Giants’ defense steps up, Manning earns second Super Bowl title

   There is only one elite team playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday: the New York Giants.

   Nobody believed in them when an injury-plagued season had them at 7-7. The Giants' bandwagon, however, began growing after they dominated the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and then the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 in the divisional round of the playoffs. 

   Still, not many experts believed they could beat the best team in the NFL: the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. The Giants' defense proved them wrong and dismantled the league's highest scoring offense with four sacks and four turnovers in a convincing 37-20 win.

   After winning with offensive force, the Giants buckled down and grinded out a defense-dominated 20-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers in harsh weather conditions, putting them in the Super Bowl. 

   The Patriots, meanwhile, have rattled off 10 straight victories. Ten straight victories would be impressive if there was more than one opponent with a winning record. Until the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens last week – on a missed short field goal attempt by the Ravens' kicker – the Patriots hadn't beaten a team that finished the year with a winning record.  

   The last team the Patriots had played with a winning record was in week nine. They hosted the Giants and lost.

   New England's struggles are largely due to their defense. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Patriots' defense was ranked 31st out of 32 teams. The team allowed over 400 yards a game. The unit only held together in the postseason because they faced below-average offenses from the Ravens (15th) and Denver Broncos (23rd). 

   They haven't truly been tested.

   New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for over 300 yards per game in his Pro-Bowl season. He led the Giants to six fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins and threw an NFL-record 15 touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

   Manning's passing has been complemented by a resurgent running game during the postseason (over 115 yards per game). The Giants have posted 27 points per game during the postseason and will face the next-to-last defense in the Super Bowl. 

   So the question seems to be whether or not the Giants will be able to slow down the potent Patriots' offense. The simple answer is that they have already held New England to 20 points this season even when the Patriots were home and the Giants were not healthy. 

   The key to this matchup is the pressure that the Giants are able to generate from their defensive line. This allows seven players to drop back and cover the Patriots' four or five receivers. Brady underperforms when he is uncomfortable in the pocket, like last week against the Ravens when they held him under 240 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

   Las Vegas has the Patriots listed as a slight favorite. The Falcons were once favorites. So were the Packers and 49ers.

   The Giants will win 31-20.

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