Pats at Giants Preview

Pats at Giants Preview

Pats at Giants Preview
By Josh Jacobs

It means everything to the Patriots and very little to the Giants.

On Saturday night New England and the New York Giants will meet in the windy Meadowlands. A game which was supposed to be locked up by the NFL Network will now be simulcast on CBS and NBC. It’s a big step for the NFL to deliver a potential history-breaker on national television, as only about 40% of Americans receive the NFL Network.

But let's stay on topic with what we can expect from the climax of New England’s drive to nail down the perfect 16-0 season.

To Play or not to Play, That is the Question

Rumors have been circulating around whether or not coach Tom Coughlin would insert his ailing N.Y. Giants (10-5 straight up, 9-6 against the spread) starting lineup in a game which means nothing more than to debunk New England’s (15-0 SU, 10-5 ATS) perfect record.

"Our objective is to win," Coughlin said Wednesday. "That's what we work for, that's what we prepare for, that's what we practice for. And it will be no different this week."

All indications do point to the G-Men using its starting core for at least one-half if not three quarters of the game. And how could I make this assumption? Wide receiver Plaxico Burress (941 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns), who has missed most of this year’s practices with an ankle injury, was seen running limited routes on Wednesday. Even hobbled running back Brandon Jacobs (942 rushing yards, four TDs) was taking light handoffs throughout the day.

With the No. 5 wild card spot sealed up last week with a win over Buffalo (38-21), the public might think Big Blue only has one reason to show up on Saturday. But to derail the perfect Patriots isn’t the solo reasoning. How about entering the playoffs with a boost in moral or not allowing players to gather dust on the shelf?

If there’s one coach who knows about this situation is Seattle’s Mike Holmgren. In 2005 his Seahawks entered the last game of the season with the No. 1 seed and home field advantage. In all his wisdom, Holmgren rested a majority of his starters only to fall down in Green Bay by the score of 23-17. Now, Seattle did make it to their first Super Bowl appearance, but to say that putting their starters to pasture for the last game of the regular season was a direct correlation to getting the ‘L’ against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL is a far reach to say the least.

And what about New England?

Every player, fan and bettor knows the achievement of grabbing a 16-0 season, a plateau which has never been accomplished. But what is the cost of putting yourself in the history books versus slipping on another Super Bowl ring?

To be honest, the Patriots are that team which can file both challenges into their long list of dynasty feats. Even if field general Tom Brady gets the bench sometime throughout this battle, New England is just that deep to plug and play with its pool of players. Case in point, 21 different players have scored touchdowns this season!

Inside the Game

Watching the Giants on a weekly basis, I can attest that holding teams to just 199.2 YPG through the air is impressive. Where have I been? Whether it’s been corner back Sam Madison getting burnt down the lines or in the center of the field, New York has surprised me with its attack against opposing receivers.

But then again the G-Men haven’t seen the talent that New England’s QB Brady (4,450 passing yards with 48 TDs) and WR Randy Moss bring to the turf. Hands down the best connection core in the NFL this year, Moss has fielded 1,393 receiving yards with 21 TDs (averaging 15.1 yards per catch). And the connection through the air doesn’t end in Moss’ hands. How about wide outs Wes Walker and Donte’ Stallworth. The two have exposed the opposing secondary for a combined 1,718 yards with 11 scores.

While it shouldn’t come as a surprise, when Brady has placed the ‘skin in the air for 300 yards plus, the Pats have gone 6-1 ATS. Five of those ATS wins came when New England was favored by double-digit figures.

Not even a close comparison in the passing department, Giants signal caller Eli Manning (3,244 passing yards, 24 scores with a career high 19 INTs) continues to prove that the second half of the season is a tough place for the four-year slinger. Thirteen of Manning’s 24 TDs where produced from Week 1 up until the bye week in Week 9. Then a free fall ensued, with Manning finding receivers in the end zone for a low six times, while opponents stepped up in front of the ball for 10 picks.

It’s really hard to gauge, or even predict, Manning’s erratic play from year to year. New York was still able to go 4-2 SU and ATS when it’s starting QB threw two or more picks in 2007.

Keys to an Upset

It might be crystal clear to the bettor that New England is by far the superior team in this contest. With factors including weather (which looks to be a clear night at the Meadowlands), playing time for the starters, a dominating Pats crowd in enemy territory and pages in the history book at stake, what can the Giants do to keep the spread in attainable distance?

First off is a pass attack from the defensive ends and linebackers. Dropping too many out of the box is sure to be disaster, but DE Osi Umenyiora (with his team leading 13 sacks) and Justin Tuck (10 sacks) can be a disruptive force for New England’s passing game.

