Belichick, Brady, give Pats best shot at NFL title

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Brady definitely will have NFL receptions leader Wes Welker and the other dangerous tight end, versatile Aaron Hernandez, who lines up all over the place _ as a split or slot receiver, a running back and in the traditional tight end’s spot close to the linemen. He’s sure to keep the Giants defense guessing.

The Patriots defense?

It’s been burned by big plays all season, especially the secondary. Will coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning test it early to see if it wilts in the glare of football’s brightest spotlight?

The Patriots allowed the second most yards in the NFL during the regular season, but only the 15th most points and they’ve been much improved in the playoffs. And the Giants had the league’s least productive running game.

The Patriots defense is also as healthy as it’s been all season so it may not have to use wide receiver Julian Edelman in the secondary as much as it did in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.

“I don’t really think we focus on rankings or any of that,” Patriots safeties coach Matt Patricia said. “All we are worried about is going out and trying to do the best that we can.”

Turnovers are one of the most important factors in the outcome of a game and the Patriots led the AFC with a plus-17 differential, compared to plus-7 for the Giants. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has handled the ball 577 times in his four NFL seasons, all with New England, and never has fumbled.

“Early in the season, they wouldn’t run the ball as consistent,” Giants safety Kenny Phillips said, “but throughout the playoffs they are doing a lot better.”

With a balanced offense, the Patriots can cool the aggression of the Giants pass rush. Devote too many players to charging Brady, and Green-Ellis can run free for big gains.

Finally, the Patriots, as much as they deny it, should gain motivation from their 17-14 loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl four years ago on a last-minute touchdown.

“Unfortunately, we know what it’s like to not come out on top,” tackle Matt Light said. “You want to make sure you don’t put yourself in that position.”

They won’t, not with Belichick and Brady leading the way.

Final score: Patriots, 31, Giants 24.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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