By Curt Macysyn
In reality when these two teams meet, you can throw out the records. Typically, however, the New England Patriots (8-0) are usually on top of the AFC east heap looking downward. On the other hand, the New York Giants (5-4) presently occupy unfamiliar territory at the top of the NFC east by the slimmest of margins. So, are these really two first place clubs looking to position themselves for another playoff run? Time will tell.
In 16 seasons at the helm of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick has missed the playoffs only three times, or the same number of times that the Giants have missed the playoffs in the past three seasons. Ironically, however, in the topsy turvy world of the NFL, both teams have had a solid head coach and quarterback combination for well over a decade now. But when things are brought back to the present, the Patriots are the defending world champions, and the Giants are playoff after-thoughts for the past three years.
New York was able to grind out a win in Tampa Bay against feisty Buccaneers’ squad, by controlling rookie Jameis Winston and his passing attack, but Tom Brady is not Winston and the G-men seem to struggle when facing an elite quarterback.
The Patriots So Far
The Patriots come into the contest with a perfect 8-0 record, but a closer look shows that the Pats and Giants have beaten three of the same teams, the Buffalo Bills, the Tony Romo-less Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. On the other hand, New England knows how to win close games, and they have been able to grind out wins against the Steelers, Jets and Colts this season as well, so Belichick keeps marching his squad forward.
Patriots on Offense: Brady’s Bunch
The Patriots’ offense begins and ends with it future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Understand this: In his 16 year career, Brady has surpassed the 4,000 yard mark seven times! He has also surpassed 5,000 passing yards in a season once (2011). This year, with 2,709 passing yards under his belt already, Brady is on pace to break his own mark of 5,235 passing yards at age 38. Brady’s current quarterback rating is 113.5 for the season. Enough said.
Can the Giants contend with tight end Rob Gronkowski? He leads the Patriots with 693 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. Substitute middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and rookie safety Landon Collins better be up to the task. As for Collins, Gronkowski is likely to be better than whoever he faced in the SEC last season.
Wide receiver Julien Edelman leads the team in catches with with 57 and also has seven touchdowns. Veteran wideouts Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell have 30 and 11 catches on the year, with LaFell’s coming in only three games. The Pats did lose versatile running back Dion Lewis, for the season, with a knee injury. Lewis had 36 grabs out of the backfield with two touchdowns. LaGarrett Blount has become re-energized in New England with 447 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Patriots on Defense: Ryan’s Hope
The Patriots have four former Rutgers players currently on their roster, while the Giants have none from the school whose campus is thirty minutes from MetLife Stadium. While the quantity is large, it is also a matter of quality as well, as Rutgers alum Logan Ryan leads the team in interceptions with four. He also has 38 total tackles on the year.
Another Scarlet Knight, Devin McCourty, has 41 total tackles, a quarterback sack and an interception this season. A third member of the Rutgers’ quartet, Duron Harmon, has three interceptions on the season as the team’s third safety. Last but not least of the Rutgers’ group, reserve linebacker Jonathan Freeney, has 19 total tackles on the season, including four this past week against the Redskins.
The marquee player on the Patriots’ defense has been Jaime Collins, who despite missing Sunday’s game with an undisclosed illness, still leads the team with 51 total tackles. Collins also has 4.5 quarterback sacks on the year. Defensive end Chandler Jones leads the team in quarterback sacks with 9.5 this year.
Patriots’ Players to Watch
Not that Tom Brady needs much help, but tight end Rob Gronkowski will be a tough match-up for the Giants. Middle linebackers Uani ‘Unga and Jasper Brinkley are big enough, but not fast enough to contain Gronk. Meanwhile, Landon Collins has to be able to provide back end support against Gronkowski. The knock on Collins prior to the draft was his ability to provide adequate pass coverage, a concern that has proven legitimate in the league.
Rob Ninkovich does not normally come to mind when game planning against the Patriots, but the veteran defensive end will be a thorn in the side of either Marshall Newhouse or Will Beatty. If the Giants cannot effectively negate Ninkovich, then he will continually be at the feet of Eli Manning and will disrupt the passing game.
Everything points to a victory by the Patriots, except it is tough to pick against Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning in these games. If Jason Pierre-Paul can make Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, then that could somewhat negate the advantage that the Pats have at receiver and tight end. The Gronkowski match-up clearly favors the Patriots, so if Brady has time, then it could be a repeat of the Saints’ game. On the other hand, Odell Beckham’s speed and quickness will present problems for the Patriots’ defensive backfield, if the line can protect Manning and the Pats are not successful in press covering OBJ, then Beckham could be in for a big afternoon at the Meadowlands.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.