The funny thing about the conference championship games is that no sooner are they over than we're forgetting about them and focusing on the Super Bowl (a good thing for Billy Cundiff and Kyle Williams). While I might not forget the looks of the players on the Ravens sideline after Cundiff's kick for the rest of my life, it's time to focus on the big prize ahead. So here are my favorite storylines we're going to kick around, discuss, debate and pontificate on for the next fortnight -- and I already know what the biggest non-Super Bowl story is going to be.
1. WILL 2007 BE ANY FACTOR IN THIS GAME? Absolutely. You're going to hear every analyst say "These are two entirely different teams, blah blah blah." They're wrong. While the Giants are more dynamic this time around and the Patriots' defense isn't nearly as good as it was four years ago, 2007 will help more than you think. When the head coaches and the quarterbacks are the same, it's a huge deal. What did we find out last time that surprised us? Tom Brady wasn't ready for the Giants' pressure and New England took Eli Manning too lightly. The philosophies are still the same -- New York will try to pressure Brady but this time it won't be as unexpected for New England. And I'll give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt with two weeks to figure out how to keep the Giants' offense off-balance. New England will be more humble coming into this game than they were last time at 18-0.
2. WHO SHOULD WE EXPECT TO HEAR FROM THE NEXT TWO WEEKS? In short order, David Tyree, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Plaxico Burress and anyone else who was involved in the last Giants-PatriotsSuper Bowl who's not in this one. We will be overrun with nostalgia from that game. Hidden stories, old grudges, and I'm sure Randy Moss will say he can still play in the NFL. Tyree will be asked if he REALLY would give back his Super Bowl catch to make same-sex marriage illegal. I'm putting the over/under of the number of times I see the Tyree catch between now and the Super Bowl at 175. And I'll take the over.
3. CAN TOM BRADY BECOME THE BEST QUARTERBACK EVER? If he wins this game, Brady goes down as the greatest QB in NFL history. Hogwash, you say? Joe Montana won four, and so did Terry Bradshaw. True. But none of them did it in the era of free agency. Montana did it with Rice, and Bradshaw did it with Swann and Stallworth. The best WR Brady's ever won a Super Bowl with has been Deion Branch. If he wins this year, it's Wes Welker. He's good, but I don't think Welker's going to Canton. But speaking of "bests"...
4. CAN BILL BELICHICK BECOME THE BEST HEAD COACH EVER? If he wins, the argument will be made. This would be his fifth Super Bowl overall. Only Don Shula has coached in more. It would be his fourth victory. Only Chuck Noll has that many wins. While Noll is unbeaten in the Super Bowl, again, he did it before the era of free agency, with an entire defense that's Hall of Fame-worthy. Who's enshrinement-worthy on this defense? Except for Sterling Moore, I mean. The closest any of these guys will get to the Hall is if they rent "Hall Pass" on Netflix. To be able to stay competitive when roster turnover is the norm is incredibly difficult. To win having WRs playing DB (Troy Brown, Julian Edelman) is unheard of. (Though why Edelman was covering Anquan Boldin Sunday is a bit of a head-scratcher, I must admit. But back to my point.)
HOWEVER -- and it's a big Marisa Tomei, "My-Cousin-Vinny" HOWEVER -- I can't get past Spygate and what role that likely played in the Patriots' previous championships. Whatever you think about it, or how it was handled, the bottom line is this: If New England wasn't getting anything from taping other teams, they wouldn't have done it. I can't shake that part of it -- especially since in the post-Spygate era they haven't won a Super Bowl. I can't elevate Belichick to that honor with a victory because of that.
5. WHAT DOES A SUPER BOWL WIN DO FOR ELI MANNING? He goes from Top Five Eli to Top Eli. The order for best QBs in the league right now goes like this: Brady, and then a tie between Eli and Ben Roethlisberger. If Eli wins, it's his second title, still one less than Brady, but he will have outdueled Brady to win the Super Bowl both times. So Eli becomes -- gulp -- the best quarterback in football. And the best QB in his family, I think it goes without saying. But speaking of big brother...
6. WE'LL KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO PEYTON MANNING. Look, the guy is still out there publicly (his Papa John's commercial had me slapping my couch -- a guy's gotta make a living). Unless he goes underground, he'll talk about Eli, where he's at with his recovery, and we'll get some hints about where he's going to go -- or stay. We're also going to hear plenty from Archie Manning, who's not shy about how he thinks Peyton should leave Indianapolis. And since the Super Bowl is actually IN Indianapolis, we'll hear what the team has to say about Peyton. And don't forget the Polians would like to have their unmuzzled voices heard. Some of it will get uncomfortable. This will be the No. 1 non-game storyline. During the next few days, we'll know the direction Peyton will be going -- and I say it's out of Indianapolis and to another team.
7. TOM COUGHLIN WILL GET HIS DUE. No one goes from the firing line to sainthood faster than Coughlin. The players hate him. They love him. They don't respect him. They respect him. He's the end of the line of a bygone species: The old-school head coach. How he continues to succeed in the new individual's era of the NFL is pretty simple: Every week, his game plan has the Giants in place to win, and the team makes the right personnel decisions without relying on free agency. Look at the list of coaches who have been to two Super Bowls: Cowher, Shanahan, Jimmy Johnson, and Lombardi just to name a few? Coughlin belongs in that group. No more will it be "Coughlin, yeah, but..."
8. NEW YORK JETS STORYLINE TBA. With two of their biggest rivals playing, it will be impossible for the Jets to keep quiet. Maybe Santonio Holmes will take to Twitter. Perhaps Greg McElroy will decide he likes being interviewed again. Or Peyton Manning rumors will resurface and not be shot down. The one I'm waiting for is where Woody Johnson calls in Rex Ryan and says "So, you didn't understand the offense you were running? It was too complicated for you? Aren't you the head coach?"
Enjoy the countdown to 46.