And the winner is ...

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 31, 2008



And it's all come down to this.
 
Our Super Bowl Friday Beer Run is more explicit than the contents of your hard drive, as we use our Quality Stats to determine who really has those little advantages that will help them win the biggest game of the year.
 
And the Super Bowl has never been bigger than it is this year. One way or another, history will be made by about 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3. Either the Patriots will have secured a place in history, ending the year as the first team in history to go 19-0 and as the single most dominant team in NFL history. Or the plucky Giants will have pulled off the most improbable playoff run since the PokerNet.com guy raced naked across the field in Super Bowl XXXVIII and the biggest upset since Washington State journalism student Mark Sandritter toppled the Broadsheet Bully with a first-round KO.
 
As for the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the Giants have been our foil here in the 2007 playoffs. We're 5-5 vs. the spread and 6-4 straight up this postseason, three of our four head-to-head losses courtesy of your NFC champion New York Giants.
 
Can they shock the world (and, more importantly, us) again with a win over the mighty Patriots? Let's find out.
 
 
 
SUNDAY, 6 P.M., Fox
N.Y. GIANTS at NEW ENGLAND
Teams
14-5
Overall Record (inc. playoffs)
18-0
4-5
Quality Record (inc. playoffs)
9-0
+2.1 PPG
+13.1 PPG
+2.0 (13)
+20.8 (1) 
13.90 YPPA (24)
16.84 YPPA (6)
14.214 YPPS (13)
11.17 YPPS (1)
10.33 (6t)
5.67 (1t)
5.33 (1)
11.0 (7t)
5.51 (23)
7.79 (1)
83.4 (17)
78.1 (11)
-8 (23t)
+27 (2)
22.0 (28)
14.0 (10)
+11.5
Line
-11.5
53.5
Over/Under
53.5
* Indexes reflect regular-season finishes only. 
 
Vs. Quality Opponents 
This remains one of the most impressive statistics in NFL history, and we ain't talkin' bout the Giants. The Patriots have won all nine of their games against Quality Opponents, including eight against teams that made the playoffs -- and they did it by an average of nearly two touchdowns a game (+13.1 PPG). None of the other commonly cited superteams in the post-merger era (i.e., 1985 Bears, 972 Dolphins) faced or beat as many Quality Teams. On the other sideline, the Giants were 1-5 against Quality Opponents in the regular season, and are at 4-5 with their stirring playoff run. It's an impressive postseason run, but still adds up to average and is no match for New England's historic production against winning clubs.
 
Advantage: Big edge to New England
 
 
Relativity
This stat measures the performance of each team relative to the average performance of their opponents. New England smashed all known boundaries this year, beating their regular-season opponents by +20.8 PPG above their average game. The Giants were a mere +2.0 PPG in terms of Relativity. (In fact, New York's three-point loss to the Patriots in Week 17 was its greatest performance of the year relative to the average performance of their opponent.)
 
Even if we include the playoffs, in which the Patriots have sent fans into a hand-wringing tizzy by winning by an average of just +10.0 PPG, and the Giants have sent their fans into delirious exultations winning by an average of +5.7 PPG, the Relativity Index shows no contest:
  • the Patriots have bested their 18 opponents by +20.3 PPG above average
  • the Giants have bested their 19 opponents by +3.5 PPG above average
The Giants literally have to play so far above their heads that their noses bleed for a week to 10 days if they have any hope of victory. The Patriots literally have to play so poorly that thrift shops will turn away their threadbare effort.
 
Advantage: Big edge to New England
 
New York's offense vs. New England's defense
Eli Manning has generated all the headlines for his 0 picks in three playoff games. But the strength for New York here is its Offensive Hogs. They ranked No. 6 in the regular season but have declined dramatically here in the playoffs. New York's average per rush attempt has dropped by more than 1 YPA from the regular-season to the playoffs, and Manning has been dropped six times in 91 dropbacks in the postseason. The OL will again be tested by New England's No. 6-ranked Defensive Hogs.
 
But like the Giants on the offensive line, the Patriots have been subpar in the Defensive Hog Index numbers in the postseason, allowing 4.2 YPA (10th among the 12 playoff teams) and forcing just 6.94 percent Negative Pass Plays (down from 11.52 percent in the regular season).
 
