By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
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By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
But does Coughlin know enough to win a duel of wits with pro football's resident genius, Patriots coach Bill Belichick? "A good question," says Accorsi. "Not too many coaches have ever actually outsmarted the competition. Bill Walsh did. Bill Belichick has. It's a really scary thought that he has two weeks to prepare for this game."
The Giants have fired up this town the way only an underdog canand make no mistake, despite the wild optimism of sports-radio callers and the reckless predictions of some local beat writers, the Giants are underdogs. Big underdogs. Perhaps the biggest Super Bowl underdogs in almost 40 years.
Let's not let a couple of thrilling playoff wins obscure what the Giants are up against. The Patriots, as everyone knows, are a perfect 18-0 to the Giants' 13-6. There's an enormous gap between the Patriots' and the Giants' performances, and the deeper you dig, the wider it gets. (Giants fans who don't want to lose heart are advised to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs.) In 18 games, including the postseason, the Pats have outscored their opponents by a ridiculous 335 points, and their total of 589 regular-season points scored is an all-time NFL record. The Giants, in 19 games, have outscored their opponents by just 39 points.
During the regular season, Big Blue was 14th among 32 teams in points scored on offense and 17th in points allowed on defense. Most of the time, a team with those numbers finishes 8-8, which is as close to mediocre as a team can get.
Moreover, New England's numbers were compiled against much tougher opposition. Going into the playoffs, most experts ranked the top five NFL teams, in order, as New England, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Jacksonvilleall AFC teamswith Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Dallas pretty much regarded as jump ball for the fifth spot. In other words, you had to go to the fifth spot in the seeds to maybe find a team from the NFC. The Patriots whipped San Diego, Dallas, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and the Giants. The Giants' 10-6 record didn't include a single win against any of the contenders for the top five seeds, and until the playoffs they didn't have a victory over any of the best teams in their own conference, going 0-3 against Green Bay and Dallas (twice), outscored by 43 points in those three games.
The bottom line, let's face it, is that it's great the Giants won their conference, but the contenders for the NFC are in pretty much the same situation as the candidates for the Republican Party presidential nomination: They all suck, but heysomebody's got to win. Yet there's no denying that Coughlin and the Giants were a different team on December 29, when they lost to the Patriots 38-35 in the final game of the season, with Eli throwing four touchdown passes. From that game through the victory over the Packers, Manning has never been better.
Do the Giants really have a chance to make football history this Sunday? Here's four strategies that might result in victory:
Introduce Tom Brady to Jessica Simpson. Through the first 13 weeks of the 2007 season, the Dallas Cowboys were flying high with a 12-1 record, on track to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Then rumors of a Tony RomoJessica Simpson romance surfaced. The Cowboys lost three of their next four games. Simpson, with the IQ of a Hostess Ding Dong, appears to be just Brady's type.
Get Eli Manning to "guarantee" a victory. Why not? The last time we saw a fourth-year quarterback from a Southeastern Conference school playing for a New York team that was a more-than-two-TD underdog in the Super Bowl was nearly 40 years ago. Joe Namath sent the football world cleats over helmet by guaranteeing that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts. Eli Manning needs that kind of chutzpah now. In fact, Joe has some advice for him: "All he needs is to change his facial expressions a littleyou know, look tougher and meaner," Namath tells the Voice. "He's already got the determination. He just needs to look like it a little more so the opposing defense gets the message."
Have Eli get off on the right foot. The Giants' unsung hero for the 2007 season is quarterback coach Chris Palmer, an 18-year NFL coaching vet. Palmer worked with Drew Bledsoe, and he went to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. In 1997, at Jacksonville, Palmer worked with Mark Brunell, who led all AFC quarterbacks in passer ratings. In 2006, he took a QB named Tony Romo, who hadn't thrown a regular-season pass in three and a half years, and turned him into a Pro Bowler.
Palmer is a mechanics guy, and Eli definitely needed a tune-up. When pressured, Manning had a bad habit of leaning back and throwing off his back foot, which is the primary reason his downfield passes lost velocity in mid-flight. Palmer got him to step forward and follow through on every throw, greatly increasing both his speed and accuracy. It took a while for Palmer's teachings to sink in, but once they did, Eli enjoyed the best stretch of his NFL careeras exemplified by 85 consecutive postseason passes without an interception.