In what has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season, the New York Giants find themselves one win away from becoming Super Bowl Champions. The Giants’ 2011 season has been both spectacular and dreadful. The G-Men began this campaign 6-2, closing out the first-half of the season with a 24-20 road win over their Super Bowl XLVI foes the New England Patriots. After losing their next four games in a row, and five out of six overall, the Giants found themselves shape shifting into a playoff pretender and not the Super Bowl contender they have morphed back into beginning December 24th with a 29-14 victory over the Jets. Since that win, the Giants have reeled off five victories in a row while punching their ticket to Indianapolis to face the Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII – the Giants remarkable 17-14 surprise upset of the 18-0 Patriots.
Can we finally say that Eli Manning is an elite quarterback in the NFL? If a signal caller is truly measured on what he does in the postseason, then Manning may only be second to his counterpart in this game, Tom Brady, when it comes to playoff success. That may be a stretch, but Manning does hold the playoff record for post-season road wins. He was named the MVP of Super Bowl XLII and holds the NFL record for most game winning/overtime drives in the playoffs with six. He accomplished that this season as well as the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007. If Manning and the Giants pull off the upset again this year, Eli will surpass his brother and Brett Favre with two Super Bowl victories to his credit.
Manning is blessed on offense with two 1,000-yard receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Cruz hauled 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in his second year. Quite an emergence for a guy who posted no numbers in just three games played in his rookie campaign of 2010.
The shifty Cruz compliments the big, strong Hakeem Nicks, who continues to prove he was worth the high draft pick the Giants spent on him in the first-round of the ’09 draft. Mario Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard round out the Giants passing game that ranked fifth overall this season.
If the passing game is a weapon for the Giants, the running game has been a self-inflicted wound for most of the season. New York ranks last in rushing offense averaging less than 90 yards per game in 2011. Running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs tote the rock for the offense, and injuries to themselves and to the offensive line have hampered the Giants rushing attack all season. They had a total of four runs of 20 or more yards between them all season and Bradshaw led the team in rushing with just 659 yards. It will be critical for the Giants to get the running game going against Patriots.
The Giants don’t have the best defense, so the most effective way for them to stop the Patriots is to limit their opportunities with the ball. Tom Brady has been all but miraculous thus far in the post-season. The Giants were 29th in passing defense, giving up over 255 yards a game to opponents. That does not bode well against the league’s second-best passing offense. The Giants depend heavily on their plethora of defensive linemen to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jason Pierre-Paul became a one man wrecking crew for New York this season posting 16.5 sacks while recording 86 tackles and recovering two fumbles. Tuck, Umenyiora and Kiwanuka consistently get to the quarterback without risky blitzes that usually spell disaster against a quarterback like Brady.
The Giants secondary has been playing catch up all season since starting cornerback Terrell Thomas’ season ended before it started with a knee injury. Thomas was one of five Giant’s defensive backs that were lost for the season at some point during the year. Veterans Aaron Ross and Corey Webster formed a new starting duo at the corners, and rookie first-round draft choice Prince Amukamara returned from a broken foot in time to lend critical depth and athleticism. Safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips protected the back end and stayed healthy long enough to push The G-Men to the brink of another world championship.
Are the New York Giants the NFL team of destiny this year? The fact that they are in the Super Bowl after such an up and down season may suggest so. Unlike Super Bowl XLII when nobody was giving the 12.5-point underdog Giants a chance to beat the perfect Patriots, Big Blue may be everyone’s sexy pick to click come game time. The Patriots will definitely be out for revenge this time around. It is highly unlikely they will give the Giants anything easy. It is going to take more than a hope and a prayer to complete the upset in this one.