Maybe it was the re-acquisition of free agent Chase Blackburn. Maybe it was the development of rookie Jacquian Williams or the healthy return of Michael Boley. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the way, the Giants' linebacking core stopped being the team's Achilles heel. Sure, they have had their ups and downs, even since turning a corner late in the season, but it's a unit that is good enough to hold offenses at bay, even when the defensive line isn't pressuring the quarterback.
The lack of an impact middle linebacker is the biggest complaint, but together, Blackburn and Williams make up one pretty solid MLB. Blackburn is strong against the run, and not incompetent in the passing game, while Williams is the team's most athletic linebacker. The pre-season injury to Jonathan Goff clearly hurt this unit early on, but recently, Blackburn and Williams' play have made Goff a distant memory.
When Michael Boley signed, there were murmurs from those who knew his game that he could be a stud in the right defense. I guess this is the right defense, because Boley has blossomed into a fantastic player; he's the franchise's best linebacker since Antonio Pierce. Boley's 93 tackles were second on the team despite missing two and a half games, and his two sack performance keyed the Giants' upset win in Green Bay.
Throw in the talented Mathias Kiwanuka, who finally looks comfortable as a linebacker, and the Giants have four LBs who are capable of playing at a very high level.
Jerod Mayo is the best linebacker on either team. The former 10th overall pick was the 2008 rookie of the year, a pro bowler in 2010, and is usually a good bet to reach 100 tackles. The versatile 25-year old plays inside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense, but can also be moved to the outside and be effective. He excels in coverage, stopping the run, and is a solid blitzer.
Rob Ninkovich came out of nowhere last year, and has become one of the Patriots' most important players. The 27-year old is not nearly as physically talented as Mayo, but he always seems to be in the middle of big plays. He is a strong blitzer, as his 6.5 sacks indicate, and he recorded two interceptions despite not being all that athletic.
The Patriots also get contributions from Brandon Spikes, Gary Guton, Tracy White, and Dane Fletcher, but Mayo and Ninkovich are clearly the unit's two top dogs.
This one is actually pretty close. Although there is certainly some talent, neither unit is stocked with pro bowl caliber players. Each team has one great linebacker (Boley and Mayo), one important impact player with difficult names (Kiwanuka and Ninkovich), and then a handful of other useful, if not spectacular contributors. The Giants' linebackers have surprisingly become a pretty solid group, but the Patriots have a slight advantage in each of the three aforementioned categories.