NEWS

Bill Liesse: Giants will spoil dream matchup

Bill Liesse

In Phoenix, they're trimming the hedges in shapes of Tom Brady and Brett Favre.

What a Super Bowl. The career record-holder in just about everything vs. the league MVP, a quarterback coming off the best postseason game of all time, statistically.

It's the dream matchup everyone expects and most want, even if the MVP award probably should have gone to Randy Moss for changing the Patriots offense from good to highest-scoring of all time. (Bill Walsh, Don Coryell and Mike Martz take note: Moss has been the key cog in the top two as the Pats broke the record of his Vikings.)

Anyway, we're here to explore the 'matchup' of other quarterbacks. The two linked from their draft. This is your life, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

They say it takes four or five years to properly evaluate a trade. And even though Archie Manning's since-retracted threats of Eli never playing in San Diego made it a fate accompli that each of these QBs would end up where they are, it was in fact a draft-day trade that landed each where they are.

It better have been, because a bit of the crazy Chargers talent that escaped Archie four years ago crossed the country in the same deal.

No one is quite sure what to make of Manning or Rivers, and with good reason. While they've progressed at a reasonable pace, each is prone to backward steps that make everyone wonder.

Exacerbating the situation are the easy points of comparison for each. In Rivers' case, there's the jettisoned Drew Brees, a near-MVP in his first year in New Orleans and thrower of the most completions in league history this season.

In Eli's case, there's Peyton. The elder Manning has seemed headed toward all the career records for some time, an inevitability cast into small doubt by Brady's recent declaration he wants to play as long as George Blanda or Sam Singh.

Then again, until Favre actually resigns himself to a life in Mississippi, his autumns in Wisconsin mean those career marks are going to keep growing.

Today's questions include: Can Favre become the QB with the longest gap between Super Bowl appearances (32 to 42)?

Can Eli join Peyton in making, maybe even winning, the big game?

Can Brady continue to author the best team and individual story for one season we've seen in the Super Bowl era?

Or can Rivers crash this whole party and give the last laugh to the Chargers? San Diego's front office might not earn the respect of Archie, but it can hardly be accused of being milquetoast.

Remember, the Bolts' first quarterback gamble was Brees over Mike Vick, a deal that brought them the great LT so many years ago. And, of course, there was the uber-aconventional move of 86ing Marge Schottenheimer after last year's 14-2/0-1 showing.

PATRIOTS -14 vs. Chargers:

It is historically faulty to go with underdogs in Championship Week. And we hate to be too fooled by a single courageous effort by the Chargers last week.

That said, this feels like far too many points. It's cute the Patriots piled on Bills and Redskins, et al., during the season, but they're giving two TDs here to a team with comparable talent.

The best player in the room is Moss and next is Brady, granted. The third most-important person is probably Bill Belichick, who seldom lacks the ultimate game plan.

But the third-best player here is LaDainian Tomlinson, the fourth-best is Shawne Merriman, and their ample help (Michael Turner and Darren Sproles behind LT; Shaun Phillips and Luis Castillo helping Merriman) give the visitors the so-called necessities to take down this unbeaten juggernaut.

I'm not so sure San Diego can't win this game. If LT, Rivers and Antonio Gates were all 100 percent, we might be picking such an upset.

With various ailments slowing those three, we'll look for a tight one. NEW ENGLAND, 28-27.

PACKERS -7 vs. Giants:

First of all, it's so excellent that these two played for NFL championships, what, four times long before Pete Rozelle dreamed up the Super Bowl? FDR won two more elections after the first two times these two duked it out.

This game is incredibly difficult for me to dope.

On one hand, I back the Giants because once these road runs get going, they don't stop (Denver 1997, Baltimore 2000, Pittsburgh 2005). And because a little voice keeps telling me the Pack played too well last week and won't be the same.

On the other, I fear Manning and all the Giants in zero-degree weather. And the collapse of Tony Romo and Dallas' offensive line a week ago perhaps should not delude us into thinking New York's banged-up corners can stay with Green Bay's thrilling fleet of wideouts.

Then this: Do we make anything of the Pack's amusingly wimpy showing in the cold at Soldier Field in Week 17? Probably not.

While acknowledging how wrong it could be, the tie-breaking instinct is that one of the embattled coaches, Tom Coughlin or Norv Turner, is going to make the Super Bowl.

And Favre vs. Brady is never going to happen. NEW YORK, 20-17.

Last week: 2-2

Season: 137-118-9

Bill Liesse is sports editor of the Journal Star. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3213 or e-mail to bliesse@pjstar.com.