Look for a Super Bowl rematch in Indianapolis
Get ready for the rematch. The Super Bowl rematch, not the Harbaugh coaching family reunion.
For a Super Bowl redux to happen, the New York Giants will need another huge road win, this time at San Francisco. And when they get it Sunday, will they face the Baltimore Ravens, who routed them in the 2001 Super Bowl? Or New England, which had its perfect record shattered by the Giants in the big game four years ago?
Read on for that one.
New York Giants (plus 2 1-2) at San Francisco
It's hard to say who had the more impressive victory last weekend. The Giants (11-7) outplayed, outcoached and outworked the defending champion Packers at Lambeau Field, where Green Bay hadn't lost since early last season. The 49ers showed more passing offense than anyone imagined and won a shootout with one of the league's most prolific offenses, the Saints.
New York forced four turnovers, one fewer than San Francisco, a major factor in their games.
''We always talk about the turnover margin and, of course, that was huge,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ''We were plus-3. And we felt very much so for a team that only had 14 turnovers over the course of the entire season, that was exceptional. They were a team with plus-24 and really had played from the other side of it all year long.''
The 49ers (14-3) have played from the positive side of it all season, too. They were plus-28, with a miniscule 10 giveaways during the regular season.
So whoever protects the ball will move closer to that trip to Indianapolis.
These rivals have a long history of postseason meetings, including New York's 15-13 win in 1990. Most memorable might be San Francisco's wild 39-38 victory nine years ago after which the league apologized to the Giants for a botched officiating call on the last play.
Their most recent matchup was the 49ers' 27-20 win at Candlestick Park on Nov. 13, the first of four straight losses for the Giants. New York turned it around by winning three of its last four regular-season games to take the NFC East and has gotten healthy.
''I think it probably surprised a lot of people that the Giants and the 49ers are in the NFC championship game,'' Niners first-year coach Jim Harbaugh said. ''In October and November and September, we were trying to win the next game. That's where our focus was.''
The Giants nearly pulled out that November game, and they are vastly improved now. With more balance than the 49ers can muster, they will head to Indy.
Baltimore (plus 7 1-2) at New England
The AFC title game shapes up as a classic matchup of imposing offense and immovable defense. In the current NFL atmosphere, with all kinds of points and yardage records being set, the offense has had the edge.
That hardly means the Ravens are incapable of going to Foxborough and repeating their playoff victory there in 2010. That game was decided early when Ray Rice burst through a hole the size of Cape Cod and sprinted 83 yards for a touchdown on Baltimore's first offensive play. The Ravens quickly got another TD, making it 14-0 just five minutes in, and New England never got back in it.
Baltimore didn't get to the Super Bowl that year and has not despite making the playoffs in each of John Harbaugh's four seasons as coach. Harbaugh likes the fact that as a wild card the last three years, the Ravens (13-4) are no strangers to road playoff games.
''It helps, just by the fact that we've done it,'' Harbaugh said. ''Most of our team has been there before, and then those young guys can relate to the older guys, and the older guys can share some wisdom. But it's not going to impact necessarily this game, except to the extent that our guys have been there before and it's certainly not going to be anything new for them. And that's a good thing.''
A very good thing is the way Tom Brady played this season for New England (14-3). He comes off a six-touchdown passing performance against Denver, but comparing the Broncos' defense to Baltimore's is ludicrous.
Still, Brady has a versatile cast, led by All-Pros at tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and receiver (Wes Welker), and his offensive line is solid - a key against Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The Patriots' defensive weakness is against the pass, not an area the Ravens necessarily excel at.
So look for Giants-Patriots II in the Super Bowl.
Against spread: 3-1 (overall 131-110-5); straight up 2-2 (overall 173-91).
Best Bet: 4-15 against spread, 13-6 straight up.
Upset Special: 11-7 against spread, 8-10 straight up.