EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- With the memory of a bitter playoff loss hanging over them, the New York Giants get another crack at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game on Sunday.
The Vikings scored 10 points in the final 1:30 with the help of a recovered onside kick and handed the Giants a heartbreaking 23-22 loss in the wild card round in December 1997. It was the first playoff win for Vikings coach Dennis Green and the postseason debut of Giants coach Jim Fassel.
"There is still a sour taste from that game that has not gone away," Fassel said. "But we're a different team now."
The majority of Giants that take the field on Sunday will be unburdened by the history of that painful loss, but there is a nucleus of players from Pro Bowl linebacker Jessie Armstead to defensive end Michael Strahan to cornerback Jason Sehorn to running back Tiki Barber that may still be haunted.
But Green does not believe that game will have any impact on Sunday's matchup.
"We're not big on looking back. Plus we probably only have about four players from that '97 team," Green said.
The teams played here in December 1999 and the Vikings posted a 34-17 victory, all but eliminating the Giants from the playoffs.
But that Giants team did not make the postseason. This one reeled off a five-game winning streak after Fassel guaranteed a trip to the playoffs and earned homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Vikings appeared to be in the driver's seat for home-field advantage, but lost their final three regular season games and barely won the NFC Central title. They may regret that skid if weather conditions become a factor on Sunday.
Despite their No. 1 seed, the Giants are not regarded as the favorites to reach Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. Critics point out they have beaten just one playoff team (the Eagles three times) and will have problems matching up defensively against the Vikings.
"There have been doubters throughout the year," Collins said. "I think we've proven a lot of people wrong, and that's been the motivation for us."
The Giants were able to shackle NFL MVP runnerup Donovan McNabb in last week's 20-10 win over Philadelphia, but Vikings second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper has a far superior supporting cast with Pro Bowl receivers Moss and Carter, NFC rushing champion Smith and an elite offensive line.
Ranked second in the NFL against the run, the Giants expect to contain Smith with defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, linebackers Mike Barrow and Armstead. But dealing with Moss and Carter could be another story.
"We'll look deep to Randy at least six times, like we do every week," Carter said. "They'll probably stop it two or three times, but he'll probably get one pass interference and might catch two or three of them."
Moss caught scoring passes of 53 and 68 yards in last week's 34-16 win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs. In five postseason games in his three NFL seasons, Moss has 26 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns.
The focus on Sunday will be on cornerbacks Jason Sehorn and Dave Thomas, especially the latter.
"They have everything you could wish for on offense," Armstead admitted. "This will be our biggest challenge."
Sehorn had an acrobatic 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week's win over Philadelphia, batting the ball up in the air after diving in front of receiver Torrance Small.
The defense is the Achilles heel of the Vikings, who allowed 356 yards per game -- 28th in the league -- and were 24th in points allowed. In their last three regular season games, the Vikings allowed 508, 434 and 411 yards and 40, 33 and 31 points to St. Louis, Green Bay and Indianapolis.
But last week the defense played one of its best games of the season. Minnesota kept New Orleans out of the end zone in the first half and forced two turnovers in the second half, interceptions by cornerback Robert Tate and linebacker Kailee Wong. Linebacker Dwayne Rudd had a team-leading 13 tackles.
"Our defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl," Vikings linebacker Ed McDaniel said. "I don't care what outsiders say or think."
The Vikings will be without starting free safety Orlando Thomas, who suffered a pulled hamstring in last week's win. Rookie Tyrone Carter, who started seven games this season when Thomas was sidelined with a shoulder injury, moves into the position.
The Vikings are in the NFC championship game for the second time in three years, suffering a heartbreaking 30-27 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons in their last trip.
Minnesota last reached the Super Bowl in January 1977, falling to Oakland, 32-14.
The Giants are 2-0 in NFC championship games, winning at San Francisco, 15-13 in January 1991 en route to their Super Bowl XXV win over Buffalo.
The last seven meetings between New York and Minnesota have been played at Giants Stadium, including playoff contests in 1993 and 1997. The Giants posted a 17-10 win over the Vikings in the first playoff meeting.
The Vikings lead the overall series, 8-5.