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2012 NFL Season & Super Bowl Predictions

Will the Patriots roll through an easy schedule on their way to yet another Super Bowl appearance?

Does Peyton Manning’s presence make the Broncos the team to beat in the AFC West or will another team unseat Denver in the division?

Can the Eagles unseat the Giants in a tough NFC East? Will the Falcons take advantage of the Saints’ tumultuous offseason and finally get over the playoff hump?

The start of the 2012 NFL regular season is just days away, which means it’s time to hand out our predictions for the new year. Below you’ll find division-by-division picks, as well as playoff and of course Super Bowl projections as well.

Dear God, football is back.

AFC EAST
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins

The Patriots won’t suffer a letdown after reaching the Super Bowl back in February. Their offense remains steady thanks to Tom Brady and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and their defense keeps improving under Bill Belichick’s guidance. The addition of Defensive ROY candidate Chandler Jones will help the Pats pressure the quarterback, which was one of their weaknesses the last year. Considering they have the easiest schedule of all 32 NFL teams based on the opponents’ records in 2011, the Patriots shouldn’t have any issues winning the AFC East again this season…The Bills upgraded their defense with the additions of free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, as well as the selection of first-rounder Stephon Gilmore. They also have a solid offensive core in Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, plus an improving offensive line. But Buffalo will only go as far as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick takes them and unfortunately for the Bills, he’s often exposed by top defenses. While some are predicting Buffalo to reach the postseason, come the end of the year I have the Bills on the outside looking in…The offseason “battle” between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has taken the onus off the real problem in New York: The offensive line. The two years the Jets made the playoffs with Sanchez under center their defense and running game were outstanding. The defense is still one of the league’s best but they’re going to have to pitch shutouts because as the preseason showed us, the Jets are going to have a difficult time finding the end zone behind their O-line. “Gang Green” will be fortunate to finish .500 this season…The Dolphins have a new head coach, new coordinators, and a new quarterback but they’ll struggle to win games in 2011. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have proven that rookie quarterbacks can have a great deal of success their fist years in the league, but Ryan Tannehill isn’t surrounded by great talent. This isn’t the worst team in the league but the Fins will likely top out at six wins again.

AFC NORTH
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns

The offensive lines in Baltimore and Pittsburgh are both question marks entering the season but I see the Ravens’ O-line gelling throughout the season. I can’t say the same about the Steelers’ front five, which lost rookie guard David DeCastro in preseason. Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron butted heads last year because Flacco often felt that the offense was too tepid. But Flacco has been energized by Cameron’s decision to incorporate more no-huddle elements into the offense. And with the re-signing of Ray Rice and the development of budding star Torrey Smith, the Ravens’ offense is finally ready to carry this team. Granted, the defense is getting long in the tooth and the loss of Terrell Suggs is significant. But the secondary is solid and the Baltimore defense always finds a way to be productive…The Steelers will once again challenge the Ravens for first place in the division. That’s just what they do. But Ben Roethlisberger can’t keep running for his life behind a shaky offensive line. Pittsburgh thought it had upgraded the unit over the offseason but as previously mentioned, DeCastro will miss significant time due to a knee injury and second-round pick Mike Adams proved in preseason that he wasn’t ready to take over the starting right tackle spot. Pittsburgh’s defense is also aging and if younger players like Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward and Keenan Lewis don’t step up, we could see Dick LeBeau’s squad start to unravel. The Steelers are still a playoff contender but for how much longer?…The Bengals were no fluke in 2011. Andy Dalton may take a step back in his second year like most quarterbacks do, but it would be a mistake to question whether or not he can win in this league. That said, Cincinnati doesn’t have much behind star A.J. Green in its receiving corps and the depth along the defensive line and in the secondary is also thin. This team was 0-4 against the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore last season and if they can’t win games in the division I don’t see them making a repeat trip to the postseason…The Browns are once again starting over with rookies Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, who will struggle after facing soft defenses in the Big 12. While Greg Little and Josh Gordon certainly have potential, Weeden also doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiving target and outside of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, questions remain along the offensive line. Defensively, injuries continue to take their toll along the front four and while Joe Haden is a stud in the making, the secondary is littered with holes as well. In a tough division, Cleveland will have a hard time competing.

