Last year, Cleveland Browns fans had some emotional investment for the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl. Simply put, Browns fans did not want the Pittsburgh Steelers to come away victorious, come hell or high water. Sure enough, the Packers won the Super Bowl, providing the same type of joy that the Denver Broncos provided to Browns fans in this year's playoffs.
This year, there might not be as much of an emotional investment when the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots in a re-match of two teams that met in the Super Bowl four years ago. Over the next two days, I will try to make a brief case why each team should come away with the Lombardi Trophy. Today, I'll start with the Patriots, who are led by Tom Brady.
First off, we're entering unprecedented territory when it comes to talking about the achievements that Brady has had in his career. The former sixth-round draft pick has three Super Bowl rings, the last of which came in 2005. In 2008, Brady was pursuing his fourth Super Bowl ring against these very same Giants. It was also his opportunity to lead New England to a perfect 19-0 season, but the Patriots came up just one game short.
Since then, Brady and the Patriots have been trying to work their way back into the "cream of the crop." The 2008 season went to hell when Brady tore his ACL at the beginning of the season. In the two years that followed, the Patriots re-claimed the AFC East, but fell victim to the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, respectively.
This year, the Patriots earned the top seed in the AFC for a first-round bye. They could have faced a "trap" game against Denver for their first playoff game, but we saw just how dynamic New England's offense is when Brady routed the Broncos 45-10. The following week, Brady played a pretty terrible game (by his standards) against the Ravens. To show how versatile this Patriots team is though, they still pulled out with a 23-20 victory.
The big "X-Factor" for the Patriots this season has been Rob Gronkowski. This has been the "year of the tight ends" so to speak, and Gronkowski is right at the top of that list. From blocking to receiving, Gronkowski does it all. His vicious spike in the end zone is now a weekly guarantee, because no team can stop him from scoring six. When the Giants and the Patriots met in the regular season, Gronkowski had a touchdown and over 100 yards receiving. That was before he even caught fire. When you add Aaron Hernandez to the mix, especially the creative manners he has been used the past few weeks (see, Pat Shurmur did have the right idea when he lined up Alex Smith in the backfield), how can any defense stop these two guys?
The Patriots are currently riding a 10-game winning streak, with their last loss coming to the Giants...in New England. That doesn't sound good for the Patriots, does it? Well, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- When the Patriots lost to the Giants, they were 5-3 and not in as much of a rhythm as they are now.
- Unlike their "attempt at perfection" season, there has to be much less pressure on the Patriots this time around. Instead, Brady is hell-bent on seeking vengeance.
- The Patriots are averaging 36 points per game during their winning streak. In their last two playoff games, their defense has turned it up a notch, giving up an average of 15 points per game. When New England can throw up all of those points on the board, it doesn't matter who the opposition is.
Prior to the Giants' current five-game winning streak, they had lost five of six games in the regular season. They were also swept twice this season by...the Washington Redskins...and they were beaten by about two touchdowns each time. On top of that, they have had a lot of fortune in their current five-game winning streak. The last two wins in the regular season came against a Jets team that was a joke down the stretch and a Cowboys team that lost four of their last five games.
In the first round of the playoffs against the Falcons, pretty much any team could've won that game with how pathetic Atlanta's offense was. The following week, they had the potential advantage of facing an emotionally-drained Packers team. Then, the only reason they advanced to the Super Bowl over the 49ers was because Ted Ginn Jr. wasn't available to return punts after an injury the week before.
The Giants will fall back to reality this week. They barely won their division. They barely finished the season at .500. They had to win a playoff game in overtime. The last time the Patriots faced a team with those three things going for them, Brady tossed six touchdown passes in the first half against Denver. This New England team doesn't have to worry about flukes or injuries this time around; they have the weapons to get the job done early on and then milk it the rest of the game.