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Alex Smolokoff

Only days remain until the rematch of the century, when the NewEngland Patriots and New York Giants face off in Super Bowl XLVI inIndianapolis.

Quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots are looking for theirfourth Super Bowl title since 2002, while Eli Manning and theGiants look to defeat Brady and company again for their secondtitle in five seasons. The Patriots own an impressive streak,winning 10 in a row since their loss to the Giants on Nov. 6. Bothteams are teeming with talent, but neither is invincible.

The Patriots’ biggest strength is, unquestionably, their passinggame. Tom Brady is one of the best – this season, he threw for acareer-high 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns. He is a three-time SuperBowl champion and has demonstrated he can come through in theclutch.

More recently, however, his strong receiving core has beencrucial to his success. Wide receiver Wes Welker caught 100 passesfor the fourth time in five seasons this year, and he hauled in acareer-high nine touchdowns as well. Tight ends Aaron Hernandez andRob Gronkowski combined for 169 catches and 24 touchdowns.Gronkowski, however, has been dealing with an ankle sprain and maynot play at 100 percent.

On the defensive side of the ball, New England’s front seven hasplayed extremely well this postseason. Linebacker Brandon Spikesintercepted a pass last week, and the defensive line, led by VinceWilfork, has recorded eight sacks this postseason. The Patriotsdefense ranked No. 31 in the league, however, and has beencontinually burned in the passing game – including several longplays in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago.

The Giants passing game will look to take advantage of the weakPatriots’ secondary. Eli Manning had a terrific 2011 season,passing for nearly 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. He too has noshortage of targets. Receivers Hakeen Nicks and Victor Cruz caughtmore than 1,000 receiving yards and combined for 16 touchdowns. Inaddition, the Giants rushing duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and BrandonJacobs is, though inconsistent, deadly at its best.

The Giants defense will be the Patriots’ biggest hurdle, andthat battle will likely decide the game. New York has perhaps thebest front seven in the league. Defensive linemen JasonPierre-Paul, Chris Canty, Justin Tuck and linebacker MathiasKiwanuka helped lead the Giants to 48 sacks in the regular season,tied for third-most in the NFL. In three postseason games, theyhave added nine more.

Super Bowl XLVI pits two high-powered passing offenses againstdangerous but flawed defenses. Both teams are led by quarterbacksthat have won Super Bowls in the past, as well as veteran,no-nonsense coaches. Picking one over the other is nearlyimpossible, but the edge, however slight, has to go to New England.Brady and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick have revenge on theirminds, and in a game this close that may be what it takes.

Prediction: Patriots 31 – Giants 23


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