AFC SOUTH
1. Houston Texans
2. Tennessee Titans
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Indianapolis Colts

The Texans are the class of the division and they might have the most talent of any team in the AFC, which includes the Patriots. The loss of Mario Williams won’t hurt as much as some think because he simply wasn’t a fit for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Thanks to Arian Foster, Ben Tate and a very good run-blocking offensive line, the Texans will control the clock and win tight games because of their stingy defense. The biggest question is whether or not Matt Schaub can put this team on his shoulders for 16-plus games and, if guys like Andre Johnson can stay healthy…The Titans are my Cincinnati Bengals of 2012. A darkhorse if you will. Jake Locker must become a more accurate and consistent passer but he’s going to produce plenty of big plays thanks to his arm strength and OC Chris Palmer’s decision to install Run ‘N Shoot elements into his offense. Locker also has a couple of nice weapons in Kenny Britt (if he can stay healthy and out of trouble), Kendall Wright and Chris Johnson, who should have a bounce back year. Granted, the offensive line wasn’t very good from a run-blocking standpoint last year and the defense doesn’t do one thing particularly well but I like the Titans to surprise and qualify for one of the Wild Card spots…The Jaguars received huge sigh of relief when Maurice Jones-Drew finally reported to team head quarters. But holdout running backs have a tendency to struggle (look at Chris Johnson last year) when they miss all of training camp and preseason, and Blaine Gabbert will still suffer through plenty of ups and downs. That said, this team will be more competitive than it was a year ago. Gabbert has made marked improvements as a passer and the addition of Justin Blackmon gives this team a much needed playmaker at receiver…The Colts will be better than they were a year ago because of rookie QB Andrew Luck, who looks like the real deal. But there’s not much around him. It’ll be a year or two before Chuck Pagano can get the right pieces in place to run his 3-4 defense and the Colts simply don’t have enough weapons on offense to be competitive.

AFC WEST
1. Denver Broncos
2. San Diego Chargers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Oakland Raiders

The Broncos have a brutal first-half schedule but if Tim Tebow can win a playoff game in Denver than logic dictates that Peyton Manning can do the same. As long as Manning stays healthy and the defense doesn’t take a step back, the Broncos should win this division…That said, the Chargers might have the best starters of the four teams in the West, and if they can finally start out of the gates hot they could very well win the division. Robert Meachem isn’t Vincent Jackson but he deserves a chance to prove that he can be a No. 1 guy and when healthy, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews give Philip Rivers a couple of nice weapons. That said, the left tackle position is a concern and the defense underachieved last year. The top spot is up for grabs in this division but in the end I see the Broncos losing one less game than the Bolts…The Chiefs might have the most overall talent and the deepest depth of any team in the division. The problem is that Matt Cassel is their quarterback and while some are predicting that Kansas City will win the West, I just can’t put my faith behind Cassel. That said, thanks to Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Jon Baldwin and Romeo Crennel’s defense, the Chiefs will keep things interesting…The Raiders narrowly missed the playoffs a year ago but they’re going to pay for past mistakes, specifically Hue Jackson’s decision to trade a first round pick for Carson Palmer last season. Palmer looked shaky in preseason and the offense won’t be as explosive under Gregg Knapp as it was last year under Jackson. If Darren McFadden can stay healthy Oakland will be competitive and the defense does look like it’s improved. But there’s no question that Palmer is on the down slope of his career and it’s not unrealistic to suggest he’s finished as a productive quarterback.

NFC EAST
1. New York Giants
2. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Washington Redskins

Once again this is the most difficult division to predict in the NFL. The Eagles arguably have the most talent in the division but I don’t trust that Michael Vick will stay healthy and even though the defense was very good in the second half last year, Juan Castillo has a tendency to be exposed against good playcallers…The Cowboys seemingly fixed their problems in the secondary and thanks to a number of weapons on offense, they’ll rack up plenty of yardage again this season. But can the skill players stay healthy? Will this offense once again struggle to score points despite moving the ball at will? Is the secondary really fixed or will it remain a problem? Somehow, someway the Cowboys usually find a way to get in their own way…Which brings us to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. I don’t know how Eli Manning survived behind that offensive line last year and if the pass rusher falters at all, the back seven isn’t good enough to keep the defense afloat. But my general rule when it comes to the Giants is that if nobody is paying attention to them, bet the house that they’ll win. They thrive in the underdog role and they’ve played second-fiddle to the Eagles, Cowboys and even in-state rival the Jets all offseason. Thus, despite Dallas and Philadelphia having better talent, I like New York to once again qualify for the postseason…The Redskins are going to be fun to watch this year thanks to Robert Griffin III. They’ll also be able to run the ball because of Mike Shanahan and they have more weapons on offense than they did a year ago thanks to the additions of RGIII and Pierre Garcon. But the secondary is an issue and questions remain about whether or not this team can keep Griffin upright. The Skins also play in an ultra-competitive division so while they’ll be competitive, they’ll likely fall well short of the playoffs.

