In New York and New England, the homes for last year’s Super Bowl participants, the early part of the season gets just as much attention, but usually in the opposite way. A loss is cause for hand-wringing. Two losses inspire worry. The Giants and Patriots, after all, are expected to win often and big each year.
It’s November now, though. As the air cools and teams enter the truly trying part of the season, few are worrying about the Giants and Patriots in the same way. Yes, there are questions of whether they will win, and analyzing of key matchups abounds.
But there’s already a certain finality as both teams lift their heads for the final stretch of the season. The Giants started this season scuffling, as they often do, with some really treacherous games. But some time of rest and a 38-10 blowout of the Packers on Sunday have made the Giants look more like the resilient, stacked team of years past — the team that knows how to peak when needed and put together a playoff run.
In the same way, New England’s demolition of the Jets on Thanksgiving was just as remarkable for its speed and definitiveness as it was for showing that the Patriots’ many problems seem to be quickly slipping away. In a matter of weeks, New England’s defense has suddenly turned itself into a turnover-forcing behemoth, and there’s hope that a bend-and-not-break defense has at last learned how to bend.
What’s interesting about these teams, who have both built their sustained success around a few stars and versatile cast of key players in recent years, is that they’re both dominating once the season moves to the second half — in exactly opposite ways. The Giants can be streaky, looking either unstoppably great or undeniably putrid. They’ve built their records in recent years off handfuls of victories in a row, mixed in with bad slides. But given a foothold in the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, they’ve won two Super Bowls.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have started a pattern of seeing their bigger plan for the season come together in the second half. The system and setup that coach Bill Belichick and friends put together doesn’t always click at the beginning of the year, but New England has been ruthless in late games over the past few years. The Patriots are 19-0 in games from Week 10 on since 2010. They are 36-6 in that same timeframe since 2007. When the weather gets cold, and the players settle in, a team built for the long haul does its best work, and New England is hard to beat — and increasingly Super Bowl-bound.
While both teams are markedly different in approach and execution, the template that is starting to form for how they play in the second half of their seasons (Patriots: consistently winning out; Giants: hiccupping until they rip off a playoff run) seems to be where both teams are headed again this season. In 2007, the Patriots’ not dropping a game for an eight-game stretch and the Giants triumphing through the playoffs seemed to be a one-time anomaly. But it happened again in 2011, and there’s reason to think it could repeat once more.
Consider the track record of the two teams over the past few years:
New England Patriots
New York Giants
The Giants, who have become the masters of epic swings in momentum, have a rough final five games ahead against the Redskins, Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles. But if history has shown anything, it’s that New York can lose a few down the stretch. As long as the Giants make the playoffs, craziness can happen.
New England, meanwhile, is right on track for another dominant end to the year. The Pats have won their last five games in a row, winning the last four by a margin of 190-81. While a team that some predicted would go undefeated this year has had its losses — three defeats by four total points, and all in games that were really decided by one or two plays — the Patriots’ success in recent weeks is more of a testament to where New England will stand when the year ends than early-season prognostications were. The Patriots have always looked good on paper, but their clunking through the early part of the season seems to have prepared the team just the right way for another second-half ascent.
So, what do you think? Is there a pattern, or just coincidence? Will the Giants go 2-3 and just make the playoffs, eventually advancing to face a Patriots team that sweeps the rest of the season and has all its pieces clicking come Super Bowl time?
The history seems to show it’s more probable than a 4-0 start for the Cardinals.