Thursday night’s game popped the lid off MetLife Stadium, where Rex Ryan exacted some form of revenge on the Jets — then shrieked and cussed and contorted like he just won the Super Bowl. Now two teams that actually win Super Bowls are set to meet in the same building a few days hence.
The New England Patriots (8-0) roll into the Meadowlands to play the New York Giants (5-4). And if it were anyone but the Giants, you’d assume the Patriots would just vaporize them as they have the rest of the NFL this year.
For whatever reason, the Giants have proven to be a kind of kryptonite to the Pats. (New Yorkers point to a rabid pass rush and the QB’s epic cool in big spots.) Over the last 15 years, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been wizards at working a team’s weakness, except when they play Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin.
Big Blue has relied on a blue-collar ethic and an old-school, three-pronged game plan: keep the ball away from Brady, hit him hard and often when he has it and let Eli do his thing at the end. The last three times Manning has played the Patriots, he’s had a 98 QBR in the fourth quarter.
Eli Manning and Tom Brady have played four times, with Manning winning three. He’s thrown nine touchdowns and three interceptions, Brady has seven TDs and three interceptions. And, of course, two of those wins were in the Super Bowl. The overall numbers are similar, and the games are close. That’s usually a template for Tom Brady to shine.
If you’re a gambler, those seven points are looking pretty tasty. The Giants, a fingernail above the Eagles in the NFC East, have more motivation. They’re at home, and are banking on the return of Jason Pierre-Paul to revive a defense that ranks dead last in sacks. Yes, he’s returning with only one whole hand, but even a diminished JPP should be enough to keep Brady’s head on a swivel.
Word is Jamie Collins, the Patriots’ stalwart pass rusher, has been sick all week, which would give Eli more time to toss the ball. They no longer have Darrelle Revis. And not even Belichick can solve the athletic savant who is Odell Beckham Jr. The electric wideout is torching NFL secondaries in a way we haven’t seen since Randy Moss exploded into our living rooms in 1998.
Rashard Jennings and former Patriot Shane Vereen don’t remind anyone of the bruising duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahman Bradshaw. But with the rules bent so severely toward passing, Manning is having one of his best seasons (2,339 yards, 19 TD, 6 INT).
The Giants can score. And so can the Pats, who sport the NFL’s top-ranked offense. But the G-Men flaunt the league’s fifth-best offense. We just don’t know if they can match the pyrotechnic Patriots.
Of course, they would be even more formidable with Victor Cruz, whose calf has confounded all Giants fans. After injuring his knee last year, Cruz brought a Showtime camera crew to chronicle his return, which still hasn’t happened.
Sure, two weeks ago, Drew Brees dropped seven touchdowns on the Giants. But that was in New Orleans, an eerie football crucible for the Giants. For some reason, the Giants just forget how to play ball in the Bayou.
Brady is playing with military focus and biblical fury. The chip on his shoulder rivals the one he had in 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0. Then 18-0. Then they played the Giants.
That’s not to say this is a Super Bowl redux. Odds are New England leaves New Jersey 9-0. But if they don’t, it shouldn’t shock anyone.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.