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Giants’ WR Hakeem Nicks fractures bone in his foot

The New York Giants’ road to winning back-to-back championships just got a little rockier.

Multiple national reports state that Hakeem Nicks will be sidelined for approximately 12 weeks after he fractured his right foot on Thursday. Apparently the injury was of the non-contact variety as Nicks was running a route tree in practice. He will undergo surgery on Friday and will likely return at some point during training camp.

The good news is that Nicks should return before the regular season but how quickly he gets himself into game shape is the question. Second-round pick Ruben Randle will be the biggest benefactor of this injury, as the rookie will receive plenty of reps in the first-team offseason this summer. Sometimes whether a young player makes an impact right away is determined by the amount of opportunities he has in training camp and preseason.

A superior route runner over his career, Nicks has dealt with a variety of lower-body related injuries throughout his career. On top of this latest setback, he’s also dealt with toe, ankle and knee issues since entering the league in 2009. At least this time he broke a bone because at least the bone will heal and he’ll be fine once he gets back into shape. If it were a hamstring injury, that’s something that could effect him for the entire season.

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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Super Bowl XLVI By the Numbers

Helmets of the New England Patriots and New York Giants rest on both sides of the Vince Lombardi Trophy before a press conference at the media center 2 days before the Giants and Patriots meet in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, IN on February 2, 2012. UPI /John Angelillo

1 – Number of Super Bowls that Eli Manning has won. Ironically, it’s also the same number of Super Bowls that Tom Brady has lost.

3 – The opening point spread at most sports books of this year’s Super Bowl. (Patriots –3, that is.)

3.5 – Number of sacks that Osi Umenyiora has compiled this postseason, which ties him for the most along with Houston’s J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed.

4 – Number of defensive ends that the Giants can lineup at the same time. (Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson.)

9 – Combined number of Pro Bowls that Manning and Brady have appeared in.

12.5 – The number that the Patriots were favored by the last time they played the Giants in the Super Bowl.

16 – Number of top-seeded teams from the AFC that have made the Super Bowl since 1977. (Only four were crowned champions, although the Patriots were one of those four in 2003.)

18 – Number of touchdowns Rob Gronkowski compiled during the regular season, second only to Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (20).

20 – Teams that fail to score 20 points in the Super Bowl are 1-22 since 1977. The only team since 1977 to score less than 20 points and still win? The 2008 Giants, who beat the Patriots, 17-14.

46 – Well, this one is pretty obvious…it’s the number of passes Brady attempted in the Patriots’ Week 16 win over the Dolphins.

55.5 – The total that most sports books opened at for this year’s Super Bowl.

75.4 – Brady’s passer rating against the Giants in the Patriots’ 24-20 loss in Week 9 of the regular season.

199 – The pick that the Patriots used to select Brady in 2000.

335 – Number of receiving yards Hakeem Nicks has compiled this postseason (best in the NFL).

3,982 – Average price, in dollars, of one Super Bowl ticket.

13,000 – Hotel rooms in Indianapolis. All are booked for the weekend and some at a 1,700% higher price than the conventional fee.

68,000 – Capacity at Lucas Oil Stadium after it was expanded from 63,000 for the big game.

3,500,000 – The cost of a 30-second commercial for this year’s Super Bowl.

50,000,000 – Estimated cases of beer consumed by fans on Super Bowl Sunday.

1.25 Billion – Apparently this is the number of chicken wings that will be consumed on Sunday. God we’re fat…

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 Giants vs. Patriots: Five Questions

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (L) scrambles for a first down against the New York Giants in the first half of their NFL football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

With kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI rapidly approaching, what are some of the bigger questions surrounding Sunday’s title game?

