Playing in sub-zero weather at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants took turns showing why neither was worthy of escaping this modern-day Ice Bowl as NFC champions and earning a berth in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3 against the almighty New England Patriots.
Green Bay's offense, with quarterback Brett Favre looking gallant early and brittle late, lost consciousness in the third quarter and never revived. New York, meanwhile, kept blowing chance after chance with penalties, dropped passes and missed field goals.
Finally, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes came through, ruining Favre's dream season and leaving America with yet another Super Bore.
New England vs. New York? Please, wake me when it's over.
The ratings will be terrific for a quarter or so. This looks like another version of those infamous Super Blowouts, joining the family of Tampa Bay over Oakland, 48-21 in 2003; Baltimore over New York Giants, 34-7 in 2001; Dallas over Buffalo, 52-17 in 1993; and, of course, San Francisco over Denver, 55-10 in 1990, among others.
Why so pessimistic? Simple. New England was vulnerable in December and the American Conference playoffs, even at home against Jacksonville and San Diego after expending so much energy to wrap up that unprecedented 16-0 ride through the 2007 regular-season schedule.
Yes, it's true the Giants gave the Pats all they wanted on Dec. 29 before losing, 38-35. But New York had every mental edge in the regular-season finale, playing at home with its playoff spot already secure and trying to avoid being on the wrong side of history.
Now, against the Giants (or anybody else the NFC could have offered, with the only possible exception of Dallas) in the warmth of Arizona, with another off week to rest and prepare, the Patriots will finish their 2007-08 quest for perfection as Super Bowl champions, 19-0 and arguably the best team in NFL history.
For the past decade, the AFC has been clearly superior to the NFC, far beyond just having won eight of the previous 10 Super Bowls. To put it more bluntly, during the past handful of seasons, many neutral analysts have concluded that any AFC playoff team including wild cards could have breezed through the NFC bracket.
This past autumn, that seemed to be changing. Dallas was looking particularly dominant with Tony Romo emerging as a star quarterback, receiver Terrell Owens behaving and the defense showing AFC-caliber talent and, especially, all-around speed. But the Cowboys came back less than sharp from their first-round postseason bye and inexplicably lost at home to the Giants.
Don't try to tell me the Giants proved themselves at Green Bay. Proved what? That they could slow down the Geritol set's hero on the frozen tundra? That, given enough opportunities, any pro kicker eventually can make a field goal when it's minus 4 degrees?
(This seems a good time for a little boast. Last week, my prediction was that New England would beat San Diego without covering the point spread, which was correct and admittedly a common guess. My other pick, not so common, took the Giants over the Packers by the score of 23-20, which turned out to be exactly right.)
But this isn't the matchup America wanted. The nation had hoped for New England-Dallas, as flavorful as those Pittsburgh-Dallas classics from the 1970s.
It could have been Tom Brady vs. Romo, Randy Moss vs. Owens, with many more interesting matchups underneath those two on the marquee. Instead, we'll simply have to settle for a coronation. And even that would've been better with Favre, reminiscent of John Elway, having tried to go out on top.
As it is, Brady has survived his vulnerable game (and some of that was bad bounces), Laurence Maroney has bloomed into a real running threat, the Patriots still have all those receivers led by Moss and Wes Welker, and they also haven't allowed a touchdown in six quarters. They'll pick apart the Giants on offense and smother them on defense.
Compare this to last year's Super Bowl: New England is better than Indianapolis; New York isn't as good as Chicago. Indy won that one, 29-17.
This is a recipe for a romp: New England, 38-10.
Bits and pieces: It was so enjoyable watching Air Force hockey dismantle the University of Denver, 5-2 on Jan. 11, and then seeing the Falcons jump into the USCHO.com national poll at No. 20 this week. That win against DU was an upset, but it was not a fluke, as Air Force showed by playing Colorado College so tough in a 2-1 loss the next night. ...
CC can't assume anything on the ice this weekend, traveling to Michigan Tech. This is the time of year when even good teams can slump. And if you're wondering whether the Tigers should be ranked higher than No. 3 nationally, let that thought slide. Michigan and second-ranked Miami of Ohio were on TV last weekend, and both looked imposing. Michigan's talent, depth and quickness recall its 1996 team, which edged CC for the national title.
Perhaps now Georgia, spurned by BCS, is leading a new push for major-college football playoffs to decide a real national champion.
All-Colorado National Football Foundation's state college player of the year is Colorado linebacker Jordan Dizon, also a first-team all-American, over Air Force's Chad Hall.
Proactive strategy Rockies' front office is smart to lock up outfielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
On the air U.S. Figure Skating Championships at St. Paul, Minn., aired by NBC for the first time: Saturday, pairs and dance at 2 p.m., ladies at 7; Sunday, men at 6 p.m.
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