Let's continue our series of 2012 Super Bowl previews by looking at the special teams of the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Special teams can often play a key role in these games, as they did in the Giants' NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers, when the Giants recovered a pair of Kyle Williams' fumbles, leading to 10 points -- including the game-winning field goal.
Let's break down the special teams units for each team.
(Stats are regular season)
Steve Weatherford (Giants) -- 45.7 yards, per punt, 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, 39.2 yard net average per punt (13th), 15 fair catches.
Zoltan Mesko (Patriots) -- 46.5 yards per punt, 24 punts inside the 20-yard line, 41.5 net average per punt (2nd), 18 fair catches.
The Giants' punting unit was much-improved this season with the veteran Weatherford taking over for Matt Dodge. Weatherford had the best season of his career. Mesko punted 25 fewer times than Weatherford (57, compared to Weatherford's 82) and is an excellent punter. Weatherford neutralized San Francisco's All-Pro punter Andy Lee during the NFC Championship Game.
Lawrence Tynes (Giants) -- Made 19-of-24 field-goal attempts (79 percent). Had 34 touchbacks, or 41.5 percent of his kickoffs (18th in the league). Tynes is at 80.9 percent in field-goal accuracy for his career.
Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) -- Made 28-of-33 field-goal attempts (85 percent). Had 41 touchbacks, or 39.4 percent of his kickoffs (20th in the league).
Both teams believe in their kickers. Tynes had fewer opportunities during the season, but came through with the game-winning field goal (31 yards) in the NFC Championship Game. Gostkowski is at 84.4 percent in field-goal accuracy for his career.
Advantage: Even ... You MIGHT be able to give Gostkowki a slight advantage based on career accuracy, but Tynes has always delivered when the Giants have needed him.
This is an area in which the Giants have struggled all season, especially punt returns. The Giants averaged 6.1 yards per punt return, 29th in the league, and were one of only two teams not to have a punt return of at least 20 yards this season. They have not had one in the postseason, either. Aaron Ross and Will Blackmon have done the bulk of the returning, with Blackmon taking over late in the season.
The Giants have a decent 23.7-yard average on kickoff returns, but have only one return of more than 40 yards all season. Rookie Jerrel Jernigan has taken over that responsibility. He averaged 23.3 yards per return in the regular season and has averaged 22 yards per return in three postseason games.
The Patriots were 29th in the league on kickoff returns, averaging only 21.4 yards per return. On punt returns, however, New England was better. The Patriots averaged 10.2 yards per return, 16th in the NFL. Julian Edelman is the primary punt returner, averaging 10.6 yards on 28 returns.
Advantage: Even ... The Giants are slightly better on kickoff returns, and the Pats are slightly better on punt returns. Neither team is explosive in the return game.