If there’s one point of interest to make, it’s that the Pats’ QB Brady seems to have way too much time in the pocket. And when the comfort area between the tackles begins to collapse his sixth sense of releasing the ball in danger is magical. Ranked 11th in the league, Brady has only been sacked 20 times this year.

With a handful of trends supporting New England’s quest to cover the spread here are some that go against the grain; the Pats are 1-4 ATS in their last five following a SU win, are 1-4 ATS in their last five when installed as the favorite and are 1-4 ATS in their last five as a favorite of 10 ½ or more points.

Giant Run

If the Giants want a chance at coming close to staging an upset, the rush attack must be in overdrive. New York’s RB Jacobs is a beast up the middle but the key might just lie in rookie rusher Ahmad Bradshaw out of Marshal. While one game doesn’t shape a career, Bradshaw put together a tremendous effort against Buffalo last week, adding up 151 rushing yards with one score. But with New England ranked No. 9 in run defense (allowing 99.4 YPG), the Giants could be forced into a corner if the run doesn’t take pressure of the air game.

Final Notes

I will be attending this game for a glimpse at a possible historic event in the making. With that said, I’m personally feeling that New York will show up until midway through the game when all of a sudden, the reality of how meaningless this contest is to the Giants will strike coach Coughlin like a lightning bolt. Beating an undefeated team in the last week of NFL season is very significant but what’s more important then taking a Super Bowl?     

For New England things are different. This squad is no doubt a dynasty and making a run at a 16-0 SU record on the season would be the icing on the cake and cherry on top. With most books installing New York as a 14-point home ‘underdog, I’m a true believer that this game could end up becoming a close call. That’s if the Giants could or would place the starting team on the field for a majority of the game.

As it looks right now, New England takes this game by just over 14 points.

The G-Men will bring out a very stingy defense, holding teams to 299.9 YPG (sixth best in the league) with the most sacks in the league (52 sacks on the year). However, the Patriots are just as good if not better.

New England’s secondary is responsible for 18 INTs and is holding opponent signal callers to a low 75.4 QB rating. The Pats are 21-5 ATS in their last 26 games after allowing less than 250 total yards in their previous game.

A total of 46½ points has been set for this 8:15 p.m. EST contest.

The ‘over’ has hit 13 times in the Pats' last 17 games after allowing less than 150 yards passing in their previous game.

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Game Preview for Patriots vs Giants

(Sports Network) - Several pieces of history will be at stake at Giants Stadium on Saturday night, when the New England Patriots face the New York Giants in the regular season finale for a pair of playoff-bound teams.

The Patriots are vying to become the first team, since NFL schedules expanded to 16 games in 1978, to finish the regular season with a perfect 16-0 mark. New England would also keep in its sights a chance to become just the second team in league history to finish unbeaten throughout the regular season and playoffs, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

The 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears also finished the regular season undefeated, but were defeated in the NFL Championship.

Other enticements for New England on Saturday include the ability to surpass its own NFL record for consecutive regular season wins, set in 2003-04 with 18 consecutive. The Pats won their final three contests of the 2006 regular season.

The juggernaut Patriots offense can also carve out a large place in NFL history against the Giants.

Bill Belichick's club has 551 points on the season, just five back of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings' NFL mark of 556. New England's 71 touchdowns are already the most in a campaign, one more than the 70 scored by the 1984 Dolphins.

The two most prominent members of the vaunted Pats attack - quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss - are nearing some major statistical achievements of their own.

With 48 touchdown passes on the year, Brady is just one back of Peyton Manning's 2004 single-season NFL mark of 49 TD strikes.

Moss, meanwhile, has 21 touchdown catches in 2007, one behind Jerry Rice's league mark of 22, set in just 12 games played during the 1987 season.

How important setting those records is for the Patriots, or avoiding them is for the Giants, remains to be seen in what is essentially a meaningless game for both clubs.

AFC East Champion New England locked up the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs two weeks ago, and could host any one of five teams in the Divisional Playoff round.

New York, meanwhile, sealed the top Wild Card berth in the NFC with last week's 38-21 win at Buffalo, and the G-Men will travel to play South division champion Tampa Bay in the First-Round next weekend.

SERIES HISTORY

The Patriots have a 4-3 edge in their all-time series with the Giants, and have won three straight since New York took down New England by a 13-10 count at Foxboro Stadium in 1990. New England was a 17-6 home winner when the teams last met, in 2003, and was a 23-22 victor when it last traveled to play the G- Men at the Meadowlands, in 1996. The Giants' only home win over the Patriots came in 1987.

The Pats are 6-0 at the Meadowlands since last losing there, to the Jets, in 2001.

The Patriots and Giants also met in the 2007 preseason, with New England taking a 27-20 decision at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 30.

