smash this keyboard against my head.
Randy Whitehouse is a staff columnist who still has nightmares about Tom Coughlin’s 2008 NFC Championship face.