As kickoff for Super Bowl XLII approaches (let's see, it's about 11 p.m. the night before ... pregame should be starting anytime now), I'm having a hard time with this one. Part of me realizes what a great story it'd be for the Giants to knock off the 18-0 Patriots. But a much larger part of me wants to see the Pats seal the deal, if for no other reason than to shut the 1972 Dolphins up once and for all.
But I'm not sure the Dolphins would gracefully bow out of the spotlight. In fact, they might actually get worse.
The '72 Dolphins, the only team in NFL history to finish an entire season undefeated (having gone 17-0), have been anything but gracious victors in the decades since their remarkable achievement. They make a spectacle of themselves everytime a team approaches that hallowed "undefeated" mark, often appearing on the sidelines when a team goes 12-0 or 13-0 and (privately) popping open champagne whenever the last unbeaten team falls. It was cool when they did it on that Monday night in 1985 (Gifford and Namath look so young ... and sober!) when the 12-0 Chicago Bears rolled into Miami to play the Dolphins, but that's because it was in THEIR Orange Bowl.
But lately they've been in the media again, most notably coach Don Shula chirping about how the '07 Pats should have an asterisk because they got caught cheating in the first half of the first game of the season. And Mercury Morris was on Sirius NFL Radio the other day running off at the mouth about how they'll "welcome" the Pats into "the club" if the Pats finish the deal Sunday.
Welcome them into the club? Punk, you'll be lucky if they let you stand in line outside THEIR club! What the Patriots would do by winning the Super Bowl would be SO much more impressive than what the '72 Phish accomplished. In fact, Shula, since you only played a 14-game schedule and were able to keep your team together longer because of the lack of free agency, shouldn't YOUR team be the one with the asterisk?
Besides, the Patriots' only violation was one of semantics. The guy who got caught videotaping the Jets' defensive signals on the sidelines was guilty of just that ... doing it FROM the sideline. Teams are free to do this from the stands or the lux boxes.
And it'd be different if they'd gotten caught in the last game of the season.
Anyway, if the Pats win, the '72 Dolphins would probably just keep cropping up to remind people that they, too, did what the Patriots will have done, even though they would not have. Just go away, Phish, and quit tarnishing your legacy with the rantings of a bitter washed-up jock.
About the game
The Patriots opened as 14-point favorites, but the line has moved to Patriots (-12). If I were going to lay money on this one, it'd be on the Giants to cover because I feel good about their not losing by two touchdowns.
The biggest factor is going to be the matchup between the Giants' secondary and the Patriots' receivers.
When the Pats have the ball
NY can get pressure on QBs, as evidenced by their league-leading 53 sacks this season. And the key is they can do it with their front four, which will not only help them shut down the Patriots' beatable running game (115 ypg/regular season) but also can free up LBs Kawika Mitchell (weakside), Antonio Pierce (middle) and Reggie Torbor (strongside) to drop back into coverage. This will be key if they're to take away Randy Moss (98 rec, 23 TDs) and Wes Welker (112 rec, 8 TDs).
The Giants' DBs were injured late in the season, so depth could be a concern.
When the Giants have the ball
QB Eli Manning has had an oustanding postseason, having thrown 4 TDs and no INTs, with a passer rating of 99.1. He'll be tested against a Pats defense that can shift to accommodate any offensive system.
But the big difference-maker for the Giants could be their running game. Big back Brandon Jacobs (6-4, 256 lbs) and the much quicker Ahmad Bradshaw (200 lbs) would free up a lot of options for Manning if they can get loose on a New England rush defense that was fairly stingy during the regular season (98 ypg).
Plaxico Burress hauled in 11 balls for 154 yards against the Packers in the NFC Championship game, and while I expect Asante Samuel to be stuck to him like a rap sheet to an Eagle fan, we're still talking about a 6-5 wideout vs. a 5-10 corner. Samuel is one of the best in the game, but so is the Packers' Al Harris, whose lunch was summarily eaten - and lunch money subsequently stolen - by Burress two weeks ago.
Prediction (because every jag in the country has to have one)
* Pats will trail, and won't clinch until late in the game.