NFC NORTH
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Chicago Bears
3. Detroit Lions
4. Minnesota Vikings

The Packers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL thanks to Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and the addition of Cedric Benson will pay dividends as well. There’s no way the defense will rank 32nd again so the Pack are poised to make another postseason run…There are two massive question marks surrounding the Bears. One is the offensive line, which continues to be inconsistent and the second is the defense, which is aging quickly. Will Father Time catch up with Chicago’s defense this season or will it hold off another year? That said, if Jay Cutler and Matt Forte don’t get hurt last year then the Bears make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the NFC. Plus, keep in mind that Chicago is just two years removed from winning the division and the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery finally give opposing defensive backs something to be concerned with on Sundays. I like the Bears to win one of the two Wild Card spots…I think the Lions will regress this season. The passing game will be dangerous but can Matthew Stafford once again stay healthy for a full 16 games? Can this team win behind a shaky offensive line and no running game? On the other side the ball the defense doesn’t play with discipline, Louis Delmas’ health remains a concern and rookie Bill Bentley will line up opposite Chris Houston at cornerback. The Lions’ defense was brutal down the stretch last season and while Calvin Johnson will once again be fun to watch, a .500 season seems more realistic than a repeat playoff appearance…The Vikings will continue to grow behind Christian Ponder but Adrian Peterson’s health is obviously a concern, they don’t have a weapon opposite Percy Harvin in the passing game and the defensive secondary isn’t very reliable. In a stacked division Minnesota will once again have a difficult time competing.

NFC SOUTH
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Atlanta Falcons
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints had a tumultuous offseason, losing head coach Sean Payton and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the bounty scandal suspensions, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who was also suspended) to the Rams, and Carl Nicks and Robert Meachem to free agency. But Drew Brees had a huge hand in Payton’s offensive game plans the past four years so he’ll keep New Orleans afloat. Plus, the loss of Vilma was negated with the addition of Curtis Lofton, who is a much better run-stopper than Vilma, Meachem is merely a No. 3 receiver and the team did well to replace Nicks with Ben Grubbs. New DC Steve Spagnuolo (who is an upgrade over Williams) will have to get creative when it comes to his pass rush but this team will be fine…There’s a ton of optimism surrounding the Falcons this season because of the decisions they made this offseason. Mike Mularkey was a solid offensive coordinator but Matt Ryan had outgrown his conservative, run-first approach. In steps in new OC Dirk Koetter, who has installed an up-tempo offense that suits Ryan. Julio Jones looks like he’s ready for a monstrous second year and he should only make Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas better around him. Defensively the Falcons hired Mike Nolan to replace Brian Van Gorder, who wasn’t a bad coordinator but his philosophy under head coach Mike Smith was to stop the run and play bend-but-don’t-break schemes in the back seven. That won’t work against the likes of the Saints, Packers and Giants, so Nolan has installed a scheme that will focus on stopping the pass. The Falcons also traded for Asante Samuel, who will join forces with Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson to form an exciting cornerback trio. If young players like Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore have breakout years, the Atlanta defense will be much improved…Cam Newton will keep the Panthers in most games. He has loads of playmaking ability and plenty of weapons around him in Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Greg Olson. But the defense only has one true pass rusher (Charles Johnson), the linebacker corps is always suffering from injuries and the safety position is a major question mark. Simply put, the defense will keep Carolina from earning playoff berth but watch the Panthers stay in contention all season…Thanks to new coach Greg Schiano the Bucs will be tougher and more focused in 2012. The front office also did well to bring in Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson in free agency, which will certainly appease QB Josh Freeman (who is poised to have a bounce back year). Rookie first-rounder Mark Barron might also wind up being the steal of the 2012 draft in that he’s NFL ready having played for Nick Saban at Alabama. Fellow rookie Doug Martin looks like he’s ready to explode in his first year as well. That said, the front seven remains a huge question mark on defense and this team doesn’t have the ability to blow teams out. Under Schiano the Bucs will attempt to win the time of possession battle by keeping the ball on the ground and trying to win games in the fourth quarter. This is an up-and-coming team but it’ll be a year before Tampa is challenging for a playoff spot again.