1. Can Brady shake out of his Giant funk?
There are just some teams that Tom Brady doesn’t play well against. Entering this year’s AFC championship game, Brady’s completion percentage in five career outings against the Ravens was 55.9, which was his lowest against any team in the league. So it wasn’t any wonder while he compiled a 57.5 QB rating in a lackluster 239-yard, two-interception performance versus Baltimore two Sundays ago. Now he faces a New York team that, again, for whatever reason, he’s had trouble beating. From a passer-rating standpoint, Brady had his worst performance of the season in a Week 9 home loss to the Giants. His quarterback rating of 75.4 in the 24-20 loss was only slightly worse than his 82.5 rating in Super Bowl XLII back in 2008. Save for his 356-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Giants in Week 17 of the ’07 regular season, Brady has struggled to beat this New York team. Following his poor performance, he reportedly told owner Robert Kraft in the locker room following the AFC title game that he would play better in Super Bowl XLVI. For a quarterback that has largely been viewed as cool, calm and collected, it’s not a stretch to think that Brady is feeling the pressure of potentially losing yet another game to the Giants.

2. Can the Patriots slow the Giants’ pass rush?
These two teams have met three times since December of 2007 and during that span the Giants have sacked Brady a total of eight times (including five times in their Super Bowl victory in February of ’08). New York uses four defensive ends in passing situations, which is something no other team can boast. 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. It’s no coincidence that Brady struggled in New England’s 24-20 home loss to New York in Week 9 considering that was one of the games Umenyiora was healthy for. When the Giants can dress all five of their pass rushers they’re a completely different defense – a defense that the Patriots and their usually solid group of pass blockers has had trouble with in the past two meetings with New York.

3. Can the Pats’ defense slow down all of the Giants’ weapons?
The Giants’ offense doesn’t receive nearly enough attention for how explosive it is. In a lot of ways, that’s a direction reflection of how some view Eli Manning, who also doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves for being a quarterback that can put pressure on a defense with his playmaking ability. For all of the attention that the Giants’ pass rush has received lately, without Manning’s outstanding play the Giants wouldn’t have won nine games this season. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs, upset the Packers at Lambeau, or have an opportunity to make it two-for-two against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Granted, Manning has had help. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have been outstanding for a New York passing attack that stacks up to any offense in the league outside of maybe New Orleans, New England and Green Bay. Mario Manningham is also a weapon in the vertical game because he can attack a defense along the seam, which is important seeing as how New York doesn’t have a Jimmy Graham-type at tight end. Throw in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs (who both have awoken from their season-long slumber) and yes, the Giants offense is that good. That said, New England’s red-zone defense has allowed just two touchdowns in seven opportunities throughout the playoffs, as Denver went 1-of-3 inside the 20 in the Divisional round and Baltimore went 1-of-4 in the AFC title game. Statically speaking the Patriots weren’t very good defensively this season. But they’re starting to come together on that side of the ball so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the Giants’ O vs. Patriots D matchup come Sunday.

4. Will Belichick continue to make sound second-half adjustments?
Baltimore has been the only team in the past seven weeks that has matched New England after halftime. The Ravens and Patriots each scored 10 points apiece in the second half of last Sunday’s AFC championship game, but other than that New England has killed teams in the final two quarters. The Pats have allowed an average of 5.7 second-half points in their last six games, which is an indication that Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are making sound in-game and halftime adjustments. In fact, New England has outscored opponents 111-34 in the second half over their past six games so it’ll be interesting to see how Sunday’s game plays out. If the Giants build a first-half lead, can they sustain it?

5. How effective will the “Gronk” be?
At this point the question isn’t whether Rob Gronkowsi will play but rather how effective will he be. This isn’t the same situation as last year with Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, who never really had a realistic shot of playing in the Super Bowl after suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC championship game, because Gronk is going to play. But remember two years ago when Colts’ defensive end Dwight Freeney tore a ligament in his right ankle late in the AFC title game versus the Jets, played in the Super Bowl but was largely ineffective? Will Gronk be the same player he was for the Pats during the regular season or will he serve as merely a decoy in passing situations? We already know that Gronkowski will likely need his left ankle scoped following Sunday’s game so it’s not unrealistic to believe he could be severely limited. Granted, the Pats do have Aaron Hernandez, who not unlike Gronkowski is a weapon from the slot or tight end position. But the “Gronk” was nearly unstoppable this season and is a major mismatch against defensive backs and linebackers. The Patriots need him to be as healthy as possible if their offense is going to fire on all cylinders.

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