Belichick, who served as an assistant coach with the Giants from 1979 through 1990, is 1-2 against his former employer, with both losses coming during his tenure in Cleveland (1991-1995).

The Giants' Tom Coughlin is 1-3 all-time against the Patriots, with all of those games dating back to his tenure with the Jaguars (1995-2002). That record includes a 20-6 loss to New England in the 1996 AFC Championship, and a 25-10 win in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff. Coughlin is 2-0 head-to-head against Belichick, with both wins coming for his Jaguars against Belichick's Browns in 1995.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

Not surprisingly, New England enters Saturday's tilt topping the NFL in total offense (412.7 yards per game), passing offense (292.3 yards per game), and scoring offense (36.7 points per game), and has also lost an NFL-low 15 turnovers on the season. Brady heads into the Giants contest leading the NFL in passing yards (4450), touchdown passes (48), and passer rating (117.2). If it holds up, the latter mark would rank second in league annals, behind only Manning's single-season rating of 121.1 in 2004. Moss (92 receptions, 21 TD) has been Brady's most feared target all year, though he hasn't been his most frequent one. Wes Welker (101 receptions, 8 TD) last week tied the team single-season mark of 101 catches set by Troy Brown in 2001. Jabar Gaffney (36 receptions, 5 TD), who has four touchdowns in his past five games, has also seen his production spike of late. The Patriots running game has been an afterthought all year, though Laurence Maroney (789 rushing yards, 4 TD) comes in on the heels of back-to-back 100-yard games. Maroney's 156 ground yards against Miami last Sunday were a career-high.

It is interesting to note, given the relatively meaningless nature of Saturday's game, that Brady will be facing a Giants defense that has put more pressure on the quarterback than any other team in the league. New York leads the NFL in sacks with 52 as Week 17 begins, and ends Osi Umenyiora (49 tackles, 13 sacks) and Michael Strahan (52 tackles, 9 sacks) will be among those trying to keep Brady from his usual comfort zone on Saturday. A strong effort from those players will take some pressure off of a secondary that has experienced hot and cold moments this season. Giants corners Sam Madison (65 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack), Aaron Ross (36 tackles, 3 INT, 1.5 sacks), and Corey Webster (16 tackles, 1 INT) will have their hands full with the Patriots receiving corps on Saturday, and safeties Gibril Wilson (84 tackles, 4 INT) and James Butler (53 tackles, 1 INT) will have to lend assistance. Madison and Webster both had interceptions of Buffalo signal-caller Trent Edwards last Sunday. The G-Men are a middle-of-the-road 12th in the NFL against the run (101.3 yards per game), with middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (96 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and weak side man Kawika Mitchell (75 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) ranking as two of the club's most capable tacklers.

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

Though most of this game's focus will be on the other offense and its pursuit of history, more than one member of the Giants attack can reach an important statistical plateau on Sunday. Running back Brandon Jacobs (942 rushing yards, 18 receptions, 5 TD) needs 58 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career, and is expected to play despite injuring an ankle in last week's game against Buffalo. New York wideout Plaxico Burress (66 receptions, 10 TD), meanwhile, needs 59 yards for his fourth career 1,000-yard season, and should also be in the lineup despite a chronic ankle problem of his own. One player that could be sidelined for the Giants is rookie rusher Ahmad Bradshaw (190 rushing yards, 1 TD), who burst on the scene with a 17-carry, 151-yard outing last week in Buffalo, but is nursing a calf problem. Quarterback Eli Manning (3085 passing yards, 19 TD, 19 INT) has six touchdown passes versus 10 interceptions in his last eight games, and completed a season-low seven passes (on 15 attempts) in last Sunday's win over the Bills. Six of those completions went to No. 2 receiver Amani Toomer (55 receptions, 3 TD).

The New England defense operates in the shadow of the team's prolific attack, but has been excellent in its own right all season. The Patriots are tied with the Buccaneers for the lead in NFL scoring defense (15.9 points per game), and the work of the defense has enabled the team to near a league mark for scoring margin. The Pats have outscored their opponents by 312 points (an average margin of 20.8 per game), bettering to this point the record of 292 points by the 1942 Bears. New England is fifth against the pass (186.9 yards per game) thanks in large part to a pass rush that has generated 46 sacks. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (75 tackles, 12.5 sacks) has been the team's most consistent pass rusher, and cornerback Asante Samuel (40 tackles, 6 INT) the club's best playmaker in the secondary. Vrabel had two of New England's seven sacks against Miami last Sunday. The unit is ninth in the league against the run (99.5 yards per game), though its 4.4 yards allowed per rush ranks near the bottom of the NFL chart. The three-man line of Vince Wilfork (45 tackles, 2 sacks) at nose tackle and Richard Seymour (21 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Ty Warren (48 tackles, 4 sacks) at the ends sets the tone for the ground-stopping effort, and linebackers Tedy Bruschi (89 tackles, 2 sacks) and Junior Seau (68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT) have made a ton of tackles behind that group.

