There are going to be a countless number of previews for Super Bowl XLVI through the course of the week, but the Bills are one of the few teams that can offer a perspective on both the AFC and NFC champions having played both clubs in 2011.
The Bills were the only team in the AFC East to split the season series with the Patriots beating them 34-31 in Week 3 and dropped a very close decision to the Giants on the road 27-24 in Week 6. Helping provide some insight on the two Super Bowl participants is Buffalo’s multi-dimensional threat
Smith in facing both defenses this past season thought he saw a distinct advantage for the Giants based on regular season performance, but a Patriots defense that was suspect and ranked 31st in the league has improved considerably in the postseason.
“When the playoffs first started the thought was to attack that Patriots defense,” Smith told Buffalobills.com. “It looked like something you could take advantage of, but at this point they’ve proven that’s not the case anymore.”
In the regular season the Patriots were giving up 412 yards per game including almost 300 through the air (294 pass yds per game). Opposing quarterbacks were completing 62 percent of their passes and had a collective passer rating of 86.1.
In the postseason New England’s defense has shaved more than 75 yards off their yards allowed figure as it’s down to 325 yards per game. The passing yardage allowed in the playoffs has plummeted almost 100 yards to 195, thanks in large part to Tim Tebow’s forgettable performance in the Divisional round.
Completion percentage allowed has been cut back to 50 percent and opposing passer rating is a pedestrian 77.5.
At the same time the Giants defense has raised its game. Their total yardage allowed in the playoffs has shrunk 50 yards (321) from what it was in the regular season (376.4). Most of that has come against the pass where opposing quarterback completion percentage is down better than six percentage points from 61.3 to 54.9 percent.
Perhaps the most impressive defensive improvement for the Giants is with their third down defense. Allowing conversions at a rate of better than 38 percent in the regular season (38.2%), New York has cut that measure of success by opposing offenses by 10 percent in the postseason to just 28.2%.
“The Giants defense really has the same kind of momentum as the Patriots, and they’re playing like a confident group,” said Smith.
Of course what will garner the headlines in the game is the immense measure of talent on the offensive side of the ball for both clubs. It’s a laundry list of names particularly when it comes to passing targets. For the Patriots it’s Gronkowski, Hernandez and Welker. For the Giants it’s Cruz, Manningham and Nicks.
“You have two offenses with the ability to eat you up so it’s just a matter of who does it best,” said Smith. “I could see the tight ends for New England doing what Vernon Davis did against the Giants in the NFC Championship game.”
The 49ers did not turn in many big plays, but Davis was a matchup nightmare as he had three catches for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns covering 73 and 28 yards respectively.
Of course the Giants have arguably one of the best wide receiver trios in the league capable of answering a big play with one of their own.
“Those big play wide receivers with a quarterback that can put the ball on the outside and attack that New England secondary is a dangerous thing,” said Smith. “It could be high scoring, but even if it’s not I think it’s going to be a great game.”
One area where the Giants offense may have an edge is in the run game. Much like the defensive units for both clubs, New York’s run game has been surging in the postseason. After ranking dead last in the league in rushing yards per game during the regular season (89.2), the Giants have increased their rushing totals by almost 30 yards per game (117.3).
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have improved the team’s yards per carry average from 3.5 to 4.2 and it’s been critical in improving the team’s third down conversion rate from 37.4 percent in the regular season to 44.2 percent in the playoffs. Still, it’s not better than New England’s third down success rate (47.1%).
As for quarterback play Tom Brady’s numbers have stayed relatively consistent from regular season to postseason, but Eli Manning’s statistics have improved in a couple of key areas. Most notably is his touchdown to interception ratio. After putting together a solid TD:INT ratio of better than 3:1 in the regular season, he’s more than doubled it in the postseason with a ratio of 8:1.
Most experts agree that the Giants have the better pass rushing talent in the matchup, which was the case in Super Bowl XLII four years ago when New York pulled out a come from behind victory over New England.
Smith wouldn’t be shocked if the Giants are able to get hits on Brady again this time around.
“If that defensive line of the Giants with Justin Tuck and those guys puts pressure on Tom Brady and get him to move off his spot it might not be the high-scoring game that some expect,” he said.
Kickoff for Super Bowl XLVI is scheduled for 6:30 pm on Sunday.