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Fact or Fiction: Matching up with Rob Gronkowski


Tom Coughlin vs. Bill Belichick is currently the greatest coaching rivalry in all of sports.

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JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -It is hard to call it the greatest coaching rivalry when they have only faced each other three times in the past eight years. Harbaugh and Tomlin in the AFC North takes the cake there, and there are similar rivalries throughout sports that would fall in the same category.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction -I'm going with the two behemoths of college football: Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban. Combined, they account for seven titles in the last 12 years -- with four different schools.

When Meyer got to Ohio State, he looked at the Alabama program, and the chase was on. It came to a head last year when the Buckeyes knocked off the Crimson Tide in the first-ever College Football Playoff. They're on a collision course again this year and probably will be for many more to come.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact -You'd be hard pressed to find two coaches that have gone up against one another in the Super Bowl or any other major professional championship game so often in recent history. Sunday will mark the fifth time (3 regular season matchups, 2 Super Bowls) Tom Coughlin collides with Bill Belichick as coaches of the Giants and Patriots, respectively, in nine years. The four previous contests have been decided by 14 points combined.

This is an intense rivalry highlighted by numerous close games, including on the league's biggest stage. Plus, you have to factor in the history between Coughlin and Belichick that dates back to the late 1980s/early 1990s when they were Giants assistant coaches under Bill Parcells.

If Jim Harbaugh was still coaching the 49ers, his rivalry with the Seahawks' Pete Carroll would be up there given their history stemming from the time they coached Stanford and USC, respectively, but their matchups took place much more often in the regular season than in the postseason. When you look at other professional sports, the top coaches don't really have a consistent rival.

Who would even qualify as Gregg Popovich's coaching rival? The Spurs have faced so many different teams during their paths to multiple titles, and even though the Heat appears to be a good candidate, there's not enough substance between he and Erik Spoelstra. In Major League Baseball, the closest team to a recent dynasty has been the San Francisco Giants but, once again, manager Bruce Bochy doesn't have a clear rival with history. The same can be said for Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL.

TE Rob Gronkowski is a tougher matchup than WR Randy Moss was in the past.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact -This doesn't mean that Gronkowski is more dangerous. He isn't a better player than Moss. You knew where Randy Moss was going to line up. You would put your best corner on him and walk a safety over the top. He might still win, but you knew how to try to deal with him. The problem with Gronkowski is that, depending on personnel, you might have an overmatched linebacker on him and isolated outside. That's death for a defense, and it speaks to the issues trying to match up with him.


Playmakers on Patriot's first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - **Defenses knew how to match up with Moss, but he was just so good it didn't matter. On the other hand, defensive coordinators are still scratching their heads with Gronkowski. It takes a variety of players giving a variety of looks to defend Gronk, but that takes personnel and attention away from the rest of the Patriots' playmakers, like Julian Edelman. He's a headache, and that's why the best route is just to get to Tom Brady directly

LANCE MEDOW: Fact -Randy Moss was a matchup nightmare, but when it comes to a wide receiver it's pretty clear what personnel you'll use against that position, even if it requires a few different cornerbacks and safeties. Plus, Moss was mostly a vertical threat who stretched the field, as opposed to a player who would run a variety of different routes.

With Rob Gronkowski, it's more of a guessing game. His routes are more diverse than Moss' were and he has a much different body structure (Gronk has two inches and more than 50 pounds on Moss) that makes it difficult for a corner to handle him one on one. You likely have to use a versatile linebacker or a safety. Gronkowski is also a much more physical, powerful player because of his blocking assignments and, when you least suspect, he can beat you vertically with some deceptive speed.

The 2011 game in Foxborough is the best regular-season victory on Eli Manning's resume.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact -Given the Patriots ridiculously great record at home since Belichick and Brady teamed up in New England, this is undeniably true. Winning a game in New England is a feat for any player, and there is no better coach-quarterback combination to beat, or a tougher location to win.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact -That's when you knew the 2011 team had magic. Eli Manning bested Tom Brady, who had not lost at home in 31 consecutive starts in the regular season. And the Giants quarterback did so with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds remaining.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -The 24-20 victory over the Patriots in Week 9 of the 2011 season was notable for many reasons: it was yet another win against New England, involved yet another dramatic comeback (Eli Manning connected with tight end Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left for the game-winning score), and the Giants were without their top rusher (Ahmad Bradshaw) and leading receiver (Hakeem Nicks). With all that being said, in the big picture, it's not Manning's best regular season victory. How about two other wins later that season. Entering Week 16 with a 7-7 record, the Giants needed two wins against the Jets and Cowboys to secure the NFC East title, and they won both by more than two touchdowns. How can any other regular season game top a win or go home Week 17 matchup against the rival Cowboys for the division title. Beating the Patriots is nice, but there was much more on the line against the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season. That victory only helped spark a very memorable postseason run.

New England has the best defense on the Giants' 2015 schedule.

Playmakers on Patriot's first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

The Patriots defense is better than its numbers indicate, since a lot of teams rack up yards late in games when the Patriots are up big. The Patriots rush the passer well and Pro Football Focus thinks highly of their secondary. With all that said, they still aren't the best defense on the Giants' schedule. The Panthers would stake that claim right now, with the Jets a close second.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction -You could make a case for the Patriots, Vikings and Jets, but the Panthers, who are also undefeated, just smother offenses. While third down is the money down, one stat that really jumps off the page is Carolina's efficiency on first down. The Panthers' opponents have an average of 8.42 yards to go on second down, which is the best mark in the NFL. New England is sixth at 8.22. Production like that makes it a long day for offenses.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction -The Patriots are very stingy against the run (3rd in the NFL) and have a knack for getting to the quarterback (tied for 2nd in sacks with 27), but when you evaluate personnel and defensive rankings, I'd put the Jets, Panthers and even the Vikings ahead of New England. Entering Week 10, the Jets boast the league's 4th ranked defense, Carolina is 13th and Minnesota 7th. All three of those teams are top 14 against the pass, the Jets are number one against the run and the Panthers are fourth in sacks. The biggest difference between those three teams and the Patriots is the secondary. The Jets, Panthers and Vikings have a lot more experience at corner than New England. Malcolm Butler made a name for himself during the Super Bowl, but it's still a small sample size and Logan Ryan is a full-time starter for the first time in his career.

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