Super Bowl XLVI (that’s 46 for us non-Romans) is Sunday, and that means you’re probably planning to spend the day in front of a big-screen TV, eating and drinking more than your New-Year’s-resolving-self thought possible a mere month ago. And also that you're going to be hearing about the game all week long—if you haven’t found yourself in the midst of Super Bowl chatter yet, it’s only a matter of time.
And there’re a lot of good storylines in this match-up between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. But if you haven’t been following this season, don’t worry—this guide is all you need! (Of course, if you’re not interested, you can stop reading now and start picking out some not-too-firm avocados for your guacamole, which is generally a bigger hit than the game anyway.)
But if you do want to join in the conversation with the fantasy football managers clustered around the TV on Sunday—or around your office water cooler this week—here’s your quick guide what everyone will be talking about this year.
(Note: this article assumes you already know basic football rules and just want to get caught up on this season—if you don’t know “touchdown” from “first down,” check out for The Daily Muse’s Football 101)
1. How Did We Get Here (and Where is Aaron Rogers)?
The New York Giants are surging, big time. At one point this season, after the Giants lost four straight games—including to the miserably-bad Washington Redskins—people were speculating that head coach Tom Coughlin might lose his job. They finished the season with a 9-7 record, becoming only the third team since 1978 to make it to the Super Bowl with a record this bad.
But in the play-offs, the Giants looked phenomenal. They beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-2. Then, they sent the #1 ranked Packers and quarterback Aaron Rogers packing with a win they made look easy. The score, 37-20, doesn’t even do the Giants justice—both Packers touchdowns were the result of what most viewers and the announcers felt were really bad calls by the refs. And the following week, they beat the #2 ranked 49ers to earn their spot in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have followed a more typical route to the big game. They won their division with an impressive 13-3 record (though they did lose to the Giants once during the regular season). The big story from their playoff run was how they destroyed the Denver Broncos (45-10), thanks to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s six touchdown passes. Sorry, Tim Tebow—the hype had to come to an end at some point.
2. I Think I’ve Seen This Before—Wait, is This a Re-Run?
Yep, these two teams met in the dramatic Super Bowl XLII four years ago. Remember that one? The Patriots had a perfect season. Some guy in Boston bet his girlfriend’s engagement ring that New England would win the Super Bowl. The Giants hadn’t even won their division; they made the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Patriots had actually beaten the Giants already, in the last game of the regular season.
Then the Giants, trailing by four points with just over two minutes left in the game, managed to drive almost the entire length of the field to score a touchdown and win it. There was one crucial play in which Eli Manning improbably evaded being sacked multiple times, then threw to receiver David Tyree, who caught the ball by pinning it against his helmet with one hand. People couldn’t believe it. Especially that guy in Boston who ended up paying for the same ring twice.
This year, the coaches are the same, the quarterbacks are the same, and many other players are the same. Tyree is now retired—but you can be sure that the catch is going to be talked about over and over in the pre-game show.
3. The Battle of the Quarterbacks
To extend the over-used analogy of quarterbacks as generals, Tom Brady is like Napoleon (only taller). Seriously, he is an amazingly good quarterback. If you’re a guy, you probably have a huge man-crush on him; if you’re a woman, it’s probably just a regular crush. He’s already won three Super Bowls in his 10 years as the starting quarterback. He’s got NFL records for the most touchdown passes in a season, the longest winning streak, and about 74 other things.
The Giants’ Eli Manning, on the other hand, is on the receiving end of a lot fewer man-crushes. Back in August, Eli claimed that he was one of the league’s “elite” quarterbacks, a group that includes the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Packers’ Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, and Eli’s big brother Peyton. At the time, only Eli (and maybe his mom) believed the claim—he led the league in giving up interceptions last season.
Now, he’s probably got a few more believers. He’s set personal records in all sorts of stats this season, and looked great throughout the playoffs. For some, though, it’s tough to separate Eli from his baggage, real or imagined—viewers speculate about competition between the Manning brothers (this Super Bowl will be played in Peyton’s home stadium), and his lack of class when he was drafted (ask San Diego fans about that) rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
4. Everybody Else (They’re Important, Too)
Receivers: Both teams have great receivers. The Giants’ Victor Cruz came out of nowhere this season to rack up over 1,500 receiving yards. He celebrates his touchdown catches with a salsa dance (leading to an offer from Dancing with the Stars, which he declined). Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are also top-notch.
Brady has plenty of great targets on the Patriots, and has been throwing to his two tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) a lot this season. Gronkowski has, in fact, set records for receiving yards and touchdown catches by a tight end. He’s big and he’s really hard to tackle.
Running Backs: Nothing too exciting here. Both teams have only a modest running game.
Defense: The Giants are easily the stronger defensive team. Their defensive line, which includes Jason Paul-Pierre and Osi Umenyiora, is scary fast, scary good, and will try to keep Brady off-balance throughout the game. The Giants also have a great secondary, meaning Brady might have a tough time finding open targets to throw to.
The Patriots, meanwhile, came into the playoffs with the next-to-last ranked defense in the league, though they’ve played well since then. Their defensive line is pretty good, meaning Eli might take a few hits, but their secondary is nothing special.
5. Did You Know? Other Fun Super Bowl Facts
Most importantly, kickoff is 6:30 PM EST. Crack one open, dig into the guac, and enjoy the game.
Photo courtesy of NYCMarines.
Matt Larssen is a UC Berkeley law student and NFL enthusiast. He manages several fantasy football teams, most of which, due to their dismal records, would have long ago fired him if fantasy football was anything like real-life football.More from this Author