The New York Giants travel to Foxboro for a meeting with the New England Patriots on Sunday, marking the first time the two teams have met since the Giants ended the Patriots perfect season in Super Bowl XLII. It is one of the marquee matchups of the weekend, and promises to be an exciting game.
Both teams are sitting at 5-2 and in first place in their divisions (although New England is tied with Buffalo in the AFC East). The game features a face-off of two of the top passing offenses in the league, and two of the top quarterbacks.
The Giants have the 4th ranked passing offense in the NFL and the Patriots are ranked second. The quarterbacks are ranked second and third in the league in passing efficiency, behind Aaron Rodgers’ other-worldly 125.7 (which, incidentally, would break the NFL single season record held by Eli’s brother Peyton). Brady is second at 104.4 and Manning is right behind him at 102.1. The way Manning has performed this year has backed up his statement over the summer that he felt he belonged in the conversation about elite NFL quarterbacks.
“Well, the question was if I thought I was an elite quarterback and basically, I was just saying that I did,” Manning explained this week. “I’m usually not into the business of ranking and rating quarterbacks and comparing myself to other guys. Looking back, I thought I gave an honest answer, and I don’t regret anything.”
He went on to explain that he feels like that is just part of the confidence that you need to be successful in the NFL. “I think any player in the league, they always feel confident in your ability, whether you just played a great game or you just played a poor game,” Manning said. “You feel that next week you’re going to go out and play great and make every throw and make every play and put your team in situations to win games. I think that’s the attitude that most athletes have.”
While it’s tough to say this about a quarterback who has already won a Super Bowl, this is a breakout year for Manning. He was always a solid quarterback, but he has put himself in the “elite” discussion this year. He is playing at a much higher level than any time in his career. His QB efficiency, completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per game, and TDs per game are all better than any year in his 8-year career.
On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady is having another record-breaking season. He is on pace to break Dan Marino’s single season passing yardage mark. And not just break it but shatter it. Marino’s record is 5,084 and Brady is on pace to pass for almost 5,400 yards this season, or 337 per game. He is also on pace to pass for over 40 TDs this season as well, the most since he set the single season record in 2007 with 50.
Despite the gaudy numbers, there have been a few chinks in the armor this season. Brady is also on pace to throw the most interceptions of his career, and he has 8 INTs through 7 games, twice as many as he had all last year. But even if Brady has looked a little more mortal in some games this season – he’s still Tom Brady. The difference in the game is likely to come down to the defenses, and the Patriots are ranked dead last in the NFL in passing defense. The Giants are giving up almost 100 yards less per game passing to opposing quarterbacks.
History certainly favors the Patriots, particularly in games following a loss. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Patriots are 26-2 in games following a regular season loss. Patriots WR Wes Welker said, “I think coach Belichick has done a great job, especially after a loss, bringing everybody together and making sure we understand what we need to do and learning from our mistakes in the previous game. We know what we need to do and hopefully that continues on this Sunday.”
The Patriots were frustrated and embarrassed last weekend by a very tough Steelers team. Regarding last week’s game, Welker added, “We were frustrated on offense overall. We weren’t moving the ball the way we wanted to and doing the things we wanted to.”
“It is something that we have to learn from and understand that we have to come out and play much better. We have to do the things we need to do to be successful on the field.”
So the Patriots are looking for revenge from last weekend’s loss, and revenge from having the perfect season spoiled four years ago in the Super Bowl. The Patriots have also won 18 straight games at home against NFC opponents.
Although the streaks all favor the Patriots, this year’s Patriots passing defense just looks far too vulnerable and Eli Manning is playing far too well to bet against the Giants. We expect Belichick to have his team ready to play, and to have a solid game plan against the Giants, but the Giants to pull out a squeaker in a shootout. Should be a good game for fans of high-powered offenses.