After a surprising result in which the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers in the first semifinal matchup of PFW’s “In the Trenches” bracket, it’s time to determine who will face them in the championship. Who has the best offense in the NFL? The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints battle it out for a spot in the finals.
Here’s a sampling of what the PFW staff had to say about the matchup:
Associate editor Kevin Fishbain:
“Patriots: This was the toughest matchup to decide to this point. The QB matchup is essentially a wash, Brady and Brees are two of the best quarterbacks in the game. I know Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham provide some unique, effective weapons for Brees, but I went with the Patriots because Brady simply has more at his disposal. He has Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and now Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. There is more depth among the Pats' pass catchers than there is in New Orleans. I would also take New England's O-line over the Saints'.”
Editor-in-chief Keith Schleiden:
“Few teams in the NFL boast offenses as dynamic as those of the Saints and Patriots. It all starts under center, with Drew Brees and Tom Brady both surpassing Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage mark in 2011 — a record that had stood since 1984. Thanks to a large pool of playmakers at his disposal, Brees captains an offense that ranked No. 1 in yards and No. 2 in points last season. Brady, with a similarly deep group of offensive talent, led the Patriots to a No. 2 finish in yards and No. 3 in points scored. Pretty even. Where I give the Saints a slight edge is in the balance department. With the likes of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas, the Saints have a deep backfield that racked up 132.9 yards (No. 6) on the ground a season ago compared to New England’s 110.3 (No. 20).”
Senior editor Mike Wilkening:
“The Patriots get a slight edge entering 2012 with the Saints losing head coach/top-caliber play-caller Sean Payton for the season. Both attacks are absolutely loaded, and you don’t need me to tell you how good Tom Brady and Drew Brees are. Also, don’t overlook how the skill of each club’s offensive line.”
Executive editor Dan Arkush:
“This is a real close call, but I’ll go with the Saints because of their ground game, which ranked sixth last season (fourth in average gain per rush). New England ranked 20th. In a big game with my choice of Brady or Brees under center, I would have a really tough time making a final decision. Two obviously huge factors moving forward that could tilt the scales in the Pats’ favor is the absence of Sean Payton’s offensive expertise this coming season due to his suspension and an unhappy Brees due to a contentious contract situation.”
Managing editor Mike Holbrook:
"This really could have been the title matchup rather than a semifinal. In a close call, I'm going to go with the Patriots because I believe they can beat you in a number of ways, whereas the Saints beat you through the air almost exclusively. As great as Drew Brees is, he's prone to forcing a pass and throwing an interception more often than Tom Brady is. And it's because you can't trust the Saints' running game fully."
Associate editor Eli Kaberon:
“The strength of the Saints' rushing attack gives them the tiniest of edges. Both teams can air it out with the best of them, and there may not be two quarterbacks I'd rather have in a big game than Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Each receiving corps is stocked with weapons, and it's impossible to say which tight end is better, Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham. But with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles in the backfield, New Orleans has more ways to beat an opponent than New England does.”
Associate editor Arthur Arkush:
“Since we can’t just flip a coin, I’m going with the Saints by the narrowest of margins. My decision boiled down to one statistic: time of possession. Both offenses are obviously elite and both defenses were lackluster last season, thus New Orleans controlling the ball over three minutes more per game than the Patriots, in turn putting less pressure on the “D,” tipped the scale for me. With both teams boasting first-ballot Hall of Famers under center, ridiculous weaponry in the passing game and fully sufficient protection up front, it's New Orleans’ decided advantage in the backfield that helps to keep defenses just a bit more honest for the Saints and perhaps move the sticks just a few more times per game.”
Associate editor Dan Parr:
“Patriots: The Patriots are a little better on the offensive line and have a bit more depth at wide receiver/tight end, but the Saints have a significant edge at running back with the Ingram-Thomas-Sproles trio. Quarterback is almost too close to call. I like New England's depth at the position better than New Orleans'. The Saints were more productive than the Patriots last season, but the Patriots are close in overall talent and their advantage in overall depth makes them the choice.”
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