New York's passing game was below average in the regular season (23rd in Passing Yards Per Attempt), and looked to be its Achille's heel when sizing up a postseason field filled with great pass defenses. The Giants, though, have averaged a solid 6.58 YPA in the postseason while playing three great secondaries. New England's secondary, No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating in the regular season, has allowed its two opponents a collective 71.7 passer rating in the postseason, No. 4 among the 12 playoff teams. The Patriots have the slight edge here.
 
New York's Scoreability has been a huge factor in its postseason run – they've only needed 12.98 yards per point, a big step forward from their mediocre in-season performance (13th overall). But the Patriots, No. 6 in Bendability in the regular season, have been incredible in the two games, forcing opponents to use 20.65 yards for every point (anything over 20 is in the stratosphere for that particular number). New England has the edge here.
 
Advantage: Slight edge to New England
 
 
New England's offense vs. New York's defense
One of the big statistical match-ups is in the trenches, with New England's No. 1 Offensive Hogs vs. New York's No. 1 Defensive Hogs. In the regular season, both units were spectacular, and the Week 17 game between these two was a back and forth affair on the line of scrimmage and the scoreboard.
 
In the playoffs, New York's D-Hogs have not been as dominant. They were second in the league in 2007, forcing Negative Pass Plays on 11.52 percent of dropbacks. That figure is down to 7.08 percent here in the playoffs. The Giants also allow an incredibly poor 50-percent conversion rate in the postseason, which is literally unfathomable when you consider that they've surrendered just 51 points (17.0 PPG) here in the playoffs.
 
The Giants have been stiff against the run, however, surrendered 3.63 YPA, better than their in-season average of 3.83 YPA. New England's Offensive Hogs have been solid in the postseason, bettering their regular-season marks on third down conversions (56 percent) and rushing yards per attempt (4.90). Their Negative Pass Plays, however, are up to 9.38 percent, about double their regular-season number. This battle should be dead even. 
 
New England dominated the Giants in the passing breakdown based upon regular-season performance. The Patriots were No. 1 in Passing Yards Per Attempt in the regular season while the Giants were the worst of the 12 playoff teams in Defensive Passer Rating in the regular season (17th overall).
 
The tables have been turned in the playoffs, however. New England is averaging 6.89 YPA (adjusted for sacks), 5th of 12 in the postseason.

New York's pass defense, meanwhile, has been the single biggest statistical story of the 2007 playoffs. The Giants' Defensive Passer Rating has improved by nearly 20 points, from 83.4 in the regular season to 65.1 in the playoffs, second among postseason contenders. The Patriots still have the clear edge, but it doesn't appear to be as major as it might have been a month ago.
 
New York's last bad game on pass defense came against New England in Week 17. And this rematch will prove the pivotal battle of Super Bowl XLII. 
 
New England also had a huge regular-season edge in Scoreability/Bendability. The Patriots ranked No. 1 in Scoreability in the regular seasoon, needing just 11.17 Yards Per Point Scored, while the Giants were 24th in Bendability, forcing opponents to march just 13.90 Yards Per Point Allowed. Again, though, the Giants have been a different team in the postseason – they've forced teams to generate 17.07 Yards Per Point Allowed, an excellent efficiency number, while New England has been less efficient in January, needing 14.4 Yards Per Point Scored.
 
Advantage: Edge to New England
 
Special teams
There seems to be a general belief out there that the Giants have an advantage in this potential game-breaking area. Much of this belief is based upon the fact that New York ripped off a 74-yard special teams touchdown in the Week 17 meeting.
 
The truth is that the Patriots were fairly solid this year on special teams, while the Giants were one of the worst teams in football. New England ranked No. 10 on our Special Teams Index. New York ranked No. 28.
 
The Patriots boast a well-balanced group. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a playoff miss on his conscience, and was just 22nd in our field-goal rankings. But he's an excellent kickoff man. The Patriots ranked 11th in net kickoffs during the regular season and have been spectacular in the postseason. In the postseason, their net kickoff number is 49.0 yards, almost 10 yards better than the league average. New England's punt unit is average, making up for Chris Hanson's subpar leg with excellent coverage units. In the return game, New England was 4th in kick return average and 16th in net punt return average during the regular season, but hasn't had a significant return thus far in the playoffs.
 
New York's terrible special teams placed in the bottom 10 in four of the five categories. Lawrence Tynes made it to Letterman, but he was 23rd in our field-goal kicker rankings in the regular season and has those two misses from the Green Bay game to worry about. The Giants are also poor on kickoffs (28th) and punting (29th in net average), although veteran Jeff Feagles can be a directional weapon when punting from midfield. New York's kick/punt return teams have been good in the playoffs, with two significant returns and good averages, but were just OK in the regular season.
 
