Patriots Mailbag: Giants Good Enough to Warrant Hype, But Tom Brady’s Influence May Be Difference

Patriots Mailbag: Giants Good Enough to Warrant Hype, But Tom Brady's Influence May Be DifferenceFOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots have just about gotten everything squared away before flying out to Indianapolis on Sunday, and it's going to be a wild week in anticipation for the Super Bowl.

Let's run through the mailbag right now, and we'll save the nitty-gritty stuff for next week when I'll be on the scene in Indy. If you've got any questions about Super Bowl XLVI, make sure to send them my way. The links are at the bottom of the page.

Hi Jeff, I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the Patriots' chances of beating the Giants. Listening to national analysts, it seems as though everyone is jumping on the Giants' bandwagon, which is starting to make me believe the Pats could lose. I just would like some clarity and a non-biased opinion for whether you think the Pats' defense can stop Eli Manning. And on the other end, if the Pats' offense can put up 30-plus points. I would really appreciate an answer. Thank you.
–Ben (New York)

This should be a great game, and I'd be surprised if it was decided by more than seven points in either direction. I think the Patriots will win, and I'll get more into that next week, but there's no harm in seeing a lot of people picking the Giants, who are hot, healthy, explosive on offense and aggressive on defense. There's a lot to like about that New York team, and Tom Coughlin knows how to coach against Bill Belichick.

I think the biggest factor will be quarterback Tom Brady, both on and off the field. I've already written why I believe Brady will play well after a tough AFC Championship, but his presence in the two weeks leading up to the game will be nearly as valuable. He's going to do everything he can to make sure his team is prepared to play its best game in Indianapolis, and I think Super Bowl XLII will have a lot to do with that.

I'll break down more of the "why" and the "how" next week, but for now, don't be alerted if there are a lot of people picking the Giants. They're a heck of a team.

Hey Jeff, I've enjoyed your articles all season long. What's the deal with Kevin Faulk? Is he actually hurt? We have one of the best third-down options for Tom Brady, and he's been invisible. He's never on the injury report, but he certainly hasn't played much.
–Jim (West Boylston, Mass.)

Thank you, Jim. At this point, I don't think Faulk is hurt, but his lack of playing time shows that head coach Belichick doesn't think he's as effective as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley. Belichick has so much genuine respect for Faulk, so he'd put him on the field if he thought he was the best option on any given play. Because that hasn't been the case, I think you've just got to chalk it up to Faulk being a 35-year-old running back with a surgically repaired knee whose skills aren't where they once were.

What's the status of Rob Gronkowski's ankle?
–@midnightbohunk, via Twitter

Gronkowski's father told a radio station that he's got a high ankle sprain, and those are really difficult to deal with. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll play in the Super Bowl, and I'd expect him to be effective, too. He'll just be fighting through some pain, particularly as he's trying to push off the line to run block and then when he gets jammed before going into a route. The Giants were aggressive at the line of scrimmage in the first meeting this season, and head coach Coughlin will try to exploit Gronkowski's injury with an emphasis on physical play. But few are as tough as Gronkowski.

Where have all of the Pats' screens gone? Are we going to see them return in the Super Bowl?
–@Sammir_24, via Twitter

It's a legitimate question, and one I've had myself. I wish I had a statistic to back up my response, but those aren't readily available. The Patriots have used bubble screens to the outside to free up wide receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but the running back screens have gone by the wayside compared to earlier in the decade.

I have two theories, for what it's worth. First, the offense has been so much more advanced with the downfield throws that the screen game could have been overlooked to an extent. Second, running back Danny Woodhead would be the Patriots' most effective running back in the screen game, and I'd need to study it a little more, but I wonder if defenses are keying on him in that regard when he's on the field. Shane Vereen would be another option, but he just hasn't been active, which means Belichick believes his limited amount of snaps wouldn't be as valuable as someone else's limited amount of snaps.

