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Anticipating perfection

With all due respect to my friend and colleague Paul Zimmerman, the esteemed Dr. Z., the psychic guilt of having not picked Joe Namath and the Jets to beat the Colts in the Super Bowl 39 years ago is no reason to compound one's mistake by predicting a Giants upset of the Patriots in next week's Super Bowl, as he did for both SI.com and Sports Illustrated earlier this week.

It's an understandable, albeit misplaced, attempt on his part to make up for lacking the courage of his convictions oh those many years ago. I can certainly see a competitive Super Bowl on tap. It'll look a lot like the Patriots-Giants game I covered in the Meadowlands not quite four weeks ago. But it'll wind up being a New England victory, just as that one was.

The Patriots are going to win, Paul. And they'll be 19-0 and fresh out of challenges to their throne when they do. Just as I predicted way back in Week 7 of this season. To counter Dr. Z's case for a Super Bowl upset, here are my five best reasons why New England will not fall short of perfection:

1. Taking a break is a real buzz killer.

The two weeks between the NFC title game and the Super Bowl will serve to diffuse, if not kill, the Giants' sense of momentum.

Dr. Z and others are correct when they say that a huge part of New York's success this month is attributable to its soaring confidence level and the mental toughness to handle whatever challenge is next put before it. The Giants are in that zone right now, and not playing again this weekend actually hurts them more than helps. Once the most unpredictable of teams, they need to keep it going, keep the underdog mojo flowing, keep the win-a-week routine in place.

Ah, but nothing breaks a winning team's routine like a Super Bowl trip. Many a red-hot conference champions have rolled into a Super Bowl city and found the big-game atmosphere to be distracting and filled with the types of focus-altering stimuli that can throw a team off stride. The more playoff-tested and mature a team, the less chance there is for the Super Bowl nonsense factor to have an impact. But when you think of the Giants, maturity has not always been their calling card. This new incarnation of theirs is only weeks old.

If there's a team in Arizona that's likely to get caught up in all the hype and all the talk, forgetting ever so slightly to keep their heads down and their eyes on the prize, it's not New England. It'll be the Giants. New York doesn't need the extra preparation time or the build-up. It needs to keep playing. Keep pushing. Keep the pedal to the medal.

2. Nobody gets ready like Bill Belichick.

No coach in the league -- and maybe in NFL history -- matches Belichick when it comes to his legendary preparation skills. Giving him two weeks to get ready for an opponent is almost unfair. He'll invariably find a weakness in an opponent and devise a way to exploit it, or at least figure out a way to neutralize a team's greatest offensive strength. In his New England tenure, Belichick is 6-0 in the playoffs when he's had two weeks to prepare for an opponent, and that doesn't even include the Patriots' signature upset of the heavily favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, which was played just one week after the conference title games that year.

Belichick has done some of his best work against quarterbacks named Manning. He's 8-4 in games against the Peyton Manning-led Colts, beating him twice in three playoff games, and for the longest time Eli's Manning's big brother had to contend with the notion that he had a severe case of Belichick on the brain. That Week 17 showdown against the Giants was Belichick's first encounter with Eli, and while No. 10 played great, New England did win the game to cap its 16-0 perfect season.

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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