NFC WEST
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. St. Louis Rams
4. Arizona Cardinals

There aren’t a lot of believers in Alex Smith but the fact is he managed games well last season and stayed out of the way as the 49ers’ defense and running game produced wins. Thanks to the additions of Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and rookie A.J. Jenkins, Smith has plenty of weapons around him to succeed. (Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree obviously remain the highlights of the offense.) Thanks to the best defense in the league and weak competition in the division, the Niners will challenge for the top seed in the NFC again this season…Some believe the Seahawks will struggle under rookie Russell Wilson but if the kid were four inches taller he would have been a top 10 selection. He’s smart and he has the skill set to succeed – it’s just too bad that outside of an unreliable Sidney Rice, he has nobody to throw the ball to. The defense is underrated so if Wilson can move the ball, look for the Hawks to hang around before eventually fading down the stretch…Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff are worth two or three wins alone in St. Louis. The Rams will be better than they were a year ago but plenty of questions remain. The offensive line isn’t very good, the middle of the defense will be exposed on a weekly basis because of poor safety play and the book is still out on Sam Bradford. He has yet to raise the level of his play when under pressure and his O-line won’t do him any favors this year. This is also the youngest team in the league and depth is a massive problem…The Cardinals have the least effective starting quarterback in the NFL thanks to John Skelton, who will play behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Ray Horton’s defense is going to surprise people this year but it’s also going to be on the field a lot because of the struggles of the offense. Maybe Skelton has more magic up his sleeve and hey, he does have Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams at his disposal. But chances are it’s going to be a long year in ‘Zona.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS
1. Patriots
2. Texans
3. Ravens
4. Broncos
5. Steelers
6. Titans

NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS
1. Packers
2. 49ers
3. Saints
4. Giants
5. Bears
6. Falcons

WILD CARD PREDICTIONS
Ravens over Titans
Steelers over Broncos
Falcons over Giants
Saints over Bears

DIVISIONAL PREDICTIONS
Patriots over Steelers
Ravens over Texans
Packers over Falcons
49ers over Saints

CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS
Ravens over Patriots
Packers over 49ers

SUPER BOWL PREDICTION
Packers over Ravens

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Outside of Gronkowski, injuries shouldn’t be a factor heading into Super Bowl XLVI

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) talks with reporters on Media Day during Super Bowl week on January 31, 2012 in Indianapolis. The Patriots will face the New York Giants on February 5 in Super Bowl XLVI. UPI/Brian Kersey

For all intents and purposes, the Giants and Patriots will both be healthy when Super Bowl XLVI kicks off on Sunday.

Rob Gronkowki’s ankle remains the biggest injury concern for the Patriots, as the team has officially listed him as questionable. But the Pats also list nine other players as questionable and none are in danger of missing the game.

Safety Patrick Chung, offensive tackles Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer, linebackers Dane Fletcher, Rob Ninkovich, Tracy White and Brandon Spikes, receiver Wes Welker, defensive lineman Kyle Love, and guard Logan Mankins were all limited in practice this week but are expected to play. Outside of Gronkowski, all of those players were also listed as questionable for the AFC championship game and they all played.

As for the Patriots’ counterparts, the Giants are relatively healthy as well. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, receiver Hakeem Nicks, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, cornerback Corey Webster, and linebacker Jacquian Williams were all limited in practice this week but are expected to play. Bradshaw is perhaps the team’s biggest concern as he skipped the Giants’ final practice because of soreness in his right foot, but again, he’ll play.

Getting back to Gronkowski, at this point there’s no doubt that he’ll play. How effective he’ll be is another question, especially after halftime when he’s been off the ankle for 15-plus minutes.

Super Bowl XLVI: Three keys to victory for the Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady points on the line of scrimmage before a play against the Baltimore Ravens during their NFL AFC Championship football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

On Wednesday I discussed the three keys to victory for the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. On Thursday, it’s the Patriots’ turn.

