I'm going to be in the Boston area this weekend, visiting Kate's family, so I will end up watching Saturday night's Giants-Patriots game with my Patriot-fan in-laws. In case you didn't know, New England is currently 15-0, and if they win this game they have the chance to be the first team to ever finish the regular season 16-0 (and the second to go undefeated in the regular season, after the 14-0 Miami Dolphins of 1972). Of course, if you don't know that, you're probably also a little hazy on the rules of football, so you probably want to give this post a miss, and go read something else.
I want to get my thoughts on this game on record in advance, lest I be accused of making stuff up later: I fully expect the Patriots to win this game by at least two touchdowns. I could be wrong, and I'd love to see the my Giants make it a tight game, but I don't think they have any chance, for a number of reasons, but mostly because their pass defense is awful.
Don't let last week's interceptions against Buffalo fool you into thinking that their secondary has somehow become competent-- they're not. Buffalo was down late, and tried to force some passes in miserable conditions, and they got picked off.
There really hasn't been a game this season where I thought the defensive backfield for the Giants did a good job. They're constantly being beaten down the middle, and if the quarterback can avoid being sacked for more than two or three seconds, there are usually at least two receivers open somewhere down field.
"Yeah, but they have great pass-rushing ends," you say. "Maybe they'll get to Brady and throw him off."
Maybe. But I really doubt it. Strahan and Umenyiora are great defensive ends, but they're not qualitatively better than Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of Indianapolis, and New England managed to keep them off Brady well enough for the Patriots to move the ball down the field and win the game. And the Colts have professional-quality safeties and cornerbacks.
New England has the best offensive line in football, and I expect that they'll be able to control the Giants' pass rush. Unless the weather in New Jersey is incredibly awful, I expect to see Tom Brady standing calmly in the backfield, picking the Giants apart all game long.
Other factors that some commentators have interpreted as giving the Giants a chance to win:
-- They're playing at home. That might be an advantage for some teams, but the Giants are actually better on the road this year. Eli Manning in particular tends to have lousy games in front of the home fans, possibly because he's trying too hard.
-- They've got a good running game. Yes, Brandon Jacobs is a really good back, when he's healthy, and this Bradshaw kid they picked up somewhere had some really good runs last week. The problem is, other than the second half in Buffalo, they don't have the play-calling to back it up. Jacobs is consistently good for 3-4 yards between the tackles, but Tom Coughlin or somebody insists on calling this ridiculous sweep play all the goddamn time, where they hand the ball off five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and then run sideways.
Even worse, they keep trying to pass the ball for no good reason-- against the Redskins, Jacobs was averaging a bit over three yards, and they could've pounded the ball over and over with him, but for some reason, they kept calling pass plays. And not just simple, safe pass plays, but ridiculous plays that required Eli Manning to throw the ball fifteen or twenty yards in the air, in howling winds and freezing cold. To receivers who dropped the ball like it was electrified.
-- They might be able to move the ball, if Coughlin can manage to restrain his impulse to go pass-wacky at weird moments. But they need to be willing to stick with sensible running plays (running up the field, not across it), and they need to score touchdowns, because they're going to give up touchdowns. And the Giants have been pretty lousy at closing the deal over the last couple of years-- they get down close to the end zone, and end up doing something stupid so they have to settle for a field goal. That won't get the job done against New England.
Really, their best chance comes from a factor that I haven't heard anybody talking about much: Brady and Moss are chasing individual records. In the Patriots' last two games, the margin of victory wound up being smaller than it might've because Brady was trying to throw touchdowns to Moss, rather than moving the ball down the field with shorter passes to Wes Welker and his tight ends. They easily could've scored more points in both of those games, but Brady was visibly gunning for the big play, and they wound up settling for field goals on a few occasions.
If they're doing that from the very start tomorrow night, it might slow the Patriots down enough to give the Giants a chance. That's a pretty slim hope, though.
As for the overdone question of whether either coach is going to rest players for this game, pretty much all you need to know is that both of these head coaches were assistants under Bill Parcells. Of course they're not going to rest players-- they're both very slightly psychotic when it comes to winning and losing football games.
I expect to see all the regular starters from both teams at the start of the game, and for at least the first half. If the Patriots build a huge halftime lead, Coughlin might pull some guys in the second half, but if they're within three scores at the half, I would expect to see Manning and Jacobs and Burress out there in the second half.
So, there's my advance analysis of the Patriost-Giants game. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I don't expect this to be a very good game.
The one thing IMO that is most likely to make the game competitive will also make it hard to watch -- swirling Meadowlands winds. It looks like the winds will be reasonably calm tomorrow night, however.