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Rising tide

You're going to find this hard to believe but there are some people out there who actually are challenging my selection of the Giants to beat Patriots in the Supe XLII. This surprises me, too, but I'll get those people out of the way first; is this OK?

Geoff of Cortland, N.Y., a renegade Giants fan, for shame -- "Pats have proven all year long, including in a game against the Giants, that they can take any challenge and find a way to leave with a win. What makes you think this game will be any different?" The Giants are better now, with the three playoff contests under their belts. They're a team on the rise, and it's always a good thing to be peaking right before the Super Bowl. The Patriots, on the other hand, seem to be down a little bit from the days in which they were regularly scoring in the 30s. RandyMoss is going through some strange kind of walkabout. He has caught one ball in each of the last two games, either by design of the offense or the fact that maybe he's a little tired or maybe his enthusiasm is waning, much as I hate to accuse anybody of something like that. At any rate, I favor the team on the rise against the team that has flattened.

Bobby B. of Santa Fe -- "I gotta tell ya, Doc, that didn't read like a pick. It read like, 'Well, maybe the Giants could win if all the breaks go their way.' With two weeks off to prepare, and playing in the sun, something tells me the Patriots are going to go back to playing like Martians." They won't be playing in the sun, they'll be playing in the moon, well, most of the time, anyway. Kickoff is 4:21 p.m. Mountain time, which is pretty high. Weirdness counts. Bela Lugosi will call the coin toss.

Anand of Kokomo, Ind. -- "Can you please explain to me how the Giants stop Wes Welker and some of the screams" (they keep their hands over their mouths) ... wait a minute ... "some of the screens [sorry] against the pass rush that the Pats will employ?" They don't stop Welker, they limit his gains to single digits and whack him hard once he's caught the ball -- if they can find him. They stop the screen the same way Antonio Pierce did on one memorable play against the Packers -- just fight through the block. They've got guys tough enough to do it.

Norman of Dallas -- "If the SB were played this coming Sunday, I'd go along with the GMen, but with a momentum-killing Sunday off and two weeks for the Pats to game plan, I think the NFC winds up a bridesmaid again. What's the Flaming Redhead's take?" I wouldn't begin to guess, but I'll ask her for you, in fact, I'll give her a whole new paragraph for herself.

"The week gives the Giants chance to rest," she says. "It also gives Brady a chance to get his foot back in order. Between you and me, I think New England's going to win. They've done it all season. Wouldn't it be great to let them have the whole shebang?"

Damion of San Jose -- "What makes you think this Giants team is going to beat the Pats, when they played their hearts out three weeks ago, in their own stadium, with the crowd behind them, in cold weather, and they still couldn't do it? Now, we are about to believe they are going to out-grit the team that invented grit in the Super Bowl? C'mon Dr. Z." Ah, that's a load of grit! No, no, I don't mean it. Just wanted to be clever. Giants are better now, Pats are worse. Seems that I've already advanced that argument.

Gordon of Richmond, R.I. -- "How do you think Eli will handle all of the hype and attention he'll encounter in the biggest showcase in the football world?" Biggest showcase? How about the Pro Bowl? I think he'll handle it with a twinkling eye and a better sense of humor than anyone gave him credit for ... uh, for which anyone gave him credit.

Bye, bye Supe Bowl preguntas, hello generics.

Here's my E-mailer of the Week, Daryn Ohta, of Las Vegas, whom I feel sorry for because he just blew a big paycheck in the skeeball alleys along the Strip. He discounts a lot of factors that influence the success of a team, and concludes, "The one consistent factor in all the championship teams is their offensive line. The teams that limited sacks, loss of yardage plays and hurried passes throughout the playoffs are the ones that dominated." Yes, kind of. It's a pretty one-dimensional view, but I like your isolating on the O-line as the greatest source of strength, or, conversely, problems, if something happens. Weakness in that department is something that can infect an entire operation.

Hmmm, pretty mild stuff for our prime award, but what the heck, Daryn needs friends after what he's been through.

And here's a man who needs no friends, Jeff of Oakland, who says my Marino-Montana Supe matchup was topped by Favre vs. Elway and even Montana vs. Elway. I won't argue it. I wrote it quickmarch style, without doing a breakdown of all the pretty faces who have shown up. Your stars better than my stars? Sure, if you say so. There's never been a halfback like Dutch Clark, though.

Sam of Apache Junction, Ariz., which Linda Flame, lately of Phoenix, informs me is right by Superstition Mountains, asks me a question I can honestly say I have not dwelled upon for at least six months: Do I think one of the most pressing needs for the Silver and Black is a quality running back that other teams will have to game plan for? Well, the Raiders certainly could use one, but unless they feel Darren McFadden is lights out, in the mode of A. Peterson, I would go in another direction. The Packers (Ryan Grant) and Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw) have shown that quality runners can be found at all levels, if you know what you're doing.