1. Brady has to be Brady.
We can talk until we’re blue in the face about whether or not New England’s defense will continue to play well. But the fact of the matter is that when Brady isn’t throwing for 400-plus yards and turning in one of those Tom Brady-type performances, the Patriots have looked very beatable this season. The week before the Pats lost to the Giants during the regular season, they lost to the Steelers 25-17 in Pittsburgh. In that game, Brady completed 24-of-35 passes, threw for two touchdowns and compiled a passer rating of 101.8. But he threw for just 198 yards as the Steelers kept everything in front of them and made more plays in the end. A week later Brady threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns but he also tossed two interceptions in a 24-20 loss to the Giants. Now, it’s not far to pin either of those losses solely on Brady and I’m not. But my point is that when he’s not Superman flying around in his red cape, the Pats look rather ordinary. Thus, this is Brady’s game to lose. He turned in a very lackluster performance two weeks ago in the AFC championship game versus the Ravens and privately promised owner Bob Kraft that he would play better in the Super Bowl. He better, because while the Patriots rely on him too much, if he isn’t Tom Brady then there’s a good chance that the G-Men will once again get the best of New England.

2. Pass protect or fall.
While they did allow two sacks, the Patriots’ offensive line actually did a very good job keeping the Giants’ front four in check when these two teams met during the regular season. (Jason Pierre-Paul had one sack but the other came from outside linebacker Michael Boley.) The Giants are most effective when they can generate pressure from the interior of their defensive line. When they get a push from up the middle, they don’t allow the quarterback to step up in the pocket and thus avoid pressure coming from the outside. The biggest concern for the Patriots is center Dan Connolly, who has struggled in pass protection all season. If he can’t raise the level of his play then the Patriots could have a mess on their hands when it comes to keeping Tom Brady upright. The other concern is Sebastian Vollmer, who was arguably the Pats’ best offensive lineman in that Week 9 loss to the Giants. Sidelined since Week 12 with back and ankle injuries, Vollmer is expected to be active this Sunday but how effective will he be? And will he start or will he serve in more of a swing role? New England can’t juggle its offensive line throughout the game and expect perfect results – especially inside a dome where noise could be a factor. That said, the Patriots have a top-10 line when it comes to pass protection so if Connolly can hold his own with Logan Mankins and Brian Waters in the middle, then New England might be able to neutralize New York’s fierce pass rush. Or at least they better play well or else the Pats’ offense could struggle all game.

3. The Pats must be solid on the back end.
For all intents and purposes, Kyle Arrington, James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung struggled in coverage two weeks ago versus the Ravens. And while Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are certainly respectable receivers, they don’t bring the same skill set to the field as Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The thing that New England’s defense does best is stop the run. But the Giants aren’t coming into this game thinking that if they can just get Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw going that they’ll win. No, they’re going to throw the ball in the climate-friendly dome that the Colts call a home because that’s what they do best and that’s where they can take advantage of potentially mismatches. Thus, if the Patriots don’t play well on the backend then they’re going to be in trouble. Nicks and Cruz are serious vertical threats on the outside but Mario Manningham is also a danger to work the seam. Thus, all three levels have to be good in pass coverage on Sunday or else the Pats could be victimized through the air. Their pass rush has been inconsistent this season and if they can’t generate pressure then it’ll be up to Chung and Co. to step up. Granted, guys like Devin McCourty and Sterling Moore have played well throughout the season. But to borrow that old phrase: You’re only as strong as your weakest link. New England’s defense has steadily improved from the second half of the season up to this point. Now it’s time for them to put together their best performance of the year.

Super Bowl XLVI: Three keys to victory for the Giants

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws against the New England Patriots third quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on November 6, 2011. The Giants defeated the Patriots 24-20. UPI/Matthew Healey

On Thursday I’ll discuss the three keys for the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLVI but today, let’s take a look at the Giants.

1. Pressure Brady with their four down linemen.
If I’ve written it once I’ve written it one hundred times: The key to beating any elite quarterback whether it’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, is to pressure him with your four down linemen. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady’s completion percentage this season when blitzed is 62.6. That number rises to 67.3 percent when he isn’t blitzed and 70.6 when he receives no pressure at all. But when he’s under pressure, his completion percentage falls to 48.6 and his QB rating falls to 88.8 (compared to 110.1 when he’s not under pressure and 115.3 when he’s blitzed). Blitzing can be an effective tool for any defense, but top quarterbacks will burn teams that rely on the blitz as their sole means of creating pressure. That’s one of the reasons why the Giants have had success against Brady in the last two meetings between these two teams. New York uses four defensive ends in passing situations, which is an advantage that no other team in the league possesses. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck (5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (9 sacks in just nine games) and Dave Tollefson (five sacks) can line up at the same time because Pierre-Paul and Tuck have the ability to play inside. The Giants also have the option of playing a combination of three of those ends with Mathias Kiwanuka (3.5 sacks), who is a highly versatile role player. So while other keys will certainly factor into a New York victory on Sunday, perhaps nothing is more vital than the Giants’ ability to rush Brady with their four down linemen and drop everyone else back into coverage. New York’s defense was built to do one thing: Get after the quarterback. If the Giants don’t pressure Brady on Sunday, they’ll have a hell of a time beating the Patriots again.

