NFL offices, one can almost hear Hank Williams, Jr., hollering,
"Are you ready for some football execs
rooting hard for the Giants and the Raiders?"
Well, we might have to
get Hank back in the studio for that one, but there's no doubt that of the four
possible Super Bowl matchups, the New York Giants versus the Oakland Raiders
is the one the league wants.
The Giants represent the
league's top market. And while much of the country would rather
see Chevy Chase return to late-night television than another
New York team in a major sports championship, no league commissioner
ever roots against New York success.
in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings, is not a bad option for
the NFL, however. Randy Moss jerseys perennially are among
the hottest sellers nationally, and championship rings for
Cris Carter and Robert Smith — two of the league's most
highly respected players off the field — would be a late
Christmas present for any NFL publicist.
In the AFC, the Super Bowl
rep could be the storied Raiders, with a fan base up and down the California
coast and a coach who exemplifies the spirit of the game. Or it could be the
Baltimore Ravens, a trash-talking, transplanted team with little national appeal
and a defense talented enough to turn the Super Bowl into a scoreless snoozer.
Dollars aside, Vikings
versus Raiders could be the most entertaining, while a Giants-Ravens matchup
could set at least set one Super Bowl record: most punts. Vikings-Ravens? Pretty
let's play a game of "Who You Calling a Stiff?"
To play you must think back two years and recall where you
thought quarterbacks Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Rich Gannon
and Daunte Culpepper would be now. If you said leading their
respective teams to conference championship games and owning
a combined 7-2 playoff record (7-2! These guys?), then
Dionne Warwick has nothing on you.
Enjoy the games, everyone.
And hey, don't forget the individual game previews below.
Games of Sunday,
at NEW YORK GIANTS, 12:30 p.m. ET
After playing a rare game in which the Giants
came in with the better offense (and still scored
only six points against the Eagles' defense),
Big Blue goes back to a more familiar role: We'd
better stop these guys or else.
if the Giants' defense plays like it did against
Philly — getting in quarterback Donovan McNabb's
face quicker than it took Van Halen to kick David
Lee Roth out a second time — it might not
matter that they're facing the NFC's second-highest-scoring
know it does matter, though. No one can discount
the Vikes' offense, which features more starters
going to the Pro Bowl (six) than are staying home
(five). The grass field might slow the Purple
Yardage Eaters, but anything short of four-foot
blades isn't going to hinder Randy Moss.
proved last week why he is the most dangerous
receiver in the game, scoring two touchdowns on
only two receptions. But a couple of dropped balls
reminded us that he doesn't have the surest hands
in the league. No matter. Teammate Cris Carter
has the surest hands in the league.
York is 11-1 when holding opponents to less than
20 points, but can the boys in blue hold Minnesota
to less than three touchdowns? If they can, they've
got a shot. If not, the Vikings will likely go
for their first Super Bowl title in five tries.
Team Pages: Vikings
Vikings by 2
Carter , WR, Vikings
Elway and Reggie White got their first Super Bowl
rings late in their careers. Dan Marino and Barry
Sanders never won any. The latter two's careers
weren't diminished... much. We like to say it
doesn't matter whether a future Hall of Famer
retires without winning a league title, but think
of how we'd regard Jim Kelly if the Bills had
won four Super Bowls instead of losing them.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of losses this season (against nine
wins) suffered by the Giants when they led
after the first quarter
Playoff quarterbacks who were younger than
Daunte Culpepper was last week (Shaun King,
Bernie Kosar, Dan Marino, Pat Haden)
Number of consecutive playoff games in which Randy Moss has
scored a touchdown
at OAKLAND, 4:05 p.m. ET
Who would've thought that one day the Raiders would be playing against
the bad boys of the NFL?
talk smack with the best of 'em. And after their
defense sent Super Bowl favorite Tennessee home
unexpectedly early, it's clear they lay the smackdown
with the best of 'em, too.
defensive unit gets more impressive each week.
It allowed a 16-game-season record low of 165
points and has yielded just 12 touchdowns in the
last 15 games. So if a team scores one measly
touchdown in a game against Baltimore, it's doing
better than average.
that unit, the Ravens have a shot to win any game
on any planet. They may feel like they're on another
planet in Oakland, where Raiders fans haven't
seen an AFC Championship game since 1976. And
no, they haven't exactly used that time to learn
manners from Emily Post.
Raiders players haven't been too nice to other
teams either. Oakland
blasted its last two opponents, the Panthers and
Dolphins, by a combined scored of 79-9. And it's
the Raiders' defense who posted a shutout last
week — 27-0 against Miami. (Then again, when
the Dolphins lose in the playoffs, they lose better
looked better than of any of the four playoff teams last week, so if
they get knocked out, credit Baltimore with eliminating yet another
Super Bowl favorite.
Team Pages: Ravens
Raiders by 5 1/2
Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens
AP's Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis is in
the middle, literally, of the most anticipated
matchups of this game. The Raiders sport the NFL's
top-rated rushing offense, while the Ravens are
the league's best run-stoppers. Lewis plays every
game like it's his last — which was almost
the case last year. He avoided a possible murder
conviction by pleading guilty last June to a misdemeanor
charge of obstruction of justice and agreeing
to testify against his two codefendants.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of times in the last eight AFC Championship games that
the visiting team has won
of consecutive playoff games Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe's
team has won
of playoff victories in Raiders history, most among AFC teams