Finally, the last one I’ll have to make of these fuckers for the NFL season. Essentially, when you have two teams on a roll (18-0 for New England; 10 straight road wins for the Giants) with what seem like obvious discrepancies, you have to find reasons to pick against the 18-0 team. Let’s list:
The Defense Has Gone Down a Bit: The Patriots miss Roosevelt Colvin dearly; ever since he was hurt, the linebacking corps has gone into “bend, not break” mode. The Giants have enough offensive weapons and are well-rounded enough to turn some of the drives that Jacksonville and San Diego settled for field goals on into touchdowns.
Tom Brady’s Ankle: I don’t put as much stock in this as others; he’s not so hurt he can’t or won’t play well. But will he have trouble throwing off his back foot?
Keeping the Pass Rush Under Control: Shaun Phillips and Luis Castillo aren’t as good a combination as Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on the D-line, and the Chargers were the best defense the Pats have had to face before this.
Those are the concerns, but here’s why the Pats will shut Mercury Morris up on Sunday:
Too Much Prep Time: Giving Bill Belichick two weeks to game plan is way too long, plus, he’s already familiar with the Giants from Week 17.
Controlled Environment: The one thing about the Super Bowl this year is that the weather will be favorable to the Patriots’ pass-happy offense, and Laurence Maroney can be used to throw off the Giants’ D, which will account for that.
Eli Manning Ain’t Quite There Yet: Yeah, I thought he’d be out of it after last week, but he isn’t quite consistent enough to match Brady on every throw he makes. Asante Samuel is a ball hawker, and one telegraphed route means pick six. (Ellis Hobbs is a weak link, though.) This is a much bigger stage, and Manning might get a bit flapped.
The First Time You Kick Against the Pats, You Lose: The Giants cannot settle for field goals in certain situations after the second half starts. If Samuel can work on Plaxico Burress effectively (a tall task), then it takes away the deep threat. Essentially, the Giants have to not settle, and I think there will be a stalled drive or two at a bad time.
Not Enough Defenders: The Giants’ secondary is kind of busted up, and they have to double Moss to start. Then, account for Stallworth, Welker, Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Ben Watson when you get inside the 20. Too many good pass catchers to not get a pass rush on. If the Patriots do their usual solid job in pass protection, the gates will open at some point for Brady.
Take the points if you’re putting money on it (12 is too much for the second half New England team), but I can’t find enough reasons to not pick the Patriots, at least objectively. Next week’s forecast for the Boston area: a smug front will be rolling through. 31-21, Patriots.
Photo: AP/Stephan Saviola