2. Manning needs to avoid turnovers.
When it comes to the Giants, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to one stat: Turnovers, or more specifically, Eli Manning’s turnovers. When Manning didn’t turn the ball over this season, the Giants were 6-0. When he turned the ball over only once during a game, the Giants were 5-2. When he turned the ball over two or more times, the Giants were 0-5. Simply put, the Giants don’t lose when Eli protects the football. When he doesn’t, it’s hard for this team to carry him when he’s making mistake after mistake. (This is one of the many reasons why I keep saying that without Eli’s play this season, the Giants wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.) Sunday will be no different. If Manning makes good decisions and doesn’t give Brady and Co. opportunities to score with a short field (or, conversely, take away potential points for the Giants), New York has an outstanding chance of winning. When Eli is on point he can be as good as anyone in the league from an efficiency standpoint. When he starts turning the ball over it’s as if his entire game falls apart. He’s more careless, he starts throwing off his back foot and his pocket presence flies out the window. The Redskins’ 23-10 victory over the Giants in Week 15 of the regular season is a perfect example of how quickly things can go south for New York if Eli struggles.

3. Attack, attack, attack.
Kevin Gilbride deserves a lot of credit for developing the most underrated passing attack in the league. People love to wax poetically about New Orleans, New England and Green Bay’s passing games but what about New York’s? Thanks to Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham’s, I would put the Giants’ passing attack up against any other team’s in the league outside of maybe the aforementioned Saints, Patriots and Packers. That said, it wasn’t too long ago that New York fans were screaming for Gilbride’s head because the offensive coordinator was being too conservative when it came to his play calling and his approach inside the red zone. When the Giants would get inside the 20, Gilbride would often take his foot off the gas and New York’s offense would get bogged down. Thus, it’s important for Gilbride to continue to attack through the air. The Patriots have a slew of young defensive backs playing in their first Super Bowl, including a safety in Patrick Chung that struggled in pass coverage last week versus Baltimore. Although New England has played much better defensively over the past couple of weeks, the Giants have a huge edge when it comes to their receivers being matched up against the Patriots’ defensive backs. Now isn’t the time for Gilbride to rest on his laurels and hold his passing game back. New England’s front seven is good against the run, so the Giants need to dance with the date that brought them.

Super Bowl XLVI point spread continues to move, but Patriots remain favored

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (10) warms up for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on January 22, 2012. The Giants won 20-17. UPI/Terry Schmitt

As the point spread for Super Bowl XLVI continues to dance leading up to Sunday’s 6:30PM ET kickoff, one thing remains constant: The Patriots will be favored.

Depending on the sports book, the Pats opened as a 4, 3.5, or 3-point favorite over the Giants when the line was released on Championship Sunday. But the spread has dropped to 3 or 2.5 at most books as the majority of wagers continue to come in on the Giants.

According to the public betting charts available at The Spread, the majority of the early money has been placed on New York, which has forced some sports books to drop the spread to New England –2.5. The total, meanwhile, continues to drop as well, falling from 55.5 to 54.5 at most books.

It’s no surprise that bettors are backing a Giants team that upset the Patriots as a 9-point underdog back in November of last year. Eli Manning rallied New York to a 24-20 victory when he found Jake Ballard for a one-yard touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining in the game. The Giants also ruined the Patriots’ attempt at a perfect season back in 2008 when they pulled off an incredible 17-14 upset as a 12.5-point dog. Thus, bettors aren’t afraid to lay coin on the G-Men.

The Giants are 5-1 against the spread in their last six games against the Patriots while the underdog is 5-1 against the number in the last six meetings between these two teams. New York is also 8-0 ATS in its last eight playoff games as an underdog and 8-1 ATS in its last nine playoff games overall. New England, meanwhile, is just 1-6 against the spread in its last seven playoff games as a favorite and 1-7 ATS in its last eight playoff games overall.

The spread will probably jump between 3 and 2.5 throughout the rest of the week, although it would be surprising to see the number jump to 3.5 or fall below 2.5. Odds makers seem comfortable with the spread dancing between 3 and 2.5.

Check Bullz-Eye.com for the latest Super Bowl XLVI point spread.

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