Patriots Vs. Giants Preview: Brady, Manning Meet For First Time Since Super Bowl

What's that you say? You don't remember there being a Super Bowl that year?

If there are any Patriots fans out there that have an inexplicable uneasiness about taking on the New York Giants this weekend, it may be because this is the first time New England will be taking on Eli Manning and the football Giants since their loss in Super Bowl XLII. They've met in the preseason, but this time it's the real deal.

What's that you say? You don't remember there being a Super Bowl that year? The last you remember was that the Patriots went 18-0 and they just awarded them the title of "Greatest Team In All The Land" and that was that? I thought so too, but just looked it up. Apparently the Super Bowl happened.

After last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which the atrocious Pats' defense allowed an okay-but-not-fabulous Ben Roethlisberger to lead his team to 23 points, the question arose again whether or not Bill Belichick's team can win against a good defense that stifles Tom Brady. Brady had a decent game, throwing for 197 yards, 2 touchdowns and no picks. He played well enough to help his team win against one of the best defensive performances by any team in 2011 so far. But a couple of big drives by Big Ben and some questionable clock management decisions put the Patriots at 5-2, behind the Buffalo Bills once again in the AFC East standings.

Those few reasons are enough to remind you why this is a big game for the Patriots. With the way that their division is shaping up, falling to 5-3 would put them in an uncomfortably tight race toward the postseason. They already have the added pressure of having to win their next game against the Bills.

 Buffalo's schedule for the rest of the season includes the rest of their five divisional games, including a game against the Jets this Sunday. If they split with the Jets, win both against Miami and take easy wins against the Titans and the Broncos, the Bills could realistically finish the season at 11-5. That's assuming that they lose their upcoming games to the extremely unpredictable Chargers and Cowboys as well; two teams that can easily be beaten on any given Sunday.

And this is all without considering that Rex Ryan and his Jets are literally knocking on the door right now as well. They are just 1.5 games behind the Pats at 4-3.

So with so much on the line against one of the best teams the Patriots will face in the second half of their season, this home game is a very important one. Here are five things to watch in this week's game:

Brady v Manning

Normally when this is a relevant comparison, the Manning=Peyton, not Eli. Before the start of the season, Eli stated that he believes he is a top five quarterback in the NFL. Taking into account his entire career, and the caliber of quarterback that are his contemporaries, that's an inane statement. But in the context of the 2011 season so far and the seven games that he has played, it's true. Manning is having one of his best statistical seasons, and the numbers look really good; especially when you stack them up next to Brady's.

QB

Rating

Tot Yards

Avg.

Comp. %

TD

INT

Sacked

Brady

104.4

2,361

8.8

67.6

18

8

14 times

Manning

102.1

2,127

8.7

64.7

13

5

15 times

It's pretty incredible how well Manning has performed this season, and with only five interceptions on the season and going against the worst secondary in the league by far, it's certainly possible that for the first time in is career, people are betting that he won't throw an interception.

One the other hand, the Giant's defense allows opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.3 % of their passes. This is still better than New England, but not great against a guy like Brady who's 60% could easily work out to 27/45 for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. Oh, and has it been mentioned that Brady pretty much never loses at home? It should be a good shoot out to say the least.

Welker and company vs. Nicks, Cruz and....

When it comes to versatility with receiving options, Brady has the advantage purely because after Welker, his second best target is Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez or maybe even Kevin Faulk now. Manning's second best target after Hakeem Nicks is Victor Cruz. The drop off after those two is pretty significant. Mario Manningham isn't quite as much of an afterthought as our dear Chad Ochocinco, but his 24 catches for 1 touchdown this year isn't exactly stellar either.

Branch is an energy guy who seems to rise to the occasion when New England fans start to get rowdy. They really wanted to pretend that whole Super Bowl XLII didn't happen. So believe me, they will be rowdy. And both Hernandez and Gronkowski are exceptionally better more dependable options than the best tight end playing for the Giants, Jake Ballard.

Put it this way: the Patriots' second best tight end has four more catches and three more touchdowns than the Giants' third best wide receiver.

The bad news for the Pats? Welker, Hernandez, Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are all battling injuries that make them questionable to play on Sunday. If these injuries derail all these players, the Patriots are in some big trouble offensively.

The Run Game

The Giants have the 30th ranked rushing offense in the league, only averaging  85.6 yards per game, and their leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw will be playing with a cracked bone in his foot if he plays at all. The Patriots are somehow averaging 112 yards rushing per game, combining BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and now Kevin Faulk for some help as well. Statistically, Green-Ellis practically matches Bradshaw in almost every rushing category, and has health on his side  most of the season (although he is questionable this week with a toe injury). Brandon Jacobs has only played in five games this year, amassing a whopping 126 yards on 42 touches and grabbing one touchdown. Tom Brady is a bigger threat to run it into the end zone at this point.

Not only are the Patriots offensively better running the ball, but they have a significantly better defense against the run. They have continued to stifle the opposing team's running backs as they have climbed to the 6th ranked rushing defense. The Giants' are ranked 27th, allowing 130.1 rushing yards per game. Because the Brady-Manning matchup has been so hyped, the rushing game has sort of fell under the radar. But make no mistake; if the Patriots can capitalize on this significant advantage on offense, it will make a big difference.

The Pass Rush

Part of that major difference will be using the run game to balance the offense, helping to stop star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who has sacked the quarterback 8.5 times this season.

Pierre Paul will be going up against a Patriots offensive line that looked weak against the strong defensive line of the Steelers last week, and Sebastian Vollmer who has been so reliable for the Patriots returned from injury with an awful game. He too is questionable to play tomorrow, so it could get a little iffy for Brady in the pocket if P24ierre-Paul gets going. Logan Mankins has been a little jumpy on that line, racking up the penalty yards this year so watch to see if he reigns it in this week against the Giants, because it will be important that the Patriots not losing offensive yardage if those injuries effect them significantly.

The Crowd

I mentioned this a few times before, but I have a feeling that tomorrow's Gillette Stadium crowd is going to be fired up. Gillette has always maintained a pretty good home-field atmosphere since Belichick, Brady and company started winning Super Bowls, but it's no Arrowhead Stadium. Crowd noise is not usually a major factor for opposing teams that come to Foxboro, but I'm willing to bet that tomorrow will be the loudest these New Englanders have gotten in a long time.

The Pats do well at home even without an incredibly loud, fired up, crazy stadium. But tomorrow they'll be roaring.

My prediction:

Patriots will survive injury threats and the Giants will struggle defensively against the balance of the Patriot offense. After two defensive games in a row for New England, this one should pack back on the points.

New England Patriots: 31 New York Giants: 24

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