By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Anyone who's read the papers over the past 10 daysor for that matter, the past 20 yearsknows about the pre-super bowl media blitz. With two weeks between the conference championship games and the big one, football writers are as much involved in making the newsthrough pronouncements, predictions, and maudlin prattleas covering it. And that is especially true when a team from New York, the media capital of the world, is involved in the game. What are the real stories behind the Giants-Ravens matchup? Here's a look at the hard facts buried beneath the Super Bowl hype heading into this weekend's game.
The Hype: The Ravens' defense is the best of all time. If they dominate the Giants on Sunday, Baltimore-based pundits believe, they will win the game.
The Hard Facts: Duh. Anyone can look at the numbers and see that both teams have great defenses. Baltimore finished second overall in total defense this year, allowing a stingy 60.6 yards rushing and 187.3 yards passing per game. They pitched four shutouts in the regular season, second most in NFL history, and they allowed the fewest points ever over a 16-game schedule. They also allowed the fewest rushing yards ever over 16 games. And no one could possibly overlook the Giants' defense either; they finished fifth overallsecond against the run, and 15th against the pass.
The real story of this game, though, is the teams' offenses. While the Ravens have struggled to score all yearat one point going four straight games without an offensive touchdownthe Giants seem to be getting better as the year goes on. Big Blue averaged 336 total yards per game during the regular season, 125.6 rushing and 210.4 passing. And they are fresh off a 41-0 thrashing of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. They may not score as big this weekend, but they aren't likely to fold either.
"Obviously, this is going to be a different kind of game than it was [against the Vikings]," QB Kerry Collins said Friday. "We're playing a better defense, the best in the NFL this year. We're really going to have to play our best game of the year to do anything against them. We're going to go out there and try and do the things we do well and see what happens."
The Headlines: "Super Bowl Opponents Pulling Out All the Stops: Among the Similarities: Tough Defenses, Recycled QBs, Run-Oriented Attacks" (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 15); "Dilfer Still Hears Boos From Tampa" (New York Post, Jan. 19)
The Hype: Both teams feature great "D," great runners, and QBs trying to rebuild their careers.
The Hard Facts: The first two points are true, but to compare Dilfer and Collins is crap. Sure, Collins has had his personal problems, but he's always been viewed as a talented player. Meanwhile, Dilfer, during his stay in Tampa Bay (where he spent the first six years of his career), was famous for being one of the few NFL QBs worse than erstwhile Giant signal-callers Dave Brown and Danny Kanell (statistically).
This year, Dilfer was still his mediocre self1502 yards, 12 TDs, 11 INTs in eight startswhile Collins came alive3610 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs. Collins has the ability to win a game as the QB, whereas Dilfer, as Giant cornerback Jason Sehorn said last week, is told to "just go out there and implement the game plan. He doesn't need to win the game for them. That's the difference." On the other hand, "Kerry is evolving into an elite quarterback in this league," Giants head coach Jim Fassel said after the NFC Championship Game. "There's no limit to him. He's got tremendous talent."
The Headlines: "All the Rage: Team Behind Brash Coach" (Daily News, Jan. 20); "Keith to Ravens: Talk 'Til There's Blue in Your Face" (Daily News, Jan. 21)
The Hype: From the coach on down, Baltimore likes to talk the talk. Fassel's charges prefer to walk the walk.
The Hard Facts: As Sehorn says in that cloying Schwab TV spot, "Shannon Sharpe . . . he's always talking trash." The same could be said of many of the tight end's Baltimore teammates. The Ravens and their coach, Brian Billick, have a reputation for talking.
Though friendly with the Baltimore coach, Fassel has a different philosophy. An implicit gag order was part and parcel of his now famous playoff Guarantee in November, and his players have avoided giving opponents any bulletin-board material since. Instead, they have watched as other teams made mid-week promises they couldn't keep on Sundays.
The Daily Newshas reported that Raven defensive back Chris McAlister said last week that their offense may only need to score three points to beat the Giants. As has been their way, Big Blue has yet to respond, andas defensive end Keith Hamilton told the Newsdoesn't plan to. "I think the attitude of the players is right," Fassel told assembled reporters last week. "We're going down [to Tampa] for a football game, not all that other stuff."