FANTASY FOCUS

Most fantasy league playoffs end in Week 16, and the circumstance presented in this game is a major reason why. It is unclear how much either team's starters will remain in the contest, though the fact that both clubs have players that are going for records or statistical milestones means players like Brady, Moss, Jacobs, and Burress should see a significant chunk of action. You can start your key guys, just don't necessarily expect them to be in the game in the fourth quarter.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

When you remove all of the record-related hoopla surrounding this game, you are left with the fact that the Patriots are still a superior team to the Giants. New England would likely win this game by two touchdowns or so if this was, say, Week 7 and not Week 17. When you add in the fact that this game means much more to the Pats than it does to the G-Men, the pick here is a no- brainer. New England will be focused on jumping out to a big lead so that New York can't threaten its shot at perfection. Once the Giants fall behind, look for Coughlin to start pulling out key players in the interests of keeping them fresh for Tampa Bay.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 35, Giants 13

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New England (15-0, 10-5 ATS) at N.Y. Giants (10-5, 9-6 ATS)

The only thing standing between the Patriots and the first 16-0 season in NFL history is the New York Giants, who after last week’s wild-card clinching win in Buffalo have absolutely nothing to play for in tonight’s prime-time matchup at The Meadowlands.

New England became the first team in NFL history to start a season 15-0 by topping the Dolphins 28-7 last week. The Patriots have tied their own record with 18 consecutive regular-season wins. On the downside, they were shutout in the second half for the first time all year and failed to cash as a 22-point favorite. After starting the season 8-0 ATS, Bill Belichick’s team is just 2-5 against the number, including 1-4 ATS in the last five, all as a double-digit chalk.

The Giants wrapped up their third consecutive postseason berth and clinched the NFC’s fifth seed with a wild 38-21 victory at Buffalo, covering as a 2½-point road favorite. New York trailed by margins of 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-17 after three quarters, but found the end zone three times in the final stanza, scoring on two defensive TDs and an 88-yard run by rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s run helped the Giants roll up 291 rushing yards, their most since 1959.

New England is 5-2 ATS in its seven road victories. However, the Pats’ most recent road contest was their closest call of the season, as they scored with less than a minute to play to rally past Baltimore 27-24 as a 19-point chalk. Still, for the season, they outscore their opponents by 20 points per game on the road (39-19) and outgain them by 114 ypg (415-301).

While New York finished the season with a seven-game road winning streak, it has dropped three in a row at the Meadowlands, getting outscored by the combined tally of 94-47 in losses to the Cowboys, Vikings and Redskins. The Giants average 20.6 points and 301 yards per game at home, while giving up 24.4 points and 283.6 yards. Going back to 2006, Tom Coughlin’s squad is mired in a 3-8-1 ATS funk at home.

New England’s record-setting offense leads the NFL in scoring (36.7 points per game) and total yards (412.7 per game). The Pats have already set a single-season NFL mark for most touchdowns in a game and they need six points to shatter the season-season scoring record set by the 1998 Vikings.

Patriots QB Tom Brady (68 percent completion rate, 4,450 passing yards) tossed two more TD passes last week against Miami to run his season total to 48 against just eight INTs. He needs one more TD toss to tie Peyton Manning’s single-season record, while WR Randy Moss (92 catches, 1,393 yards, 21 TDs) needs one TD reception to tie Jerry’ Rice’s single-season mark.

While Brady has put up gaudy numbers this season, his counterpart today, New York’s Eli Manning, has been mediocre at best, completing 55.4 percent of his tosses for 3,085 yards with as many INTs (19) as TD passes. Manning’s 71.0 QB rating pales in comparison to Brady’s league-leading 117.2 rating.

The Patriots are on spread runs of 12-3 as a road chalk, 30-12-1 overall on the road, 41-18-3 against winning teams, 15-7 in December, 7-1 in season finales, 6-2-1 on Saturdays.

New York is on ATS streaks of 9-4 overall, 4-1 in season finales, 4-1 in December and 5-1 on Saturdays.

These squads faced off in the final week of the preseason, and the Patriots scored a 27-20 win as a three-point road chalk.

New England has stayed under the total in three straight games (all at home) after starting the season on 10-2 “over” tear. The under is also 8-0-1 in the Patriots’ last nine Saturday contests. However, the over is 4-1 in New England’s last five on the road, 15-6 in its last 21 overall, 4-1 in New York’s last five at home.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND

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