2011 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 05, 2012

This pick was released to clients on December 31, 1969 at 9:00PM ET.

05

New York vs. New England

Sunday 02/05 06:30 PM Eastern

3 units on New York +3 (-110) (risk 3 to return 3)  RESULT: win

5 units on 1st ¼ UNDER PICK (risk 5 to return 5)  RESULT: win

Whether we wanted it or not, we get a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl. Personally I am looking forward to the rematch. In that 2008 game the Giants, a 12.5 point underdog, shocked the world by defeating the then 18-0 New England Patriots. In that game, I was big on the Giants and it played out nicely. There are a lot of similarities between that season and this season for the Giants. I won't go into all of those again, but suffice to say, we again see New York squeaking into the playoffs and making it to the big game as an underdog against the Mighty Pats. We again see the Giants take the improbable path from "left for dead" to playing in the final game of the season. Will the results be the same? My computer matchup for this game (NOT an official pick) likes the Pats to get the win and cover. The public is backing the Giants. As always, let's dig very deep to try to ascertain what will happen in this game...

How many points will New York score? The Giants ranked #9 in points and #8 in yards this season, getting slightly better towards the end of the season. They averaged 25 points per game overall and 28.2 points per game in their last five games once they turned things around following a week 15 loss to the Redskins. Against teams with a defense similar to New England's (#15 in points allowed), New York averaged over 30 points per game this season. How did New England fare defensively this year vs. offenses similar to New York's? The Patriots gave up around 20 points per game to good offenses like the Giants'. This was a somewhat surprising finding to me, given how much New England's 31st ranked defense (yards) got this season. The bottom line in my book is that points matter more than yards and despite the fact that the Pats gave up a ton of yards, their defense was able to keep teams to 20.7 points per game this year. In the first matchup between these two teams, the Giants scored 24 points in a road win. So, it's very likely that the Giants will score somewhere between 20 and 30 points in this game. I think it will be on the upper end of that. Why? The reality is that New England didn't face very many good teams this year. They played the easiest schedule in the league and faced only three top-tier quarterbacks. In week two they took on Phillip Rivers who carved them for 378 yards and two touchdowns. In week six, Tony Romo put up 317 yards and one touchdown. In week eight, Ben Roethlisberger threw from 365 yards and a pair of touchdowns vs. the Patriots. This Pats defense allowed Dan Orlovsky to complete 81% of his passes and allowed Vince Young to notch a 400-yard passing game. Only two QBs this season failed to throw a touchdown vs. the Patriots: Tim Tebow and Tyler Palko. What is Eli Manning and this very talented Giants receiving corp going to do to this defense? Manning has emerged as a top-flight QB and I think he will get his in this game against this Pats defense. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman was asked to cover Anquan Boldin and Edelman was abused. These Giants wide receivers are very talented and deep and Manning can really spread the ball around. The fact that people are starting to ask the "Eli or Peyton" question tells you how far the younger brother has come. Personally, I don't think there's any comparison (yet). Peyton is one of the best of all time. Eli has a lot more to prove. But, Eli has shown that he can play with anyone on the biggest stage. So let's conservatively put New York down for 27 points here. Let's turn to New England...

How many points will New England score? The Patriots can score. They ranked 2nd in yards and 3rd in the league in points per game. This team averaged 32.3 points per game this season and towards the end of the season and in the playoffs (last five games), they bumped that to 37 per game. How did the Giants defense fare this season against powerhouse offenses? The Giants ranked #24 in points allowed this season (23.1 per game) so it's not pretty. Against offenses like New England's, New York allowed about 29 points per game. When that Pats faced defenses similar to New York's this season, they averaged 32.5 points per game. At the end of the season this Giants defense really started to click. They did keep an explosive Green Bay offense to 20 points three weeks ago. In their last five games of the season, the Giants allowed just 13 points per game. And, when these two teams met earlier this season, New York kept the Patriots to just 20 points. So, we have an initial starting range here of somewhere between 20 and 33 points for the Pats. Let's dissect this offense a little more to try to narrow that down. How good is it? The problem for New England is the weak schedule they faced. They put up some gaudy numbers including games scoring 38, 35, 31, 31, 30, 37, 34, 38, 31, 34, 41, 49 and 45. But, those games came against the Dolphins, Bills, Raiders, Jets, Chiefs, Eagles, Colts, Redskins and Broncos. So, I believe New England's offensive numbers are bit inflated based on the competition. This offense struggled against good defenses including the Cowboys, Steelers, Giants and Ravens. If Tom Brady has time to sit in the pocket and throw, he is nearly unstoppable. But, if he is moved off his spot, he can quickly turn into an average quarterback. The Ravens did that last week, and Brady had a bad game. In 2008, the Giants did it, and won the Super Bowl. The Giants again this year have the capability to move him off his spot, even rushing only four, if those players' names include Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Umenyiora, Canty and Bernard. New York was tied for 2nd in the league this year in sacks with 48 in the regular season. If you hope to contain Brady, this is a prerequisite and the Giants, at least on paper, fit the bill. The big question in this game in my mind is, which Giants defense shows up? Is it the team that allowed 27 points per game through the first 15 weeks? Or is it the one that allowed 13 per game from that point forward? I believe it will be somewhere in-between but I definitely feel that this defense is much better than the full-season numbers would indicate. I think the Patriots are likely to score in the high 20's in this game (likely around 27 points).

