The Patriots overcame a rare subpar outing from Brady and used a steady dose of running back Laurence Maroney (25 carries, 122 yards) to outlast the Chargers 21-12 in the AFC Championship Game, improve to 18-0 and vault to their fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons. ... Under bitter cold conditions at Lambeau Field, the Giants advanced to their first Super Bowl since the 2000 season by shocking the Packers 23-20 on a 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes in overtime.
How they got here
The Patriots rolled through the early portion of the schedule -- rarely getting challenged -- by overcoming a reprimand for illegally using videotape in a Week 1 win over the Jets, a four-game suspension of starting safety Rodney Harrison, and an injury to starting defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Since the season's midpoint, things have not been as easy, but the Patriots continue to find ways to win and are just one victory away from becoming the second team in NFL history to go through a season unbeaten and the first to go 19-0. ... Winners of four of their past five, the Giants ran hot and cold all year and are now at their hottest. They have won an NFL-record 10 road games this season, including three straight in the playoffs to become only the third NFL team to do so (1985 Patriots and 2005 Steelers). The Giants started the season 0-2 and had a second-half turnaround against the Redskins in Week 3 that led to a six-game winning streak. New York became just the third NFL team since the 1970 merger to reach the Super Bowl after starting 0-2 (2001 Patriots and 1993 Cowboys).
Aside from linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and reserve running back Sammy Morris, the Patriots have suffered surprisingly few injuries. Moss has been rejuvenated in a Patriots uniform, and new wideouts Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth have also shined in their supporting roles. Defensively, veteran linebackers Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas have demonstrated that youth, at times, is overrated. ... Unlike the Patriots, the Giants have had a number of roster changes throughout the season. Star tight end Jeremy Shockey, linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka and reserve running back Derrick Ward were lost for the season, and a slew of other players have missed valuable time. That has allowed rookies such as TE Kevin Boss and RB Ahmad Bradshaw to pick up the slack and has illustrated New York's quality depth acquired by new GM Jerry Reese.