A long question of sociological import from Ryan of Boston. I'll summarize, and I hope I'm touching on the finer points. Why must a team such as Dallas go through the motions of the Rooney Rule if it intends to hire Jason Garrett all along, assuming a replacement for Wade Phillips is on the horizon? Will Garrett's fellow assistant, Jim Caldwell, who is black, get a fair shake, with or without the Rooney Rule, or is Jason a given and everyone else just window dressing?

It seems that Jason is No. 1 on the list right now. At one time I wondered why it was necessary to go through the sham of the Rooney Rule if the guy were already picked, but I've changed my thinking. Anything that leads to more exposure is helpful because who knows, when an owner is exposed to someone with whom he might not be totally familiar, surprising things could happen. As far as Jones' sincerity as he conducts his interviews, should they even take place ... I can't speak for him. I think he has his mind made up right now, but maybe he'd be willing to entertain other ideas.

Still with the assistants, still with Garrett -- "Is he really as good as Jones thinks he is?" asks Gary of Baltimore, who has trouble seeing the rather studious Garrett firing up a bunch of hard-nosed players. He asks, "What has he accomplished that makes people think he will be such a surefire thing as a head coach?" Motivational magic is overrated, once the players get out of high school. Besides, you can always hire a fire-eating assistant or two for that. A head coach must be smart and political, also possessed of organizational ability, and it wouldn't hurt if he has a real flare for personnel evaluation as well, as Jimmy Johnson did. How much of this does Garrett have? Well, everyone agrees that he's smart. The rest must be proved. And as far as not providing the proper image, well, the Saints' Sean Payton does not look like a real-life leader of men. Even Belichick himself had a kind of mousy appearance when he first got into the business.

More assistants. Ravi of Palo Alto, and thanks for your loyalty, wonders what actually goes on when owners interview coaches. Technical, blackboard-type stuff, answers to hypothetical questions, other queries about how they would handle tangential topics such as public appearances and media relations. A short break for dinner and then back again. Some organizations actually have questionnaires for their prospective candidates. Once I drew up my own personality tester, not so much for coaches, but for ... well, some day in the offseason I'll print it, if there is any support for such a project. I warn you, it's strange.

One more trip, on this topic, from Ryan of Boston, whom you've already heard from -- How do I like Tony Dungy's chances for the Hall of Fame? Fair. Others have similar track records, but he has made so many friends around the league, and he has been such a good guy that it's hard to see many selectors stiffing him.

"I've asked this question 100 times before," says Marc of Hawthorne, N.J. Hmmm, I wondered what that droning was, outside the window. "Z's never answered it ... is it because he's chicken?" Whooo, hold on a minute there, pardner. Hundreds of e-mails come in each week, sometimes thousands, and there was one weekend, right around Arbor Day, when there were millions. We have a bright, young, alert crew composed of people who wear bow ties and look straight ahead of them, a crew that takes great pride in going through those e-mails. Poor old Z never sees the whole swath of them, he just answers what's placed in front of him, like some mechanical answering monster. Thus I never turned you down, see. Now let's see what this question is that supposedly put such fear in my heart. Has the left guard, "usually regarded as the best O-lineman on the team, having to protect the righthanded QB's blind side," even at the All-Pro level, switched to RG to protect a leftie QB's blind side? First of all, it's the tackle, not the guard, who's the back-side protector. He might switch, if the guy on the other side is a big drive-blocker, not a pass protector, but it's rare because different techniques must be learned.

Daniel of Cayou, Mo., says the Patriots pull sneaky little, nasty moves on the field and get away with them because other teams try to be super-nice to them. Why? Maybe somebody wants to borrow money. I haven't noticed this. Rodney Harrison, for instance, seldom gets befriended. And he draws plenty of flags, too.

Hall of Fame again, this time from Charlie of Sammamish, Wash. -- Thoughts on Cortez Kennedy? Thoughts on no Seahawks being in the Hall of Fame. Is there an East Coast bias or perhaps a major-market bias? Congratulations. In 42 years of doing the mailbag I've never heard the expression, "major-market bias." OK, you folks, keep out of the Mall. Stay away from Foodtown and Safeway and the A&P. No, phew, no major-market bias. Next. Well, I always liked Big Tez. He always had my H-of-F nod, but he never got much farther than the prelims. No 'Hawks in the Hall (sounds like a historical novel). How about Steve Largent and Warren Moon? Please check your facts, Charlie, or you'll be visited by a couple of dudes with heavy shoes to check them for you, got that?

Flash! Catfight over the airwaves, as reported here by Matt of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Deion questions LT's toughness. LaDainian points out that Deion never has been a running back and had a sprained MCL. They return to their corners, and here's the bell, Don Dunphy and Round 2: I will never question Tomlinson's toughness. He has proved himself for too many years. Deion? All I can say about the breed of player-turned-analyst is that they come up with questions, with observations that they would have hooted at when they were in the arena themselves. In a heartbeat they shed one hat and put on the other. It's kind of amazed me. And thanks for the kind words.