Giants Quarterback: Manning (4933 passing yards, 29 TD, 16 INT) caused a mini- controversy by stating he considered himself on par with Brady prior to the season, then went out and backed up that claim by delivering easily the best year of his highly-scrutinized career. The levelheaded quarterback set a Giants' season record for passing yards while engineering five fourth-quarter comebacks, including the one against the Patriots in November that halted New England's 20-game home winning streak in non-playoff tilts. Manning's play hasn't dropped off this postseason either, with the Super Bowl XLII MVP having thrown eight touchdown passes against one interception over New York's three playoff games while twice eclipsing the 300-yard barrier.
Giants Running Backs: The Giants still have the same two backs that split ball- carrying duties during their memorable upset of the Patriots four years ago, though the tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw (659 rushing yards, 34 receptions, 11 total TD) and Brandon Jacobs (571 rushing yards, 15 receptions, 8 total TD) both averaged under four yards per attempt during the regular season and the team ranked dead last in rushing offense (89.2 ypg). New York's ground game has been more effective down the stretch, however, with Bradshaw's health having improved after missing part of the year with a cracked bone in his foot. He sat out the Week 10 meeting with New England due to the injury, with Jacobs gaining a solid 72 yards and a touchdown on 18 totes as the lead man.
Giants Wide Receivers: Manning's rise to the elite quarterback ranks was aided by the work of a wideout corps that really came of age in 2011. Victor Cruz (82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD) was a revelation in his first year as a full-time player and 2009 first-round pick Hakeem Nicks (76 receptions, 1192 yards, 7 TD) turned in a second straight outstanding campaign, with the duo giving New York its first pairing of 1,000-yard receivers in team history. Nicks, who's fully expected to play in the Super Bowl despite spraining his right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over San Francisco, has piled up 335 yards and four touchdowns on 18 receptions in the G-Men's three playoff tests, while fourth- year pro Mario Manningham (39 receptions, 4 TD) has a scoring catch in all three of those games and gives Manning a dangerous No. 3 target that can also stretch the field.
Giants Tight Ends: The Giants were thought to be in dire straits at this position heading into the season following the free-agent defection of Kevin Boss to Oakland, but former practice-squad member Ballard (38 receptions, 4 TD) eased concerns with an unexpectedly solid year. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound undrafted player averaged nearly 16 yards per catch in addition to providing a big body for the running game, and came up with a four-catch, 67-yard effort against New England in November that included the go-ahead touchdown grab in the final seconds. Backup Travis Beckum has made a greater contribution as of late, as his seven receptions in the playoffs were two more than he had during the entire regular season.
Giants Offensive Line: Though three starters from New York's 2007 Super Bowl champion squad remain on the current roster, a combination of age and injuries has taken a toll on what's been the offense's weak link. Left tackle David Diehl and right-sider Kareem McKenzie are both seasoned veterans with considerable big-game experience, but each struggled in protection for much of the year and Manning was sacked six times while facing constant pressure in the Giants' narrow win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship. A season-ending detached retina to the group's best pass blocker, tackle Will Beatty, in November has compounded the problem, with Diehl forced to shift back outside after opening the year at left guard and pedestrian fill-in Kevin Boothe moving into the starting lineup as a result. Center David Baas, a high-profile offseason pickup from San Francisco, also missed considerable time with neck problems in his Giants' debut. The line's stalwart is right guard Chris Snee, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who's sat out just one game over the past seven seasons.
Patriots Defensive Line: After employing a four-man front for most of the season, in large part to play to the strengths of the now-injured Andre Carter and underachieving and since-released tackle Albert Haynesworth, Belichick switched back to the 3-4 alignment the Patriots have traditionally used under his tutelage shortly before the team's playoff march. Veteran Vince Wilfork (52 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT), the lone defender on the active roster who was present for the Super Bowl XLII setback to the Giants, has flourished with the scheme change and put forth a monster outing in the AFC Championship, in which the four-time Pro Bowl honoree made six tackles, one sack and three stops for losses. Young charges Kyle Love (33 tackles, 3 sacks) and Brandon Deaderick (17 tackles, 2 sacks) are both sound run-stoppers that work in a rotation with seasoned pros Gerard Warren (12 tackles, 1 sack) and Shaun Ellis (14 tackles, 1 sack), who'll be playing in his first Super Bowl in a 12-year career spend predominantly with the rival New York Jets.
Patriots Inside Linebackers: The presence of Jerod Mayo (95 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT), one of the league's more active and instinctive linebackers, and second- year thumper Brandon Spikes (47 tackles) makes this area probably New England's greatest strength on defense. Spikes missed eight games with a knee injury before returning to action for the regular-season finale, and it's not a coincidence that the Pats were tougher against the run after he came back. The 24-year-old also had a big day in the conference title game, registering a team-best nine tackles and coming up with a key fourth-quarter interception.
Patriots Outside Linebackers: While Carter turned out to be New England's best offseason acquisition, the addition of ex-Texan Mark Anderson (29 tackles, 10 sacks) was a very astute pickup as well. The pass-rushing specialist came through with 10 sacks during the regular season and one more in the playoffs, while his ability to create pressure from both a standup linebacker or a down end allows Belichick to give the opposition a variance of looks. The same can be said about the unheralded Rob Ninkovich (74 tackles, 2 INT), who established a career high with 6 1/2 sacks in addition to holding up very well in run support.
Patriots Cornerbacks: Though the Patriots permitted 293.9 passing yards per game prior to the playoffs, that concerning total was offset by the 23 interceptions the team produced, tied for second-most in the NFL. Nearly one- third of those picks came from Kyle Arrington (88 tackles, 7 INT, 13 PD), who emerged as New England's steadiest cornerback in his second year as a starter, while counterpart Devin McCourty (87 tackles, 2 INT, 12 PD) garnered seven interceptions of his own during a stellar rookie campaign in 2010 before having his play drop off in a sophomore slump. Finding a capable nickel back after rookie Ras-I Dowling's year-ending hip injury in September had been a season- long chore, but the play of AFC Championship hero Sterling Moore (7 tackles, 2 INT) since being inserted into that role may have finally resolved that issue. Patriots Safeties: Here's another position group that's been a mess for New England for much of this season but has shown signs of progress as of late. One reason for that improvement has been the return of the hard-hitting Patrick Chung (62 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) from a sprained foot that kept him out much of the second half, with a desperate Belichick forced to audition several candidates without much success in the wake of the injury. James Ihedigbo (69 tackles), signed away from the Jets back in August, is a strong tackler but isn't considered an asset in coverage, with McCourty recently having seen time on the back end on obvious passing downs to help bolster the overall pass defense.