N.Y. Giants (+3 / -120) at New England (O/U 54)
If you like the Patriots on Sunday, do not let anyone talk you out of it. You are getting a very good team at an excellent price. The Patriots could lose, and I would still respect the play.
That does not mean you are not assuming some risk if you side with New England. Those risks — a leaky defense, as well as the potential for TE Rob Gronkowski to be hobbled by a high ankle sprain — are well-known, and I doubt they are going to stop ardent Patriots backers anyway. At that price, you can overlook a few problems and hope they are simply inconveniences painted over by a slew of Tom Brady touchdown passes.
If you like the Giants ... well, you're starting to pay a little more for the privilege, aren't you? When these teams met in Week Nine in New England, the Patriots were 9½-point favorites. And were these clubs to have faced each other at the beginning of the postseason on a neutral field, I doubt the line would have been a mere field goal.
But those days are gone. Everyone knows the Giants are in top form, and they have been outstanding underdogs, covering in 7-of-9 games in this role, including their 24-20 win at New England in November. It is shades of 2007, when the Giants were 8-2 ATS when getting points, their final triumph the upset of New England in Super Bowl XLII as 12-point underdogs.
This Giants' offense is better than the '07 edition, while the Patriots' defense is clearly worse than it was four seasons ago. The Giants' edge here, if nothing else, figures to make them very competitive, but I expect it to be even more significant than that.
The Patriots' defense, while capable of getting some early stops as the Giants settle in, is unlikely to hold up well for four quarters. New England's weakness against the pass is its primary problem, but its run defense is not imposing, either. The Patriots allowed 4.63 yards per carry in the regular season, ninth-worst in the NFL.
The Patriots' title chances rest with their offense. There's nothing wrong with that, and that style could very well work. If the Patriots can handle the Giants' pass rush, Brady could thrive, and if you do not believe New England is built to win a track meet, well, we disagree on that one.
But that is OK. Everyone has an opinion on the Super Bowl. And this looks like an evenly matched game. Both teams are going to get their shots in. I expect more scoring than in the previous Super Bowl between these clubs. The defenses just aren't that good.
That said, the Giants' defense is more capable of generating pass-rush pressure and better at getting third-down stops than New England. In the last five games, New York has allowed 20 points just once — and that was in a 17-point win at powerful Green Bay.
There is a lot to like about taking New England to cover — the relatively small spread, that outstanding offense. And for all of the knocks on the defense, the Patriots have allowed just 30 points in two postseason games.
I acknowledge all of this ... but I'm taking the underdog, whom I see winning outright. The Giants have a little punch on offense, too, and if they start getting to Brady, they are going to be tough in Super Bowl XLVI.
Wilkening's pick: N.Y. Giants