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Anticipating perfection (cont.)

Posted: Friday January 25, 2008 12:36PM; Updated: Tuesday January 29, 2008 6:55PM
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Tom Brady
Tom Brady has proven himself as one of the most consistent big-game performers in NFL history.
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3. Been there and done that really matters.

When it comes to coaching in the Super Bowl, experience counts for something. While the record of first-time Super Bowl head coaches is a respectable 19-24, when you break down the matchup of Belichick versus Tom Coughlin a little further, the advantage swings firmly in New England's favor.

Belichick is 3-0 as a Super Bowl head coach, while Coughlin will be making his Super Bowl head-coaching debut. In the first 41 Super Bowls, there have been 18 matchups where one head coach had experience working on the NFL's grandest stage, and one didn't. The coaches with previous Super Bowl experience went 12-6 in that situation.

It has been 10 years since a Super Bowl rookie head coach bested an opponent with prior Super Bowl experience: Denver's Mike Shanahan got the better of Green Bay's Mike Holmgren in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. That type of "upset'' has happened just twice in the '70s, twice in the '80s and twice in the '90s. Belichick is 2-0 in such a situation, with wins over Carolina's John Fox four years ago in Houston and Philadelphia's Andy Reid three years ago in Jacksonville.

4. It's an AFC thing.

As well as the Giants (13-6) have been playing, do we need to remind you that this is the NFC champion we're talking about? The AFC has won four consecutive Super Bowls, six of the past seven, and eight of the previous 10. A decade of dominance is a pretty good measuring stick when it comes to trends. In those eight winning Super Bowls, the AFC's average margin of victory has been in double digits, at 10.1 points per game.

Tampa Bay in 2002 and St. Louis in 1999 are the only NFC teams to triumph in the Super Bowl in the past 10 years, and they beat two of the lesser regarded AFC champions in recent memory in Oakland (just 11-5 in the regular season) and Tennessee (a wild-card playoff entry). The Rams were favored by seven points over those Titans, and the Raiders were actually 3 1/2-point favorites over the Bucs in the nearest thing to a toss-up Super Bowl in the past eight years.

If you're wondering, the Giants did go 3-1 against AFC teams this season, but that's a bit misleading in that New York was fortunate to draw the weakest division in the conference to square off against. New York had the AFC East in interconference play, beating the Jets, Dolphins and Bills (three teams that combined to go 12-36), and losing, of course, to the Patriots in Week 17.

5. Nobody comes up big in big games like the Patriots.

With the NFL's first 19-0 perfect season on the line in Super Bowl XLII, this is quite simply the biggest game in the careers of both Tom Brady and Belichick, the preeminent big-game quarterback-coach tandem since Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi were doing their thing for Green Bay's dynasty in the 1960s.

Brady and Belichick are 14-2 (.875) in the playoffs in New England, trailing only Starr and Lombardi's .900 postseason winning percentage (9-1). A win will not only give New England its fourth Super Bowl title in seven years -- a span of success beaten only by Pittsburgh's four rings in six years in the '70s -- it'll set the Patriots apart in NFL history as the first team to reach the 19-0 mountaintop.

I can't fathom the Patriots, who have jealously defended their legacy against all real or imagined slights this season, letting an opportunity to leave a completely unique mark on the game slip away. It means too much to them to let themselves be denied one step away from a historical accomplishment of this magnitude. Whatever it takes against a hungry and dangerous Giants team, New England will find a way to win and stand alone.

That's the Patriot Way.

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