NFL

Eli will be key in Super Bowl XLVI

Curtis Conway picks his Super Bowl winner.
Curtis Conway picks his Super Bowl winner.
Curtis Conway weighs in with his Super Bowl preview.
Curtis Conway weighs in with his Super Bowl preview.
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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Nothing against Tom Brady, but Eli Manning is the best quarterback playing in Super Bowl XLVI.

ROAD TO INDY

The Giants and Patriots will kick off Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. ET in Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI. Want more info?

Manning enters his second championship duel with a lot better resume and a fearless attitude. While attempting 64 passes against a heroic San Francisco defense, Manning was hit 20 times, knocked down 12 times and sacked six times. There was more than one play where he seemingly had eyes in the back of his head as he dodged pocket pressure and somehow delivered another pass.

Elite, you say?

Eli said he belonged before the season began and he definitely removed any doubts with his performance down the stretch, holding this offense together. Not only did he throw 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this year, but another eight in three playoff games. Plus, he beat the supposed two best teams in the NFC in the Packers and Niners.

You have to be lucky in the playoffs and both the Giants and Patriots got their fortunate bounces and breaks. A week ago, San Francisco's special teams were picking the Saints’ pockets. On Sunday at rainy Candlestick Park, a very silly Kyle Williams allowed one punt to bounce off of his right knee, then fumbled another Steve Weatherford punt in overtime that put New York in field position for the winning field goal.

“He’s my favorite return guy in the league,” Weatherford said in a jubilant New York locker room.

In Foxborough, the Patriots dodged overtime when Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left. What would Jimmy Johnson say to Cundiff today?

“Goodbye.”

Who knows how veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed treated Cundiff in the locker room? These future Hall of Famers are playing on their last legs and this AFC title game loss may have been their last chance at a Super Bowl.

There is a lot to like about the Giants in this Super Bowl rematch. They are three-point underdogs. They relish that status. They love being on the road. They’ve won two straight on the road, so going to Indianapolis will be no big deal. Plus, Tom Coughlin knows how to energize his team and get them cranked up.

This is a new Coughlin, you know. The man had a personality change back in 2007 for the better and the players love him for it. He used to fine them for being late for meetings even though they were early. Michael Strahan could never figure Couglin out until the very end and now the two are good friends. Some New Yorkers might not even believe that, but it’s true. Strahan has a lot of respect for his old coach.

“You got to love this man, the way he held his team together when they were 6-6,” Jimmy Johnson said. “He did a remarkable job when his team could have gone over the edge.”

After beating the Patriots in New England in early November, the Giants dropped four consecutive games to fall to .500. They lost to the 49ers, Eagles, Saints and Packers. They avenged two of those losses this month in sudden-death situations. That’s a sign of character and strong will.

It’s rather amazing to think that either Steve Tisch or John Mara was ever thinking of firing Coughlin. They seemed to be loving him Sunday night in the cramped locker room, but there were rampant rumors all over New York that had he lost to mighty Rex Ryan and the Jets on Christmas Eve, he could have been receiving a pink slip. Now, Coughlin appears to be in line for another contract extension if the ownership sees fit to extend his deal past next season.

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THEY'RE THE BEST

Where does the first Giants-Patriots Super Bowl matchup rank among the 10 best Super Bowl games?

OK, the Patriots are very good, plus Bill Belichick and Brady are shooting for the rarefied Bradshaw-Montana atmosphere. One more title and they are owners of four Lombardi trophies. They had their 18-0 streak snapped by a gutty New York team four seasons ago, and this New York version has more weapons than that team. Also, Perry Fewell seems to have his defense figured out. Yes, they were burned by Vernon Davis twice on Sunday, but for the most part they dominated a San Francisco offense that converted one measly third down.

New England has a unique passing offense in that it’s centered around two tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots would be scarier if that combination was Gronkowski and a 30-year-old Randy Moss. Wes Welker is a third-down conversion machine, but that’s it right now. Brady would be home free if he had a reliable deep threat, someone to totally open the middle of the field for his able-bodied giant receivers.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 68 yards rushing and a touchdown against Baltimore, but he won't give New York any problems. Brady is going to have to throw and that means he’ll be seeing a lot of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. They may not have Strahan this time around, but the Giants can still bring pressure. Plus, linebacker Michael Boley has the legs to at least stay with one of those New England tight ends.

STARGAZING

Everybody loves the NFL, even celebrities. See A-list actors and recording artists on the sidelines.

Right now, the Giants are playing as well as the Ravens on defense, and Baltimore forced three turnovers on Sunday. But what the Ravens don’t have is Eli Manning and his cast of playmakers. Joe Flacco is OK, but he’s no Eli.

This cannot be said in the Manning family at dinner time, but Eli is no longer in Peyton’s shadow. In fact, he has a chance to do something Peyton has never done: Win his second Super Bowl. In a family headed by a quarterback father, such an accomplishment means a lot. I believe Eli can do it, too.

Granted, his big brother has had a longer streak of amazing statistical seasons, but at this time of the year that means nothing. Eli is simply performing at a higher level than he ever has. There have been a few glitches here and there, but for the most part he has been making the right reads and throwing to the right receivers. He’s been pretty flawless down the stretch and performers like that generally win the big one when it’s on the line.
 

Tagged: Patriots, Giants, 49ers, Ravens, Tom Brady, Billy Cundiff, Ed Reed, Eli Manning, Steve Weatherford, Rob Gronkowski

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