HEAD TO HEAD: Scarnati, Thibodaux break down Super Bowl XLII

Tri-Parish Times sports editor Chris Scarnati and staff columnist Brad Thibodaux debate the upcoming Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, which will be played Sunday, Feb. 3, in Glendale, Ariz.

OFFENSE



Chris Scarnati: Mr. Thibodaux might know about crawfish and hot sauce, but he doesn’t know pigskin if he truly believes the Giants offense has the weaponery to trade blows with the Pats.



Eli Manning is a capable quarterback … at times. He’s been hot in the playoffs thus far, but Eli has never been as consistant as older brother Peyton.

Nor has he ever been as prolific as Tom Brady.



When teams double-cover No. 1 target Randy Moss, the NFL’s passing leader settles into a comfortable rhythm with receivers Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth and tight end Ben Watson. His 50 touchdown strikes were scattered to a number of names.



Assumption High graduate Brandon Jacobs (6-foot-4, 264 pounds) is a powerful running back who can shred defensive lines as if they were made of tissue paper.

Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have the potential to outshine the Patriots’ one-two-three punch of Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Still, Maroney chose an excellent time to peak – he has topped 100 yards rushing in four of his last five games.



The Pats O-line is relatively unheralded, but it’s a major factor explaining the team’s unblemished record.



And unfortunately, it’s a unit that has done an excellent job of protecting Brady’s pretty-boy looks.

Advantage Patriots



Brad Thibodaux: Chris, you hopeless New England Homer. I know being from Pennsylvania makes you hate everything New York. But come on, man.



Eli Manning is more than capable. Since the last game of the regular season and through three playoff victories, his quarterback rating has been through the roof, averaging a rating well over 115 per game.

He had a career high 118.6 rating against the Patriots in Week 17. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns. He is the hottest quarterback in the league. So look for him to continue with this flawless play in Arizona.



The Giants receivers are big, fast, physical and sure-handed. If you double cover Toomer or Burress, the Pats are left one-on-one against rookie Steve Smith and crafty veteran David Tyree.



By spreading out New England’s defense there should be plenty of holes for speedster Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to run through.

I’ll give props to the Patriots’ linebackers, but they ain’t that good.



Advantage Draw



DEFENSE

CS: New England will likely employ a base cover 2 – a defensive scheme Manning has become quite familiar with during the regular season. Manning should be able to throw the Patriots off kilter with a series of screen and slant passes.



The Giants finished with a higher-ranked defense during the regular season, allowing 290 yards per game to New England’s 350. So far, this group has also looked impressive throughout the playoffs and came up especially big against Green Bay last week when LSU grad Corey Webster picked off Brett Favre in OT, setting up the game-winning field goal.



Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel has the ability to give Manning some serious nightmares, but the Giants boast an improved secondary that continues to get better each week.

New York will need to put pressure on Brady to keep the score within reach, and this won’t be an easy task.



As a native of Pittsburgh, a city synonymous with the Steel Curtain defense, I feel more qualified to comment on this category than Mr. Thibodaux. If you want information on beer league softball or early-warning signs for male-pattern baldness, Crawdad Brad is more your man.



Advantage Giants

BT: The Patriots defense is showing the wear of having to carry the team for the second half of the season and two playoff games. The Giants offense is healthy and all of their playmakers are at 100 percent.



By going to three and four receiver sets and spreading the ball around, the Patriots defense will have a hard time protecting the short pass and quick power runs from Jacobs and Bradshaw.



New England linebackers Junior Seau and Teddy Bruschi will be tired and hurting by the third quarter and DB Asante Samuel can’t cover everybody.

The Giants defense is playing hard-nosed, smash-mouth football. CB Corey Webster’s press coverage style will throw off the routes of Randy Moss. Couple that with constant pressure on Tom Brady from defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, and you have the makings of a Super Bowl sack party.



Chris, as sure as Ben Roethlisberger’s head bounces off a windshield, the Giants defense will pick up where they left off in Green Bay, putting an unhappy ending to Hall of Fame quarterbacks’ and the Patriots’ storybook season.



Advantage Giants

SPECIAL TEAMS



CS: Despite nailing the winning field goal from 47 yards away, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was the object of Tom Coughlin’s wrath last week after shanking two other late-game kicks against Green Bay. There’s no room for error against the 17-0 Pats.

Stephen Gostkowski is a proven kicker for New England, but he doesn’t have the golden leg of departed Patriot Adam Vinatieri – at least not yet.

Kick returners Ellis Hobbs and Maroney are dangerous, and Welker can do damage on punt returns. R.W. McQuarters and Domenik Hixon can return kicks to paydirt, but New England does a great job of shoring up the running lanes.

Against the Patriots, New York’s special teams will appear less than special.

Advantage Patriots

BT: Once again, I find myself at a loss to pick a true winner in this area.

Neither the Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes or Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski excites me. Both are adequate field-goal kickers and can make the big kick from 35-plus yards and they both drive the ball deep on kick-offs.

In the return game, I will give a slight advantage to the Giants with R.W. McQuarters and Domenik Hixon for kick-offs and punt returns. I don’t expect anyone to take a kick to the house during this Super Bowl, but field position will be critical.

I’ll take the special teams unit playing with a chip on its shoulder.

Advantage Giants

X-FACTOR

CS: Brady has spent the past week hobbling around in a cast that is protecting what was rumored to be an injured right foot, but it doesn’t appear serious. Either way, Gisele Bundchen should do a nice job of nursing him back to health.

New England has won three Super Bowls since the Giants last appeared in the big dance, and all three victories have come by three points. In fact, the Pats defeated the Giants by three points at the Meadowlands on Dec. 29.

This is a team that clearly knows how to stave off defeat in the tight ones.

New York has won 10 consecutive road games. However, the team graced the front cover of Sports Illustrated last week.

Even Brad should know what that means.

Advantage Patriots

BT:The Patriots are already behind the eight ball in distractions.

Is Brady’s ankle hurt? He probably injured it after one of his supermodel girlfriends put a stiletto through it because he got her pregnant, too.

Anyway, you throw in Randy Moss and allegations of battery on his one-time girlfriend, and you got the headlines the Patriots front office, coaching staff and locker room hate.

New England finds itself with everything to lose. If they do, their perfect season goes down in history as a punch line.

With a defeat, this team’s greatness title is replaced by headlines of its wasted promise.

As for the Giants, they have no distraction. The best thing that ever happened to this team was Tiki Barber retiring and Jeremy Shockey getting hurt.

With those self-absorbed, ego-driven wannabes gone, that gives Eli Manning the quiet peace he’s been longing for since he got to the Big Apple.

Advantage Giants

OVERALL

CS: Manning completed 22 of 32 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-35 Dec. 29 loss to Brady and Co. He also completed 68.8 percent of his throws – the highest by any quarterback against New England.

All of that didn’t matter. The Patriots still found a way to win, as they always have this season.

If the Giants play their best game of the year and New England chokes out its worst, the Vince Lombardi Trophy might go to the Big Apple. But the smart money is definitely on the Pats.

Remember: There’s a reason Vegas odds-makers are favoring them to win comfortably.

Final Score: New England Patriots 34, New York Giants 23

BT: Let’s face it. The Giants are playing with a lot of spirit and determination, while the Patriots are busy taking flowers to their girlfriends. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Final Score: New York Giants 30, New England Patriots 24