Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants v New England Patriots preview
Super Bowl XLVI
- Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
- Sunday, 5 February 2012
- 2325 GMT
- Live on BBC One from 2255 GMT; BBC 5 live sports extra from 2200; interactive live text commentary on BBC Sport website from 2230
If the New England Patriots are to win their fourth Super Bowl, and get revenge for an agonising defeat at the hands of the New York Giants four years ago, they may have to do it without their biggest threat on offence.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski has been terrorising NFL defences all season, in the process setting several single-season records, including the most receiving touchdowns (17) and most receiving yards (1,327).
But an ankle injury has placed a massive question mark over whether he will appear in Sunday's showdown.
Gronkowski, who has admitted that he could be anything between 2% and 100% ready come gameday, is obviously desperate to play. "It's the Super Bowl," he said. "I'm doing everything I possibly can to be out there. I want to help out the team. We'll just see on Sunday."
An unfit Gronkowski would be a blow to the Pats, but it's not as if they are one-dimensional team. Quarterback Tom Brady, twice a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, is more than capable of picking any team apart with his fast, accurate passing and has other receiving options in the likes of Wes Welker, Deion Branch (himself a former Super Bowl MVP) and his other tight-end target, Aaron Hernandez.
A certain future Hall-of-Famer, the one blot on Brady's near-immaculate career is that defeat by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
He denies this is a chance to get even, though: "Every loss hurts. When we lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, that hurt pretty bad. Last year losing to the Jets, you see other teams advance and you're staying home, they all suck.
"You have to move on and use those as opportunities to learn. I think this team has done that. We're a very mentally tough team. That's probably one of the strengths of the team."
Brady and his coach Bill Belichick became the first quarterback-head coach combination to reach the Super Bowl more than four times, beating the record held by Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 1970s Super Bowl teams. Belichick is the type of man who tackles press conferences as efficiently as his side mauls opponents, using few words to make his point.
With both teams having weak secondaries, journalists have speculated on whether we could see a high-scoring shoot-out in the air. Belichick's response to that was short but emphatic: "We have to score more points than they do - that's really what it comes down to. However many points that is, we'll just have to see how the game goes."
Last time around the Giants wrecked New England's dream of becoming the first team ever to register a "perfect" 19-0 season by keeping the scoring down in a tense 17-14 victory.
That game was made memorable by the Giants' final scoring drive in which quarterback Eli Manning showed immense poise under incredible pressure, culminating with a pass to Plaxico Burress for the game-winning touchdown.
And Manning is hungry for another shot at glory: "Having been in the NFL for eight years, you realise how rare it is to get here - how special it is and what a great opportunity it is.
"You don't want to let these opportunities slip away. You want to relay to the young guys that this may be their last one. In my eighth year, this might be the last one I ever get to. You want to make the most of it and make sure you don't let it slip away."
If the Giants are to succeed, they know they are ably equipped to put points on the board and their regular season record of 9-7 belies the fact that they have been on a roll in the play-offs, winning on the road against fancied sides including last year's champions the Green Bay Packers.
This time around, as last, Manning has an envious corps of wide receivers. Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are great players and, in Victor Cruz, Manning has a target who gives defensive backs nightmares because of his speed and ability to make massive plays after completing passes.
But, as ever, for both teams it will come down to pressurising and disrupting the quarterback. Giants' linebacker Michael Boley recognises the need to get to Brady: "You have to find ways to slow them down. You have to get them out of their rhythm. They are a rhythm team. For us it's all about disrupting their timing."
It's an intriguing match-up and plenty of history is there to be made. If the Giants win they would be the first team to win a Super Bowl in 4 decades (following 1986, 1990 and 2007).
On the other side, Brady could possibly become a three-time MVP which would elevate him to a Super Bowl record alongside his childhood idol, Joe Montana.
The legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback gave us this prediction: "The Giants are the better team but I think the Patriots will win. The Giants have to get to Brady - that's the key. He will kill you if you let him stand there."