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2007 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 03, 2008

03

New York at New England

Sunday 02/03 06:00 PM Eastern

4 units on New York +12.5 (-110) (risk 4 to return 4)  RESULT: WIN

The New England Patriots were supposed to be here, and the Giants were not. New York pulled off three road wins including two stunning upsets in Dallas and Green Bay to make it to the big game. The Patriots have put together a season that have many wondering if this is the best team of all time. At 18-0, they have to be in that conversation. But are they the best ever? The Giants may have something to say about that.

The G-Men opened the 2007 campaign 0-2, allowing 80 points. Very quickly everyone was calling for Tom Coughlin's job. It was then that the Giants showed what they are capable of as they ran off six straight wins, out-scoring the opponents 152-79. After going 3-3 over their next six games, things began to look dicey for the Giants. A week 15 loss to the Redskins had them at 9-5 and facing a difficult must-win game in Buffalo in terrible weather conditions. Ten minutes in to that game, the Giants found themselves down 14-0. It was a defining moment for them, as they went on to out-score the Bills 38-7 the rest of the way. In the process they found a secret weapon.

Ahmad Bradshaw showed his break-away speed on an 88 yard TD run in the Buffalo game. He finished with 151 yards rushing. It changed the Giants offense, and it also seemed to change Eli Manning. The Giants offense was elevated to new heights as they closed out their last four games plus the three quarters in Buffalo averaging 28.2 ppg. This was an offense that was heretofore sputtering, not having topped 21 points in seven consecutive weeks. In fact, they were held to 17 or less in five of those weeks! Eli Manning had thrown 19 interceptions to that point, and the conventional wisdom was that Eli may never become a good QB. My how things have changes. Since that week 15 game, he has thrown just one interception and has led his team to the Super Bowl well ahead of schedule. His QB rating over the last four games has risen to 110.1, a mark he only topped in a week one performance vs Dallas. The fact is Manning only achieved a QB rating of 100+ twice all season, and his last four games his rating has averaged 110.1! And, that was during a time that one of the top threats, Plaxico Burress, was severely hobbled (he'll be healthy for this game). Whatever the reasons, the once mediocre Giants offense has now become a serious threat.

In their first ten games, New England set the bar to a new high and expectations followed. They won those ten games by a combined score of 411 to 158. The only team to keep them under 34 points was Indianapolis. As a result, it has become next to impossible for even them, a team with so much talent, to live up to expectations. New England's first ten games exceeded anything anyone has ever seen before in the NFL. They produced 41.1 ppg as Brady threw for 38 TD passes. The Pats were winning games by a stunning 25.4 ppg. They covered nine of their first ten against the number and the odds-makers decided they were going to make you pay so much to take them, it would be nearly impossible for them to cover. They went from laying an average of 10.6 ppg in their first 10 games to laying 17.1 ppg in their last eight. To put that in perspective, the NFL very seldom sees pointspreads of over 17 but the Pats averaged that for half a season - truly remarkable. The result was a bad 1-7 ATS mark the rest of the way out. So what happened?

Why did New England suddenly stop blowing teams out? We have some answers. Over those amazing first ten games, Tom Brady had an average QB rating of 129.6. But he has posted a very ordinary 93.4 rating over his last eight games (17 points behind Manning's last four). The Pats winning margin fell from 25.4 over the first ten to 10.1 over the last eight. The offense went from scoring 41.1 to 28.8 (remember the Giants are scoring 28.2 last five). The most telling reason in our minds is that teams began to give New England the short passes, but were not going to allow the big play. Think of it as a shift from Randy Moss to Wes Welker. Opponents have been taking away New England's big plays and taking their chances defending the short field. New England still finds the end zone - they are still a great team. But their drives now eat up the clock and the game gets shortened. Teams are making the New England offense work to score. The proof? Over the first seven games, New England's offense scored on 11 pass plays from outside of the red zone (greater than 20 yards). Over the last 11 games they did it just five times! What was once an offense that was scoring 1.57 TDs per game this way, has been reduced to 0.45 times per game. That is greater than one TD per game drop.

This approach, while not stopping the New England juggernaut, has worked in slowing it. It's one of the prime reasons New England has not been able to cover their lofty numbers and why their offensive production has dropped from 41 to 29 points per game. It has also made the game's best QB a lot less productive as the season has progressed. Brady threw for 38 TDs to just 4 INTs in his first ten games - a ridiculous 9.5-to-1 ratio. But he has since thrown for only 17 with 7 INTs (2.4-to-1). Still good but not anywhere close to where he started.

Then there is the New England defense. This defense allowed teams in the red zone 3+ times during a game in just four of their first ten games (40%). In contrast, seven of the last eight opponents have gotten into the red zone 3+ times (88%)! The Pats defense has allowed opposing offenses more goal-to-goal opportunities in the last eight games than they did in the first ten. The Giants have been just the opposite. They had three goal-to-goal opportunities or more in a game in just four of their first 11 games. Since then, their offense has had 3+ in four of eight games. Their defense has also played six games in which the opponent had no goal-to-goal opportunities the entire game! Strahan and Umenyiora were able to get to and neutralize Romo and Favre. Brady is better than both, but the point is this Giants defense is playing amazingly well and taking great offenses and making them look average.

New England has better talent and we are in awe at what they have been able to accomplish this season. They are a great team and one of the best ever. But, if you look at how they are playing since week ten, they are not a team that warrants a spread this high, not against a team that is playing as good as the Giants. The Pats peaked over three months ago. The fact that they are so good, and posted such unreal early-season numbers, has somewhat masked the fact that they have fallen off significantly from where they were. They are on the downswing while their opponent is on the upswing. The Giants are much closer to New England the way these teams have played over the last eight games or so. New England is a potent team, but they are not playing nearly the same as they once were. As teams have adjusted their defense to slow the Pats down, New England's production has dropped drastically and they have been unable to cover large pointspreads.

The Giants are a better team than New England faced in week 17 when New York lost by just 3 points after leading by 12 late in the game. A confident New York team will stay in this game, and if things break the right way will have a shot to win it. In the end, we'd aren't going to go against Brady and company to get win #19. But, this game should be close and come down to the end with New York having a shot in the fourth quarter. This line, as all New England spreads since mid-season, is too high. Grab the points. We expect this line to go up as game time approaches. As the flood of public money hits the books on Saturday and Sunday (the public will be on the Pats), we wouldn't be surprised to see this line get back into the 13-14 range so if you can hold out, we suggest you do. Good luck!


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