New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:20 p.m. ET, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
TV: NBC. Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Keys to the game: The last two times the teams have met, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has engineered dramatic fourth-quarter victories — one in the 2008 Super Bowl and the other a 24-20 victory at New England in Week 9. Bottom line, Super Bowl XLVI promises to be a tight game determined by which defense can generate an extra possession or two and which offense is the most productive in the red zone. The Giants' offense has become far more problematic for defensive coordinators with RB Ahmad Bradshaw healthy and providing a steady complement to an explosive passing game that has three dangerous wideouts and a trio of pedestrian tight ends who managed to come up with key receptions in pivotal moments — including Jake Ballard's game-winner in Week 9. Patriots QB Tom Brady said he "sucked" in the AFC Championship Game and has vowed to play better. Much depends on the health of TE Rob Gronkowski's sprained ankle. He keys the Patriots' inside-out passing game and along with slot WR Wes Welker are Brady's security blankets on quick strikes against the Giants' fierce pass rush.
Matchup to watch: Giants Ss Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski: While Aaron Hernandez is an excellent tight end and dangerous with his versatility, it's Gronkowski who causes the biggest matchup issues for defenses. His massive hands and ability to work between the hashes makes him Brady's go-to target in critical situations. Too big for cornerbacks to cope with and too fast for most safeties, a fully healthy Gronkowski can break down entire game plans. The Giants wanted to use Phillips on 49ers TE Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game, and Davis scored on two long touchdown passes. Rolle, a fellow former Miami Hurricane, is a converted safety who the Giants like to use around the line of scrimmage but has better cover skills than Phillips.
Player spotlight: Patriots NT Vince Wilfork: Wilfork dominated the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore, continuously blowing up double-teams and disrupting the backfield. Massive but with quick feet, Wilfork poses a major concern working against Giants C Davis Baas, who has battled a neck injury for the past month.
Fast facts: Brady is tied with Joe Montana for the NFL record with 16 career postseason wins, and his fifth Super Bowl appearance will tie John Elway's all-time mark. ... Manning is 7-3 as a starting quarterback in the postseason. ... Both franchises have three Super Bowl titles.
The breakdown: The Patriots finished the regular season 13-3, earned home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs and have three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady seeking to become the winningest postseason quarterback in NFL history. Yet, it's the Giants, who finished the regular season a modest 9-7, who have the feel of owning the momentum.
It's courtesy of taking care of business in five consecutive must-win games and playing their best football of the season on both sides of the ball after looking like they couldn't beat Kutztown State in a Week 15 loss to Washington. Quarterback Eli Manning has played well all season, but is now receiving more support. New York has taken care of bitter rival Dallas, talented Atlanta, one-loss Green Bay and the smashmouth 49ers along the way, proving they can win shootouts and drag-down barn brawls.
Having lost a pair of dramatic games in the past two meetings of consequence, including a chance at a perfect season in Super Bowl XLVI, Brady enters with plenty of motivation. Not that the noted fierce competitor needs much to rev his engine. But he'll be put in the rare position of having to keep pace in a high-scoring game, and that situation will allow the Giants' pass rushers to pin their ears back and make the pocket uncomfortable.
Like any close game, turnovers and red-zone production will tell the tale — and the teams combined to convert just 9-of-29 third downs in Week 9.