Defense, Manning Boost Giants' Super Bowl Odds New England is looking to be the second NFL team to finish an undefeated season with a Super Bowl win, and New York entered the playoffs as a wild card entry, so the game is statistically unbalanced. But the strength of the Giants defense and quarterback Eli Manning could be something to watch Sunday.
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Defense, Manning Boost Giants' Super Bowl Odds

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Defense, Manning Boost Giants' Super Bowl Odds

Defense, Manning Boost Giants' Super Bowl Odds

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And soon, the hype will subside. The CEOs and the celebrities will take their seats and they will actually play the football game. The Super Bowl is just two days away, and you can't get more business of sports than that, and that's why Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal joins us now, as he does most Fridays.

Hello, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Staff Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: Quite a buildup to this game, huh?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. Aren't you sick of it? I am. I'm tired of the fact that the NFL continues to insist on staging the Super Bowl two weeks after the conference championship games. You know, the layoff does allow players to heal a little bit, but it's largely for business purposes, for corporate clients and this media hype. And at this point, though, the Super Bowl doesn't need to be hyped, 90 million people are going to watch it, period. I think the delay actually sucks momentum and kills anticipation for the game. It's become a real disservice to fans.

NORRIS: Okay. You know, I can't - we said this a hundred times, so I guess we have to say it again here. The main storyline, of course, is that the New England Patriots in their pursuit of a perfect season, 19 wins, no losses.

Mr. FATSIS: Yes. And we'll compare them one more time to the 17 and 0 1972 Miami Dolphins. But there's really no comparison. With the exception of 152 to nothing win over the Patriots, those Dolphins didn't resemble a juggernaut. They won their other games by an average of just 11 points. These Patriots have. They've won by an average of 19 points. They scored the most points in an NFL season ever. They were number one in the league in yards for game, passing yards, third down conversions, performance inside their opponent's 20-yard line. In every game I watched, when Tom Brady, the quarterback, has the ball, there's been an inevitability that the Patriots will score and even when trailing, they will find a way to win.

NORRIS: And on the other side, the New York Giants; they barely made the playoffs.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. Aaron Schatz on the Web site Football Outsiders, says that this breakdown is one of the biggest mismatches in Super Bowl history. He says that the Giants are only one of three teams in the last 30 years to make the Super Bowl after winning 10 or fewer regular season games. The Giants outscored their opponents by just 22 points, third worst in Super Bowl history, compared to 315 points by the Patriots. The Giants committed 10 more turnovers than they forced, and that's second worst in Super Bowl history.

NORRIS: But we should give the Giants their props. They only lost by three points when they played the Patriots back in December

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, their offense has improved. In that game, and then in the three subsequent playoff games, the difference has been almost entirely the passing game of Eli Manning, the Giants' young quarterback. In his last four games, he's thrown no interceptions and he's completed 64 percent of his passes versus 55 percent the rest of the season. That's a big difference. And as Aaron Schatz notes, he's been more judicious about where to throw the ball. There have been more mid-range passes, fewer short ones, almost no long passes. And that's something to look for on Sunday.

NORRIS: And Eli Manning, is it possible for a player to improve that much that fast?

Mr. FATSIS: Yes. Sometimes it just clicks for athletes. You hear it all the time. The game slows down and begins to make sense. The problem for the Giants isn't going to be Eli Manning, it's Tom Brady. That December game decided by just three points, Brady was coldly efficient to have any chance. The Giants have to disrupt Tom Brady to limit the amount of time that he has to operate.

NORRIS: Now, we've mentioned this a number of times but heck, let's do it again. You've got a book coming out soon about being a place kicker in NFL training camp. This week, you wrote what might be the longest Super Bowl kicker preview ever on Slate.com. So make us want to pay attention to the kickers on Sunday, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. This is - this game is not about Brady and Giselle, it's about Gostkowski and Tynes. Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots, not Adam Vinatieri whose leg was the difference on all three of the team's recent Super Bowl wins. Lawrence Tynes of the Giants went on Letterman last week after making a 47-yard field goal to beat Green Bay in the conference championship. Watch their kickoff. Gostkowski has the stronger leg, which could be worth a few extra yards in field position. For the Giants to win, they can't afford to give Tom Brady any free yards. In my estimation, kickers are most important players in Arizona.

NORRIS: Okay. That's your story and you're sticking with it. Thank you, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: And we should say happy anniversary because 10 years ago, today, Stefan Fatsis made his first appearance on this program.

So, goodbye and happy anniversary, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

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