Patriots' Light must hold up against Giants' fierce pass rushers
Giants will win Super Bowl XLVI, but it will be a close game all the way to the wire
Matt Light can expect to see a lot of Osi Umenyiora and Jason-Pierre Paul
Game plan Pats might use means more Aaron Hernandez than Rob Gronkowski
INDIANAPOLIS -- This city's outdone itself. It's been a great game site for the Super Bowl. So much to do downtown, all on foot, and the natives and even the drunks are in great moods. The meteorologists have helped, but there's something to be said for a vibrant downtown hosting everything at a Super Bowl, and holding the Super Bowl in a place where you never have to get in a car.
This is my prediction column for Super Bowl 46, with a few notes about the Hall of Fame voting, which takes place Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.
Regarding the prediction: I came here liking the Giants. I began to out-think myself when I saw Bill Belichick as relaxed and confident as I've seen him before a game, figuring: The guy knows something. He's just too smug. I'm sure he does, and I'm sure he'll toss the Giants a few surprises Sunday night. Like he did in the Week 9 meeting between the teams, won by the Giants.
I watched that game again this week. Strange deal. On eight of New England's first 15 offensive snaps, stretching to the first play of the second quarter, New England had six or seven offensive linemen on the field. Rookie Nate Solder was lined up as an eligible tight end, either outside the shoulder of left tackle Matt Light or right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and the Patriots opened the game playing smashmouth. They ran on five of those eight heavy-line plays and gained 29 yards.
So if Belichick did that last time, I bet he doesn't do it nearly as much this time. You can drive yourself crazy thinking that way, but that's how I'm going to think about this game. The Giants have all this tape to over-analyze, and they're going to look back at the success the Patriots had in these heavy sets in Week 9, and they're surely going to think New England's going to go with the six- and seven-man lines again, particularly with the knowledge that the Giants have such a formidable rush. So Belichick will change it up this time. This time he'll rely on his line holding up so Tom Brady can make quick throws to Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez in space, and to Wes Welker on intermediate routes.
I'm not sure how big a deal to make of the Rob Gronkowski injury. Dwight Freeney, who had a similar high ankle sprain in the Super Bowl two years ago for Indianapolis, said something interesting on the Bob Costas NFL Town Hall special last night on NBC Sports Network. He felt OK on game day and made an impact in the first half against the Saints. But the 35-minute halftime break killed him. He said the ankle stiffened and he was a totally different player after the long layoff, playing sparingly with no impact in the second half. You have to think pushing off, or the lack of an ability to, will hurt Gronkowski (I love all those big tight end monikers he has -- The Gronk, Gronkie, Gronkle) and limit his impact on the game. New England should try to get him free down the seam a few times early, just to throw the fear of Gronk into the Giants.
Crippling Gronkowski Stat of the Week: He was targeted by Brady 15 times in the first game this year, the most he's been targeted in a game in his two-year career.
Non-Crippling Gronkowski Stat of the Week: Targets since Dec. 1 -- Hernandez 61, Gronkowski 60. Brady will have to throw fast in this game, and he'll have to find guys who can make the Giants miss in space. That's Hernandez's role. So I think Brady will be able to do damage even if Gronkowski is only a minor factor.
Matt Light will be a huge factor for New England in this game. It's been a good week for Light. He put a couple of Super Bowl tickets, plus lodging and transportation, up for raffle to benefit his camp for troubled teens in Ohio, and by the time the winner was drawn Thursday, the raffle had raised $272,000. What a country. If only Sunday would go so well.
To me, the most significant matchup in the game is how the Patriots handle the Giants' right-end position, opposite Light. In the last four Giants' games -- all, basically, playoff games, starting the last game of the regular season against Dallas -- the two guys who play right end for the Giants, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, have eight sacks and 25 quarterback hits/hurries/pressures. (They also play in different spots on the line. ProFootballFocus.com charts snaps played and positions played, and PFF has Umenyiora with 82 of his 117 snaps at right end in the last four games, and Pierre-Paul with 87 of his 161 plays at right end.) If the recent history holds, Light will see Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul about 42 times Sunday. And Light had better be good.
"The good thing about left tackle,'' Light said this week, "is you'll never have a perfect game. Left tackle and golf. Same thing.''
He doesn't have to be perfect. But let's say he has Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul across from him 42 times Sunday. Light had better be damn good on 38 to 40 of them.
On the other side of the ball, I think the three Giants receiving weapons, plus Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard at tight end, will make enough plays for New York to score in the 20s. That's a boring, predictable analysis. But I don't see Ahmad Bradshaw being much of a factor -- Kyle Love, Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork are stopping the run well right now -- and Eli Manning will have to go to the air to win. He can do that.
Final score in the House That Peyton Built: Peyton's Brother 23, Peyton's Archrival 20, with Peyton watching from on high.
Ten Hall of Fame thoughts on the eve of the vote for the Class of 2012, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday in downtown Indianapolis:
1. Momentum building for Eddie DeBartolo, who has had some heavy-hitters, including former Niner exec Carmen Policy, campaigning hard for him. It'll be interesting to see if being the most beloved owner by his players carries a lot of weight. DeBartolo didn't do as much for the league as a whole as a Bob Kraft, Art Modell or Dan Rooney, but he did run a great team for a long time.
2. Bill Parcells probably should be a favorite to make it (10th all-time in wins, two Super Bowl wins, took four franchises to the playoffs), but you never know how much momentum new guys will have in the room among the 44 voters. Some of the voters aren't fond of the prickly Parcells, but he does have more wins than the four coaches -- Marv Levy, George Allen, John Madden and Hank Stram -- who've been enshrined since 2000, and none of them have more Super Bowl rings than Parcells.
3. Maybe I'm na´ve, but I think this is the year the wide receiver logjam gets broken. I see Andre Reed getting in, though I believe Cris Carter is more deserving.
4. No locks in an off year for the Hall, but Steelers center Dermontti Dawson looks like the leader in the clubhouse to me.
5. Next man up, after Dawson? Charles Haley looks like he could be this year's Richard Dent -- the guy who was close for a long time and finally got in, in part because voters are trying to make sure they don't perpetuate the mistake of the past by electing far more offensive players than defensive.
6. Next: Willie Roaf, Curtis Martin (who seems to have more momentum than Jerome Bettis). After that, it's totally jumbled. Parcells would be my best guess.
7. I still think Cortez Kennedy and Kevin Greene, who've been lost in the shuffle over the years, are very strong candidates and would be deserving selections.
8. Interesting class of 2013 candidates could make this a must year for some of the bubble candidates. Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden and Warren Sapp come up for election next year.
9. I could see the five modern-era slots yield fewer than five Hall of Famers. The way the voting works is each of the five finalists is voted on in secret ballot by the 44 Hall selectors. If 80 percent of the voters say yes for a candidate, he's in. Less than 80, he's out. So nine "no" votes on a finalist scuttles him.
10. I expect a long meeting. Seven hours, maybe. NFL Network airs the results live at 5:30 p.m., and you'll know when I do. We walk out of the room not knowing which of the five modern-era finalists and two Seniors candidates make it.