INDIANAPOLIS – Overtime. For the first time.
In each of their trips to the Super Bowl with Bill Belichick as coach and Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots threatened to go into overtime. They eked out three wins and lost by three points to the Giants.
When New England and New York face off Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Patriots will be favored by three. That will be the winning margin, and it will come in an unprecedented extra period.
But who will win?
Glad you asked.
Each team is on a roll, with the Patriots (15-3) winning all 10 games since a home loss to the Giants. New York went into a funk after that victory, losing four straight and five of six before turning it around with closing victories against the Jets and Cowboys to win the NFC East.
The Giants (12-7) have won five in a row, including wins at Green Bay and San Francisco in the playoffs.
In 2008, the Patriots were unbeaten and seeking the first 19-0 season in NFL history when the Giants stunned them. Again, New England has the better record and the Giants took the long route to the big game.
"It's the same teams, but in our mindset, a lot of new players," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, one of the heroes of the 17-14 win four years ago. "We had 16 guys and New England only has seven guys who were on that team. A lot of guys who are going to be key factors in this game did not play in that last Super Bowl.
"We have the mindset that this is a new game. It's the same teams, but a lot of different makeup. What happened in the last Super Bowl doesn't matter. What happened in the last game of the season doesn't matter. It's about what we do on Sunday and what we do in this game."
What the Giants must do is get a pass rush on Brady. They had five sacks and at least nine hits on him in the 2008 game, and they pressured him throughout the regular-season win last November. If they can make Brady uncomfortable and rush his throws, it ruins the tempo of New England's no-huddle offense.
With Brady virtually no threat to run, the Giants will try to condense the passing pocket so much that Brady can't step into his throws. If that doesn't happen, All-Pro receiver Wes Welker and dynamic tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez could be tough to cover; New York's secondary isn't strong enough to prosper without the big pass rush.
All-Pro Gronkowski's high left ankle sprain is problematic for New England, although pretty much everyone expects him to play. But if he's limited in gaining yards after the catch, a particular strength, it also can hurt the Patriots.
Where New England truly has stepped up recently is on defense, and the Giants will test that improvement. Manning's three wideouts — Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham — can't all be double-teamed, and each is capable of game-breaking plays. Belichick will come up with something creative to slow them. Does he have the players to implement his schemes against an offense almost as explosive as the Patriots' unit?
"For every team you play, I think our coaches do a great job as far as scouting them, breaking them down, and then we get our game plan," said Kyle Arrington, who tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. "They make a specific game plan for that team. You definitely want to try to take away their strengths in every game plan that they make up. We're going to go out there and fly around. I can't say enough about how talented they are, how much of a challenge it's going to be."
Too much of a challenge.
The game will go into an extra period, and the NFL's rule allowing both teams to have the ball if the first possession results in a field goal will come into play. New England will get that field goal, then Manning will find one of his wideouts in the end zone to win it.
GIANTS, 33-30, OT
Against spread: 1-1 (overall 132-111-5); straight up 2-0 (overall 175-91).
Best Bet: 4-15 against spread, 13-6 straight up.
Upset Special: 11-7 against spread, 8-10 straight up.