QUARTERBACKS

This is the first Super Bowl in which both starting quarterbacks have been Super Bowl MVPs: Tom Brady twice, Eli Manning once, in his Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots. Both set franchise records for passing yards this year, Brady throwing for 5,235, Manning 4,933. Brady threw for 39 touchdowns, Manning 29. Tough to pick between the two, but Brady’s postseason experience — he has three Super Bowl titles — gives him the edge.

EDGE: New England

RUNNING BACKS

Neither team has a stellar attack. The Giants, in fact, had the NFL’s worst rushing average (89.2 yards) in the regular season. The Patriots were ranked 20th with 110.3 yards per game. But the Giants have rushed better lately, led by bruising backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. The Patriots counter with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.

EDGE: Even

WIDE RECEIVERS

While the Patriots have the unstoppable Wes Welker (122 catches for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns) and dependable Deion Branch (51 catches, five touchdowns), the receivers drop off considerably after that. Chad Ochocinco’s 15 catches were a huge disappointment. The Giants, meanwhile, have three dynamic receivers. Victor Cruz had a breakout season with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns (Of note, he and Welker each caught a 99-yard touchdown pass). Hakeem Nicks also went over 1,000 receiving yards, despite missing a couple games. And Mario Manningham has come on with three touchdown catches in the playoffs.

EDGE: New York

TIGHT ENDS

No one can come close to matching New England’s 1-2 punch of Rob Gronkowski, who set single-season tight end records for receiving yards (1,327) and touchdowns (17), and Aaron Hernandez, whose diversity allowed him to catch 79 passes in the regular season, then line up in the backfield and gain 61 yards rushing against Denver in the playoffs. The Giants’ Jake Ballard is a dependable receiver and Bear Pascoe is a nice blocker.

EDGE: New England

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Patriots have shuffled players in and out of the offensive line all season, with only right guard Brian Waters starting every game. When healthy, this is a strong group, led by the left side of guard Logan Mankins and tackle Matt Light. Sebastian Vollmer, injured much of the year, likely will be ready for the Super Bowl, possibly moving rookie tackle Nate Solder to a reserve spot. Brady was sacked 32 times this year. The Giants have likewise had to move people around, but their line is playing well. Right guard Chris Snee is dependable and left tackle David Diehl has played well. Manning was sacked only 28 times this year.

EDGE: Even

LINEBACKERS

Jerod Mayo is the best linebacker among the two teams. He has led New England in tackles in each of his four NFL seasons and always makes huge hits. Rob Ninkovich may be one of the most under-rated linebackers, with 6.5 sacks in the regular season and another 1.5 in the playoffs. And Brandon Spikes, who missed eight games because of injuries, is back making huge plays, such as his AFC championship game interception. For the Giants, Mathias Kiwanuka, healthy for the first time in a while, had a huge regular season with 24.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Michael Boley is healthy and playing well. Chase Blackburn, signed on Nov. 30 when injuries hit the group, is now a starter and has made a huge difference, including a team-high seven tackles in the NFC championship game.

EDGE: Even

SECONDARY

This is a sore spot for the Patriots. Injuries and ineffective play left the Patriots with the second-worst passing defense in the league, giving up 293.9 yards per game. The Giants weren’t a whole lot better, giving up 255.1 yards to rank 29th of 32 teams. But the Giants have had consistent starters all year in cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross and safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle, with help from Deon Grant — a heavy hitter like Rolle. The Patriots, meanwhile, often move CB Devin McCourty to safety, leaving rookie Sterling Moore at one corner along with Kyle Arrington, who has played well all year. Patrick Chung is healthy at safety. But when they go to a nickel package, wide receiver Julian Edelman is brought in and can be exploited.

EDGE: New York

DEFENSIVE LINE

Two entirely different beasts. The Patriots are a power line, keyed by tackle Vince Wilfork. DE Mark Anderson is probably their best pass rusher, though Wilfork has 2.5 sacks in the playoffs, and everyone is stout against the run. New England has gone back to a 3-4 base for the playoffs, with Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick lining up with Wilfork, and Anderson lining up as a linebacker. The Giants, meanwhile, are a fierce group that combines athleticism and speed with brute strength. DE Jason Pierre-Paul led the team with 16.5 sacks in the regular season, while Osi Umenyiora had nine sacks in nine games — and has 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the playoffs. Justin Tuck is healthy and has 1.5 sacks in the playoffs. Chris Canty and Linval Joseph provide the power rush.

EDGE: New York

SPECIAL TEAMS

On paper there’s not much separating the specialists. Neither team returns kicks well, so that’s a draw. The punters, Zoltan Mesko of New England and Steve Weatherford of the Giants, are both capable of booming the ball deep or pinning it inside the 20. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski was the third-leading scorer among kickers with 143 points and was 10th in the league with 41 touchbacks on kickoffs. Both those numbers are better than the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes, who had 100 points and 34 touchbacks. But Tynes has something Gostkowski doesn’t. Twice he’s kicked the winning field goal in overtime of an NFC championship game to put the Giants into the Super Bowl.

EDGE: New York

COACHES

Two of the NFL’s very best match wits — Tom Coughlin (153-121 career, 7-3 playoffs) and Bill Belichick (192-105, 17-6 ). Both are demanding coaches who teach fundamentally-sound football. They get the best out of their players, and with two weeks to prepare know how to exploit an opponent. Coughlin has done a great job leading the Giants to five consecutive must-wins. But Belichick has done a better job getting this team to the Super Bowl.

EDGE: New England


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