Dude, you really need to check your facts. Wes Welker was not on that 2007 team. We traded for him that offseason because we lost that game, and Tom Brady told coach he needed more weapons! You should have fans write the articles, us diehards just analyze and know more, brotha. Get ready for a great game either way on Feb. 5! It will be the best game all year!
–Eric Salo (Cranston, R.I.)

I have no words.

Hey! What do you think the chances are that Cliff Avril leaves the Lions this offseason? Do you think he could be a fit on the Patriots and maybe fit the role Andre Carter played this season? Thanks!
–John

Hi! Interesting question. At this point, I don't know enough about their offseason situation to know whether or not Avril would be a likely candidate for the franchise tag, but if he's able to test the market, he'll land a sizeable contract. He's definitely a quality player, but I'm always alerted when someone has a career high in a contract year like Avril did this season with 11 sacks.

Plus, 19.5 of his 30 career sacks (over four seasons) came during the last two years when he played alongside Ndamukong Suh and company. So how much of his production has come from the Lions' attacking scheme, as well as lining up with some very good pass-rushing linemen? And lastly, head coach Jim Schwartz places value on his defensive front, so I'd guess he'd try to retain Avril.

As long as Carter is healthy enough to play next season, I think there's a strong chance he returns to the Patriots. They love him, and he loves New England. I still think the Patriots need to get younger at the position, but keeping Carter should be a priority if his leg recovers in time.

I have been impressed by the play of Sterling Moore, an undrafted rookie from SMU. In his limited play, he has shown the potential to be a hard hitter. He actually was the one who hurt Devin McCourty. How have you see his progress, and do the Pats plan on using him more this year and next?
–Ron Sanderson (Burlington, Mass.)

To put it in context, this question was submitted the day before the AFC Championship when Moore was still very much under the radar. Then, he came up with a season-saving play in the end zone to knock the ball out of Lee Evans' hands. It's been an amazing ride for Moore, who has always been a very confident player.

I honestly have no idea what Moore's ceiling could be. The rookie was undrafted out of SMU, got cut by the Raiders and then just weeks after his first career start with the Patriots, they cut him, too. With any undrafted player, it's dangerous to expect too much too soon, but he definitely has a playmaking ability that makes him an intriguing prospect. And if he makes another big play in the Super Bowl — hey, the Giants are going to throw it a lot, so it's certainly possible — Moore will reach cult-hero status in New England.

If Chad Ochocinco was Hall of Fame material before the trade to the Patriots, how does his miserable season impact that now?
–Stephen (Hudson)

That's a really tough question all the way around, and I actually saved this question for about a month because I wanted to get to it. It's so difficult to compare statistics between wide receivers from different eras. Right now, Ochocinco has 766 career receptions, which rank 26th all-time. To put that in perspective, there are only three Hall of Fame receivers (Jerry Rice, Art Monk and Steve Largent) with more receptions, though others like Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss and Torry Holt could also get the call from Canton.

Ochocinco also ranks 26th with 11,059 receiving yards, and there are six Hall of Famers ahead of him on that list. Ochocinco's 67 career receiving touchdowns are tied for 39th in history.

Ochocinco had one of the most dominant five-year stretches in history when he amassed 462 catches, 6,870 yards and 43 touchdowns from 2003-07. And he was obviously a showman who knew how to market his name (or, "names"). For that, he'll go down as one of the most well-known receivers of all-time, but his numbers don't even match up with the likes of Derrick Mason, Muhsin Muhammad or Irving Fryar, among others.

Before this season, Ochocinco had only played in two postseason games with the Bengals, both of which were losses. Blame Cincinnati's organization if you'd like, but borderline Hall of Famers could use a massive playoff performance on their résumé, and Ochocinco doesn't have one. He didn't have a reception in the Patriots' playoff victory against the Broncos, and he was inactive in the AFC Championship. At this point, who knows about his status for the Super Bowl?

To your original question, this season won't help his Hall of Fame credentials, and I'm not sure he had them to begin with. He's got better numbers than a number of Hall of Fame receivers, but a good chunk of that speaks to the generation in which he's played. At this point, I'm hard-pressed to say he belongs in Canton.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.