Pariots Hope to Right Ship Against NFC East-Leading Giants

Eli Manning is having a fantastic 2011 season, and that's bad news for the Patriots, who have the worst pass-defense in the NFL. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It’s been almost four years since the New York Giants’ ended the New England Patriots’ bid for an undefeated season. That’s far too long ago to call Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium a “revenge game.” Instead, this game will simply be an opportunity for the Patriots to pull their pass defense out of the gutter.

What better way to make a statement than against the streaking, 5-2 Giants?

Eli Manning’s Giant Arm Against the Patriots’ Giant Defensive Gaps

The Patriots enter Sunday’s game with the dead-worst passing defense in the league. Seriously: they allow 323.1 yards per game, ranking them 32nd in the league. And while New England’s nine interceptions are somewhat impressive, remember that two picks belong to Vince Wilfork. Beyond the defensive line, the team’s potential for turnovers is just middle-of-the road.

The Patriots’ terrible pass-defense makes Sunday’s game a potential for total disaster. The Giants have the fourth-best passing attack in the NFL, and Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks this season. His numbers season are almost identical to Tom Brady‘s: Brady completes 67.6 percent of his passes, Manning completes 64.8. Brady throws 2.25 touchdowns per interception, Manning throws 2.6. Brady has a 104.4 QB rating (second in the NFL), Manning has a 102.1 rating (third).

Even their protection has been similar: Brady’s been sacked 14 times, Manning 15.

Manning has been nearly as good as Brady this season, but Manning will be throwing against a far inferior Patriots secondary. If Miami’s Chad Henne can throw for 416 yards, Manning’s final numbers could border on obscene.

On the other hand, the Giants allow 225.1 passing yards per game: good, but not great. New York’s linebackers – especially Michael Boley – are decent tacklers, but so far no one has been able to handle Rob Gronkowski, who at this point should be penciled in as a Pro Bowl starter. He leads all AFC tight ends in receptions, total yards, yards per game, catches over 20 yards, and first downs.

Brady should be able to throw on the Giants, but the Patriot offense will need to execute near-perfectly; their defense might not be forcing too many punts.

Pass-Heavy Offense an Opportunity for Patriots’ Defensive Line

The strongest part of the Patriots defense this season has been their defensive line. Wilfork, Andre Carter, Mark Anderson – these are big men who can make big plays.

The Giants won’t be running the ball much Sunday. They come to Foxboro with a running game ranked 30th in the NFL. And that was before starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a foot injury that will limit him at best, prevent him from playing at worst.

Facing a decent New England run-defense (ninth), New York will have to pass even more than they usually do. That means more opportunities for the Patriots’ defensive line to test the Giants’ guards. If Carter and Anderson can penetrate the backfield, Manning will either be hitting the dirt or throwing before his receivers are in position. That means better chances for Patriot interceptions.

Belichick After a Loss

Belichick is 23-2 following a loss. He hasn’t lost back-to-back games since November 2006. This game may be a shootout, but between Belichick’s savvy, the home-crowd’s enthusiasm and Carter’s brawn, the defense should make just enough plays to give Brady another victory. But Patriots fans should not expect to feel more confident in their secondary when the game is done.

Prediction: Patriots 35, Giants 31

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