Advantage: Edge to New England
 
 
Big Plays
The Big Play Index was a huge mismatch in the regular season, maybe the biggest of any indicator. This is important to consider, too: the winner of the Big Play battle won 84.1 percent of NFL games in 2007. 
 
New England was +27 on our Big Play Index, No. 2 overall, and No. 1 in fewest Big Plays allowed. New York was -8 on our Big Play Index, easily the worst of any playoff team, and tied for 23rd overall.
 
New York has resolved the Big Play problems in a Big Way in the postseason, though. They haven't been making many (seven in three games), but they've allowed only two Big Plays. That's a remarkable improvement from a team that allowed 3.25 Big Plays per game in the regular season. New England is +2 in the playoffs after an uncharacteristic 4-2 loss in the Big Play battle during their 21-12 win over San Diego.
 
Still, the Giants are -3 for the entire season while New England is +29, so it's still a huge edge for the Patriots.
 
Advantage: Big Edge to New England
 
 
Significant injuries
The Tom Brady injury was first blown out of proportion by the national media and then disappeared from view. But the fact remains, he missed practice time and may have had a fairly serious ankle injury. It doesn't affect him the way it would affect a non-QB, but it still could have an impact on his play. Will it? Probably not. It's at least something to be concerned with until proven otherwise. For the Giants, Plaxico Burress hasn't practiced much all year and didn't this week. But he'll be ready to go. Other than that, it's all hands on deck. Although past Super Bowl history tells us there will surely be a key player somewhere who ends up getting scratched at the last minute.
 
Advantage: even
 
Weather
Unless Marvin the Martian shows up at the University of Phoenix Stadium facility with his Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator, this one will be weather free. 
 
Summary
Based upon regular-season numbers, the Patriots would be 18-20 points better than the Giants.
 
But the Giants have played like an entirely different team in the last month. Not only better, but different. Smarter, grittier, more efficient.
 
In the regular season, they won by beating crappy teams with a dominant pass rush and a running game. In the postseason, they've won by beating excellent teams with Big Play excellence, outstanding pass defense and efficiency on both sides of the ball. That's confusing, but also lets you know that New York is a team that can do a lot of different things well and beat you in many different ways. Or at least they have been this kind of team over the past three games.
 
The Patriots have been playing like a lite version of their regular season selves, doing the same things but not quite as well as they had been. Still, they averaged 26 points a game against two top-shelf defenses and did it in unfavorable conditions, and beat two teams proclaimed the "hottest" in football by an average of 10 points. And let's not forget: everyone remembers the terrible game with three picks Brady had against San Diego in the AFC title game. Some have even said the New England offense has hit the skids. But it was just a week before that he set an NFL record by completing 26 of 28 against Jacksonville.
 
To make it to the Super Bowl, you have to be playing well, and the Giants certainly are playing well. But they don't have any particular advantage on the field or in the stat sheet, and are playing against one of the most battle tested teams in NFL history: the Patriots have played in more big games over the past seven years than the Giants have played since the merger.
 
And they're playing on a neutral field with perfect conditions, exactly what the Patriots would order up for their high-powered offense. Should the Patriots come up with an early lead and the Giants are forced to exit their comfortable game-management style of the postseason, it could get ugly. If both teams play to their regular-season selves, it could get ugly. 
 
The special teams are unlikely to be a factor. And New England's offense is more or less a sure thing  – they've scored an average of 35.6 PPG vs. Quality Opponents this season and basically scored at will against the Giants in Week 17.
 
So it appears the key matchup is probably New England's defense vs. New York's offense. Can the Patriots hold the Giants down? Well, they've held Quality Opponents to 18.3 PPG over nine contests, so the answer is yes. And, New York's offense has been efficient, but has hardly set the world on fire in the playoffs. The Giants ground game has averaged just 3.5 YPA here in the playoffs and they've scored just 22.7 PPG.
 
All things considered, mighty Vegas is probably giving New York too much credit for the postseason with its 11.5 PPG spread. As we noted, this is literally the greatest statistical mismatch in championship game history. We wouldn't be surprised by an easy Patriot win, but then we wouldn't be totally shocked by a close one, either.
 
New York can do many things well, and has at times throughout the season. But they'll have to play better in every way on Sunday than they've played all year to do the one thing that would surprise us  – pull out an upset worthy of their Giants nickname.
 
The final score: New England 34, New York 17

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