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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Ranking XLVI starters: No debating Giants, Pats split evenly with talent

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Eli Manning is four spots behind Brady, but he's the hotter QB coming into Sunday's game. (Getty Images)  
Eli Manning is four spots behind Brady, but he's the hotter QB coming into Sunday's game. (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- The line says Super Bowl XLVI will be a close game.

Ranking the starters 1-48 (counting the four kickers and punters) based on their ability and how each has played this season and in the playoffs also indicates a close game is coming.

Both the New England Patriots and New York Giants, the two combatants in this week's Super Bowl, each have five players ranked up in my top 10 of starters in the game.

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tops the list -- who could argue with that? -- and he has three of his offensive teammates with him in the top 10.

The Giants' top player is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who is ranked second on my list. He had three offensive teammates and one defensive teammate joining him in the top 10.

Each team has 10 players in the top 20, again indicating we should have a close game.

Let's hope that's the case. Here's the list, go ahead and start the debate.

1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots -- Easiest pick of them all. He is one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants -- He is a freakish talent who plays hard all the time. His ability to rush the passer somewhat overlooks the fact that he is a good run player.

3. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots -- He is now the NFL's best tight end, a receiving threat who can also block a little.

4. Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots -- He was sensational against the Ravens and is a big reason why the Patriots defense is much improved.

5. Eli Manning, QB, Giants -- He's elevated his game this season to a new high. With one more victory, he's firmly in the conversation about the elite.

6. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots -- He led the league in receptions, doing most of his damage in the slot. He is Brady's security blanket.

7. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants -- He is a big and fast receiver that scares defenses. His improvement is a big reason why the offense is better.

8. Chris Snee, G, Giants -- The son-in-law of coach Tom Coughlin, Snee is a mauler and a fighter. He is an all-day battle.

9. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants -- He has some injury issues this season, but he's a top talent who has been rolling in the playoffs.

10. Brian Waters, G, Patriots -- This veteran guard outplayed Logan Mankins, the team's left guard. Waters was a good offseason pickup for the Patriots.

11. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants -- He is small, quick and much faster than many expected. He is fearless in the middle of the field.

No. 12 Jerod Mayo has quietly had a great season for a maligned Pats defense. (US Presswire)  
No. 12 Jerod Mayo has quietly had a great season for a maligned Pats defense. (US Presswire)  
12. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots -- He quietly is having one of his best seasons as the team has used more 4-3 defense, which seems to suit him better.

13. Logan Mankins, G, Patriots -- Even though Waters was slightly better, Mankins still plays a high level.

14. Mathias Kiwanuka, OLB, Giants -- He can thump in the run game, but he can also rush the passer having been a defensive end at times in his career.

15. Brandon Spikes, MLB, Patriots -- His improved play after coming back from an early-season injury has really sparked the defense. He plays with a lot of passion.

16. Kenny Phillips, S, Giants -- He has been steady in the back end of the Giants defense, flashing the talent that made him a first-round pick.

17. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots -- He is the second half of the team's double-tight set. He can also line up in the backfield and run the ball, which he has done in recent games.

18. Corey Webster, CB, Giants -- If you needed one word to describe his game, it would be solid. He isn't a Pro Bowl player, but he's not far off.

19. Matt Light, LT, Patriots -- This veteran left tackle continues to be a solid player protecting Brady's backside.

20. Michael Boley, LB, Giants -- He is a good run-and-chase linebacker who will be key in coverage against the New England tight ends.

21. Linval Joseph, DT, Giants -- He might be the most improved player on the field over the course of the season. He is really underrated.

22. Kyle Love, DT, Patriots -- His improvement in the middle of the defense has really helped complement Wilfork. He is a wide-body player who is tough to move.

23. Chris Canty, DT, Giants -- This powerful veteran is good against the run, but he can also create some problems with his pass-rush ability from the inside.

24. Antrel Rolle, S, Giants -- He talks a big game, but inconsistency keeps him from being a top-level player. He is valuable in that he can drop down and cover the slot.

25. Devin McCourty, CB, Patriots -- He looked like a star last season as a rookie, but has struggled this season. He is being used as a safety in sub-packages now.

26. Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots -- He was third in the NFL in scoring and missed just five field goals and tied for 10th with 41 kickoffs for touchbacks.

27. Kevin Boothe, G, Giants -- Bad body, but plays hard all the time. He has been a pleasant surprise up front for the Giants' O-line.

28. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants -- The Giants are a different team when he's on the field. They are a much quicker team when he's carrying, rather than Brandon Jacobs.

29. Aaron Ross, CB, Giants -- He has moments where he can look like a star and others where he looks like he should be on the bench.

30. Nate Solder, T, Patriots -- This rookie has had some good games as a starter for the injured Sebastian Vollmer. There is a chance Vollmer could play this week.

31. David Diehl, T, Giants -- He takes a lot of heat, but he is better than some think. He's a reliable left tackle.

32. Mark Anderson, DE, Patriots -- This veteran pass rusher is really the only true pass-rush threat. He has been steady all season.

33. Rob Ninkovich, OLB, Patriots -- He is a typical Patriots player: A tough, hard-nosed player who plays hard all the time.

34. Jake Ballard, TE, Giants -- Don't go to sleep on him because he's the "other" tight end in this game. He had a good game the last time these teams met.

35. Benjarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots -- He's a reliable runner who doesn't fumble and runs hard. He won't get 65-yard runs, but he can move the chains.

36. Kyle Arrington, CB, Patriots -- While McCourty tailed off, he improved. He has seven picks on the season.

37. Deion Branch, WR, Patriots -- The veteran former Super Bowl MVP doesn't run like he used to, but he can still make plays on the intermediate routes.

38. David Baas, C, Giants -- He has battled injuries this season and hasn't played as well as expected.

39. Brandon Deaderick, DE, Patriots -- He stepped in when Andre Carter went down and has done a nice job. He isn't a great pass rusher, but does a nice job against the run.

40. Patrick Chung, S, Patriots -- He missed time with injuries and the Patriots' pass coverage really struggled. It has improved with him back in the lineup.

41. Chase Blackburn, MLB, Giants -- He was signed in the midseason and has played well in the middle of the defense. He is smart and can play the pass as well.

42. Zoltan Mesko, P, Patriots -- He was third in the NFL in net average and had 24 inside the 20.

43. Henry Hynoski, FB, Giants -- He is a lead blocker most of the time, but he does slip out of the backfield now and then.

44. Lawrence Tynes, K, Giants -- His two overtime kicks in championship games put the Giants in two Super Bowls. He's clutch.

45. Kareem McKenzie, T, Giants -- He is a veteran who has struggled at times this season. He has to be better come Super Sunday.

46. Dan Connolly, C, Patriots -- He is playing for the injured Dan Koppen, which is a step down. He is a fighter, but big powerful players give him trouble.

47. Steve Weatherford, P, Giants -- He's a reliable punter who has been consistent all season long.

48. James Ihedigbo, S, Patriots -- He is a solid run-support safety, but he is beatable against the pass.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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