The idea that the Patriots want revenge on the Giants is one that will be a prominent story line as Super Bowl XLVI creeps closer, but for the majority of the players involved in the game, it won’t be much of a factor.
NFL coaches like to say that every year is different, and a look at the rosters for New England and New York bears that out: Just four years after they met in Arizona for Super Bowl XLII, they are vastly different.
Of the 106 players who were on the active rosters for the Giants and Patriots on Feb. 3, 2008, only 23 are still employed with the same team today.
The head coach for each side is the same, as is the quarterback, and those are the most important spots on almost any football team, so maybe all of the other changes don’t matter as much.
At any rate, let’s take a look at just how different these teams are from their date in the desert.
Patriots - 2007: Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Matt Gutierrez; 2011: Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett.
Giants - 2007: Eli Manning, Anthony Wright, Jared Lorenzen; 2011: Manning, David Carr.
As noted, there hasn’t been a change to the starters. Brady was the first unanimous league Most Valuable Player a year ago, and put up stellar numbers again this year, carrying a team whose defense struggled for much of the regular season. Manning, who threw a league-record 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the regular season, has been at his best when his team has needed him most, with eight touchdowns and just one interception in three playoff games.
Patriots - 2007: Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans, Kyle Eckel; 2011: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Faulk, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Lousaka Polite.
Giants - 2007: Brandon Jacobs, Ruben Droughns, Ahmad Bradshaw, D.J. Ware, Madison Hedgecock; 2011: Jacobs, Bradshaw, Ware, Da’Rel Scott, Harry Hynoski.
This is the first place you see major changes for the Patriots. Maroney, then in his second season, is out of the league, and Heath Evans has retired. Green-Ellis has been incredibly consistent, while Ridley had fumbles in back-to-back games. Bradshaw has supplanted Jacobs as the Giants’ lead back.
Patriots - 2007: Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Kelley Washington, Donte Stallworth, Chad Jackson; 2011: Welker, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater.
Giants - 2007: Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, David Tyree, Steve Smith, Dominik Hixon, Sinorice Moss; 2011: Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan, Devin Thomas (Hixon, Michael Clayton on injured reserve).
What the Patriots’ receiving corps was in ’07 is almost what the Giants’ is now: Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and Gaffney formed an explosive group that helped Brady to a record-setting season; Cruz, Manningham and Nicks are also a versatile, explosive group who pose problems for defenses.
Patriots - 2007: Matt Light (LT), Logan Mankins (LG), Dan Koppen (C), Stephen Neal (RG), Nick Kaczur (RT), Ryan O’Callaghan, Russ Hochstein, Wesley Britt, Billy Yates; 2011: Light, Mankins, Dan Connolly (C), Brian Waters (RG), Nate Solder (RT), Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas (Koppen on injured reserve).
Giants - 2007: David Diehl (LT), Rich Seubert (LG), Shaun O’Hara (C), Chris Snee (RG), Kareem McKenzie (RT), Grey Ruegamer, Kevin Boothe, Guy Whimper, Adam Koets; 2011: Diehl (LT), Boothe (LG), David Baas (C), Snee (RG), McKenzie (RT), James Brewer, Mitch Petrus, Jim Cordle (Stacy Andrews, Will Beatty on injured reserve).
Consistency is the key. New York has three starters still in the same spots today; New England would have three if not for the season-ending injury Koppen suffered in September. The Patriots have rotated players thanks to injuries, and also have used a six-man line frequently. Baas missed five games in the regular season with a neck injury for New York, including the November game against the Patriots.
Patriots - 2007: Kyle Brady, Benjamin Watson, Stephen Spach; 2011: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez.
Giants: 2007: Kevin Boss, Michael Matthews, Jerome Collins (Jeremy Shockey on injured reserve); 2011: Jake Ballard, Travis Beckum, Bear Pascoe.
Bill Belichick tried for years to find two tight ends who could contribute to the offense; Watson had his moments, but Brady’s one season with the Patriots was not memorable. Now Gronkowski and Hernandez are weapons Tom Brady has come to rely on, with Gronkowski coming off a record-setting season. Ballard has become a trusted option for Manning.
Patriots - 2007: Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, LeKevin Smith, Rashad Moore, Jarvis Green, Santonio Thomas (Mike Wright on injured reserve); 2011: Wilfork, Shaun Ellis, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Mark Anderson, Gerard Warren, Ron Brace (Wright, Andre Carter, Myron Pryor on injured reserve).
Giants - 2007: Michael Strahan, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, Osi Umeniyora, Dave Tollefson, Justin Tuck, Jay Alford, Russell Davis, Manuel Wright (Mathias Kiwanuka on injured reserve); 2011: Tuck, Tollefson, Umeniyora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka, Linval Joseph, Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Jimmy Kennedy, Justin Trattou (Marvin Austin on injured reserve).
The Giants’ line has gotten stronger, with Pierre-Paul becoming a fearsome pass rusher. New England began the season with one style of play in mind - changing to a 4-3, with Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth anchoring the middle - and had to alter that once Haynesworth was cut loose. The Patriots still play four down linemen but also use three-man lines.
Patriots - 2007: Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas, Eric Alexander, Junior Seau, Larry Izzo, Pierre Woods; 2011: Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White.
Giants - 2007: Reggie Torbor, Antonio Pierce, Kawika Mitchell, Torrance Daniels, Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson; 2011: Michael Boley, Kiwanuka, Blackburn, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Spencer Paysinger, Jacquian Williams (Clint Sintim on injured reserve).
Mayo has been strong for New England, and Spikes’s return from a knee injury has helped solidify a run defense that was struggling down the stretch. Kiwanuka had a dozen tackles when the Giants won at Gillette Stadium during the regular season.
Patriots - 2007: Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, James Sanders, Ellis Hobbs, Brandon Meriweather, Randall Gay, Willie Andrews, Eugene Wilson, Ray Ventrone, Antowain Spann; 2011: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Arrington, James Ihedigbo, Sterling Moore, Sergio Brown, Nate Jones, Antwaun Molden, Edelman (Josh Barrett, Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve).
Giants - 2007: Aaron Ross, Corey Webster, James Butler, Gibril Wilson, R.W. McQuarters, Sam Madison, Kevin Dockery, Michael Johnson; 2011: Webster, Ross, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, Prince Amukamara, Derrick Martin, Tyler Sash, Will Blackmon (Michael Coe, Terrell Thomas, Justin Tryon on injured reserve).
Not a single member of the Patriots’ secondary from Super Bowl XLII - starter or reserve - is with the team. Meriweather and Sanders were released out of training camp this year. New York has had some stability at the corner spot, though Amukamara missed the early part of the season with an injury suffered in camp.
Patriots - 2007: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Chris Hanson (P), Lonie Paxton (LS); 2011: Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko (P), Danny Aiken Ainge (LS).
Giants - 2007: Lawrence Tynes (K), Jeff Feagles (P), Zak DeOssie (LS); 2011: Tynes, Steve Weatherford (P), DeOssie.
Tynes kicked the winner in overtime against San Francisco to send the Giants to the Super Bowl this year, and Gostkowski only had to watch as his Baltimore counterpart, Billy Cundiff, missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC title game to overtime.