LAS VEGAS | The New England Patriots are 3-point favorites today against the New York Giants, and some have wondered why it's not more.
But if you're searching for a culprit for why the Patriots aren't bigger favorites after a season that saw them score 30 points or more in 12 of 16 games, look no further than all-world quarterback Tom Brady.
In a remarkable case of "what have you done for me lately," Brady followed up his six-touchdown playoff win over Denver with an AFC Championship dud - no touchdowns, two picks and arguably his worst performance of the year to just sneak past Baltimore.
So which Brady will show up in Indianapolis today? With the Giants' pass rush, it probably won't be the six-TD version. But it's not likely to be the disappointing version of two weeks ago, either.
Today's game could come down to the Patriots' tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Giants held the pair mostly in check in their 24-20 upset win (in a game that was scoreless at halftime) in the regular season - if "in check" is 12 combined catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
But that was the Patriots' last loss, and you can bet plenty was learned in that game.
With such offensive potential at play, teams can sometimes come out tentative and go the safe route. Not this year. Brady and Giants QB Eli Manning are likely to sling the ball around plenty - and the Patriots would like nothing more than to build a quick cushion with a couple early scores to give some leeway to their defense, which is better than it gets credit for.
If the Giants can take the Patriots' tight ends out of commission and get to Tom Brady with their pass rush, an upset is not out of the question. They forced Brady into 21 incompletions three months ago and two interceptions.
But those tight ends are going to be the reason the Giants can't get the Brady the way they've been able to get to other QBs. They sacked Brady just twice in November, despite the win. And with Brady, an extra second is all he ever needs.
Manning and the Giants can keep this one close, but only asking for the Pats to win by a field goal seems pretty safe.
The line: Patriots -3 (54.5)
MattE's pick: Patriots 34, Giants 26
- Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for nine seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times and HeavyMMA.com.