By Evan Slavit
Mark Sanchez, Tyler Palko, Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow, Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco. What do these quarterbacks have in common? They all lost to the Patriots this season during the Pats’ current 10-game win streak. Of those quarterbacks, more than half of them did not begin the season as the starter. In fact, outside of Tebow and Flacco, it is possible that none of them will be starters for their team next season, and none of them will be making the Pro Bowl anytime soon.
Those teams had a combined 62-82 record (or 70-90 if you want to count the Broncos twice) and only one, the Ravens, had a winning record. So what is the point of all this? The Patriots really haven’t been tested this season. They have played only a handful of good quarterbacks, and two of them—Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning—have beaten them.
On the flip side, the Giants have beaten Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith. Of those quarterbacks only Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith haven’t been to the Pro Bowl, but both teams have top 10 defenses. Those teams had a combined record of 54-26. That is only 16 fewer wins in half the games. To put that another way, if the Giants won five more games in this stretch, the teams would only need to have an average of four wins to give the Giants a more impressive winning streak than the Pats.
The last two times the Giants played the Patriots, the Giants won. That includes a 17-14 victory on a neutral site in Super Bowl XLII and a 24-20 victory at Foxboro.
On paper, the Giants and Patriots seem like very similar teams. Both had bad defenses (Giants ranked 27th in total defense, the Pats were 31st), mediocre running games (Giants ranked 32nd and Pats ranked 20th), but elite passing offense (Giants ranked fifth and Pats ranked second). The difference is the Giants have turned that around in their current winning streak.
In the five do-or-die games the Giants have played since week 16 of the regular season, they have let up a total of 318.8 yards per game (ypg), a number that would rank them eighth in the NFL during the regular season.
To break that number down further, they have let an average of 215.8 ypg through the air (good for 10th in the NFL) and 103 on the ground (ninth in the NFL). That number becomes even more impressive if you knock out the yards the quarterbacks ran in those games. The number would then be 81.4 ypg on the ground (second in the NFL).
As for their running game, the Giants averaged 114.6 ypg on the ground which would rank them 17th in the NFL. That is only average, but worlds better than the 32nd rank (out of 32) the Giants compiled during the regular season. To top this all off, they have won their five games by a combined score of 141-67 (or an average of 28.2-13.4). In terms of NFL ranking, that would be the fifth best scoring offense and the league’s top scoring defense.
Adding on to those rankings is the fact that the Giants finished the regular season ranked third in the NFL with 48 sacks, and are currently tied for the most postseason sacks with nine.
Basically, the Giants have been a significantly different and better team during this stretch than they were during most of the season. That includes the Giants’ victory over the Patriots back in week nine.
What the Ravens showed last week, and the Steelers and Giants showed in weeks eight and nine respectively, is a good pass rush and defense can slow the Patriots offense. In those games, the Patriots scored an average of 20 points per game, and went 1-2. Their one win in those games came when Lee Evans dropped a touchdown pass, and Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot field goal to end the game.
With the way the Giants have been playing defensively, you have to believe the Patriots high- powered offense will, again, be slowed down. Adding to that is the uncertainty of the Patriots most dangerous receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship game. That is the same injury that kept Maurkice Pouncey out of the Super Bowl last season, and caused Dwight Freeney to freeze up in the second half back in 2009 when the Colts were in the Super Bowl.
On the flip side, the Pats’ secondary has still been a problem. Currently the Patriots are dressing wide receivers and waiver wire pickups as starting corners. That is not going to cut it against the dangerous receiving core the Giants have.
More importantly is the fact that the Pats have only been able to pick off one pass total this postseason against the likes of Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco, all while Tom Brady has thrown three. For the Giants, Eli Manning has only thrown one this postseason. If the Patriots lose the turnover battle on Sunday, the Giants are likely to win.
The big reason to support the Patriots is the fact that they have the better quarterback and head coach. Those factors didn’t help them in 2007 when they had a vastly superior team, so it is hard to believe they will have much more of an effect this time.
Giants 27 Patriots 23.