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Will playmakers Mario, Cruz or Nicks exploit the Pats' pass defense?

MARCUS HENRY Special to the AmNews | 2/2/2012, 1:39 p.m.
In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants used their explosive pass rush to utterly befuddle the...
Will playmakers Mario, Cruz or Nicks exploit the Pats' pass defense?

In Super Bowl XLII, the Giants used their explosive pass rush to utterly befuddle the Patriots en route to a 17-14 win. The Giants, who still have two key players in Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora from that team, hit Tom Brady from every direction imaginable.

Believe it or not, the biggest problem the Patriots will face won't be the Giants' front four. The possible absence of Rob Gronkowski won't be the biggest factor either. The Giants receiving core of Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz represent the biggest obstacle the Patriots will face.

The Patriots' suspect secondary could have its hands full, but that could be curtailed a bit if their defensive line can put some pressure on Eli Manning. Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork expounded on what his team needs to do during media day.

"We have to get to Eli however we can," said Wilfork, "with three, four, five, six or seven guys at times. I think we just have to be relentless. I think everything has to be as one. The pass rush has to be there and I think the coverage has to be there."

When it comes to defense, the Giants' front four gets nearly all of the publicity. Although Umenyiora, Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul deserve the accolades, New England's defensive line wasn't too shabby. The Patriots (40 sacks) finished seventh in the NFL in sacks, so it's conceivable Bill Belichick's crew could cause some havoc for Manning.

"[There's] big talk about those guys," said Wilfork. "But you know what? When you have four guys who can rush the passer the way they do, you have to talk about them. But they do what they do and we do what we do."

Putting pressure on Manning to slow down the Giants' passing game is just one of the many issues the Patriots face. Star tight end Gronkowski could be limited or inactive. Without his production (1,327 yards, 17 TDs), the Patriots' passing game could be severely limited, but Belichick has had two weeks to prepare for that scenario, which means the Giants won't have it easy.

Prediction: The Giants are hot and have more playmakers on the field than the Patriots. Tom Coughlin's crew will prevail, 27-23.