So, we are left with a predicted score of around 27 to 27, give or take (this is not a precise science). Based on this, and other factors, I do believe the oddsmakers got this line wrong. I think it should be about a pick'em spread but they are giving the Giants 3 points. The truth is, either team can win this game, so getting points represents value. But, there are other reasons to like the Giants here too...

Other reasons I like the Giants
The Patriots have had a great season on paper, but I don't know how much they really proved. Sure, they have a very pretty record and their offense can score a lot of points. They've won ten straight games since the Giants beat them. But who have the Patriots beaten? Prior to last week's win over Baltimore, the Patriots had not beaten a winning team (a team that finished the regular season above 8-8) all year! They went 1-4 ATS this season vs. playoff teams. In their only real regular season tests, they lost to both Pittsburgh and the Giants. And, last week's win was a squeaker. The Ravens were a dropped TD pass away from ending the Patriots season. Then, a 32-yard chip shot was missed to send New England to this game. So New England needed a lot of luck to escape at home with a win in a game in which they were a TD favorite. The Giants also received some luck last week, but that was on the road as an underdog in weather conditions that were supposed to benefit their opponent. Can the Patriots beat a good team without that luck? I'm not saying they can't. They certainly can win this game. But, the point is that they probably shouldn't be favored here against the Giants because they haven't shown yet that they can win as a favorite vs. a quality team.

Meanwhile, the Giants this year proved themselves against winning teams. New York went 4-3 straight-up and 5-2 ATS vs. playoff teams this season. They had to win playoff games on the road in Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco to get here. The Giants played up to their competition level this season. Versus losing teams, New York went 3-4 SU and 2-5 ATS. But vs. .500 or greater teams, they went 9-3 SU and 9-2-1 ATS! While New England faced teams this season that collectively went 141-157 (.473), the Giants faced teams that went 176-139 (.559). So yes, the Pats put up better numbers and posted a better record, but once you account for competition, these teams start looking a lot more similar with the edge maybe going to the Giants. And, on top of the easy schedule, the Pats benefited from a large positive turnover margin this season (+17 in turnovers - 3rd best in the league). As I've written before, turnovers are mostly luck and you can't count on that positive luck continuing every game. The two teams that were luckier than New England this season? Green Bay and San Francisco. Ask them how it turned out for them vs. the Giants when the turnover battle didn't go their way.

The concern for backing the Giants has to be weeks 10-15 where they went 1-5 and were outscored 188-136. Let's look at those games. Were the Giants really that bad during that stretch or were those results at all misleading? Three of those five losses came to teams that went deep into the playoffs this season (SF, GB, NO). In those three games, the Giants lost the turnover battle 6-to-2. So those three losses all of a sudden don't look that bad in retrospect. The other two losses came to Philadelphia and Washington. In those two games, the Giants defense actually played very well. The problem was that their offense scored a total of 20 points, possibly held down by division opponents who know better than most how to slow down the Giants offense. I don't think they are at risk of scoring that low in this game considering that this team has averaged 28 points per game since then and faces a defense that can give up chunks of yardage.

In the first matchup between these teams this season, the Giants were able to go on the road and win outright as a 9-point underdog despite the absence of Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks. Those two will be playing in this game and as a result, this Giants offense will be that much harder to stop. The Giants have shown in the playoffs the ability to convert on third down. New England is one of the worst teams in the league this season at getting off the field on third down (ranked 28th, allowing 43.46% opponent third-down conversion success). Why can't New York win again?

There are of course some concerns in backing the Giants here. The first one is the revenge factor. Bill Belichick is a master at beating teams that beat him earlier in the same season. The Belichick+Brady combo is 43-13 SU and 36-17-3 ATS in games when avenging a loss. A New York win here would be their third straight over the Hoody and Brady and that seems unlikely. But, each game is different. Revenge usually plays a bigger role when your opponent lets down. This is the Super Bowl. There will be no Giants letdown. They want to win this too. Additionally, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have proven a pretty potent combo as well. Together they have posted a 40-25 SU and 41-23-1 ATS record when playing on the road. When carrying momentum into a road game (coming off a win), they are 27-12 SU and 28-10-1 ATS.

The higher seed in the Super Bowl has gone just 1-12-2 ATS the last fifteen Super Bowls. Number one seeds (New England) are just 6-12-1 ATS since 1990 including 2-8 SU and ATS the last ten years! Can the Giants keep up their improbable upset winning? In the last 19 Super Bowls that featured a team off an upset win as an underdog, that team has gone 12-6-1 ATS in the big game. If the team is off back-to-back upset wins to arrive here, they are 6-1-1 ATS in the Super Bowl. So don't worry about predicting another upset. Based on recent history, it's more likely than not.

The bottom line here is that either team can win this game. If Brady is protected and is on, the Patriots will likely win. If the Giants turn the ball over a lot and New England protects it, the Pats will win. But, not knowing what will happen with turnovers, I think the edge goes to the Giants thanks to a tougher schedule and getting hot at the right time. I like the Giants matchups on offense, especially in the passing game and I like New York's chances at getting pressure on Brady to keep him from picking them apart. Getting points in a game like this is the right way to go. Take the G-Men plus the 3 points!

FINAL SCORE
TEAM 1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q FINAL
Giants 9 0 6 6 21
Patriots 0 10 7 0 17

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Wins Losses Units
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