On Friday, we made our Super Bowl picks on PFT Live, at the end of a show featuring Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Super Bowl XXXV-winning coach Brian Billick, now of FOX and NFL Network.
But since some of you still don’t watch PFT Live on a regular basis (we know who you are), we decided it would make sense to put our official picks in print for the purposes of posterity.
And while I was tempted to disagree with Rosenthal simply for the purposes of having a chance to beat him, I decided in the end that I’d rather be right than victorious in a meaningless contest, which has even less meaning given that he won it this year. And last year. But not the year before that, primarily because we didn’t do it.
Florio’s take: The Giants are the better team. I made that same concession before the NFC title game, right before picking the 49ers to win. It was the third straight time I’d picked against the Giants in the postseason. I’d also picked them to lose to the Cowboys in Week 17. And so I’m risking a Bradshaw-style berating if I do it again.
Apart from that reality, I can’t see how the Patriots will effectively defend the Giants passing attack. As Greg Cosell, executive producer of ESPN’s NFL Matchup, predicted this week on PFT Live, the Pats likely will target Victor Cruz with a linebacker in the slot, who’ll hit Cruz before rushing quarterback Eli Manning. Similar attention likely will be given to Hakeem Nicks, which will create openings in the running game (something Mike Martz refused to exploit 10 years ago). It also will make it easier to throw to guys like Jake Ballard and Mario Manningham.
On the other side of the ball, a depleted Rob Gronkowski could end up being a decoy, or perhaps a glorified offensive tackle, helping take the steam out of a pass rush that regularly put Tom Brady on his behind four years ago. Brady will have to get rid of the ball faster, or the blockers will have to buy him more time.
Somehow, the Patriots remain favored to win. And that comes from the perception that Brady and coach Bill Belichick will find a way. That determination finds a significant boost from the memory of Myra Kraft, whose initials are stitched to the players’ jerseys. I’ve been saying for weeks that the desire to honor her in a proper way and to bring some temporary happiness to a still-grieving Robert Kraft will galvanize the locker room. When I saw running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis touching the patch after scoring a touchdown against the Ravens two weeks ago, my pick for the Super Bowl had been made.
It won’t be easy — it may even require overtime — but it’s impossible to imagine anything other than the proper ending to this story.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 30, Giants 27.
Rosenthal’s take: This Patriots team doesn’t make a lot of sense. But they didn’t make a lot of sense in 2001 when Antowain Smith was their starting running back or in 2003 when every game was game was close and Troy Brown was playing cornerback.
Bill Belichick was relaxed this week because he loves this team. He knows his defensive line is playing its best football and has an advantage against the Giants. He knows Tom Brady is ready for one more signature performance.
I wrote earlier this week that the Giants have the advantage if both teams played their absolute best. But teams don’t play their best against the Patriots, especially when Belichick and Brady get a second chance at them.
Eli Manning is having a great year. He’s not an all-time great.
Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 23, Giants 20.