From the sweat and sinew of training camp through the cold playoff days in January, we are now left with two teams for the right to win the always-coveted Lombardi Trophy—the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
It's a rematch of Super Bowl XLII—one of the best of all time. Both franchises have coaches and quarterbacks looking to add to an already impressive resume.
There are now two weeks to dissect this Super Bowl XLVI match up in numerous ways. Where to begin?
How about the most significant questions heading to the NFL title tilt in Indy...50 to be exact.
The 42nd edition of pro football's biggest game was an instant classic. It also ended with one of the most unbelievable upsets in sports history.
With the same two teams facing off in this year's Super Bowl, would it be too much to ask for a reprise?
Of course it would, but that's not saying that the Giants and Pats won't give us another thriller.
The only difference is, New York isn't as much of an underdog as in Super Bowl XLII.
With his victory over Baltimore, Tom Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason wins of all time (16).
With a Super Bowl triumph, he can break that...and also get his fourth ring.
Only two other quarterbacks (Montana and Terry Bradshaw) can make that claim.
A win would also give reason to consider Brady as the greatest QB ever.
Just as Brady is aiming for a fourth, so is his head coach.
Bill Belichick can tie Chuck Noll for the most Lombardi Trophies and cement his status as the best coach of the modern era.
Lombardi may be the greatest of all time, but the man with the hoodie could be closing in.
If you compare, the 2007 run and the 2011 march are eerily similar.
Both involved scratching their way through the regular season. Both involved winning three playoff contests. Both involved winning big games on the road (including Lambeau Field).
And both could end with a Super Bowl victory over New England.
Who would have thought?
As the big brother (and his one Super Bowl title) sits out the year with a neck injury, the little brother could emerge with a second ring.
And at Peyton's place, no less.
His stats may not be as impressive right now, but Eli is aiming to get the edge in the all-important category of championships.
Bill Belichick is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he decides to hang up the headseat.
You may not realize it at first, but his opponent on Feb. 6 makes a legitimate case.
Tom Coughlin obviously has the one ring from Super Bowl XLII and the second Super Bowl appearance.
He also took the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game in their second season and kept them a conference contender for the duration of his tenure there.
It's been said that revenge is the sweetest poison. And through the years, no team has been better at applying revenge than the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are ready for any significant game, but this one holds even greater importance.
New York finished the regular season ranked seventh in terms of least QB sacks allowed (28). New England was ninth (32).
Both sides have Pro Bowl linemen who do a fine job at keeping their signal-caller upright.
The Giants had a tough go of it against San Francisco, but the Pats aren't as imposing.
The answer to this may be the injury bug.
Rob Gronkowski was seen with a walking boot on his left ankle following the AFC Championship.
It's likely to heal within the next 13 days, meaning the Giants will still have to deal with a healthy tight end that scored 17 times over the course of the regular season.
If New York had difficulty containing Vernon Davis, imagine the nightmares that Gronkowski could bring.
If one is bad, two is worse for the Giants.
New England presents a double barrel of misfortune for any defense that can't properly cover the tight end position.
Aaron Hernandez is no slouch. He hauled in 79 passes and had seven touchdowns in 2011.
It's no secret that the Patriots have had severe difficulty stopping their opponent's passing game.
More specifically, they gave up an average of 294 yards per game through the air (31st in the NFL).
A good quarterback can pry apart this secondary and rack up some yardage.
A wideout that went undrafted out of UMass in the 2010 NFL draft has come a long way in two short years.
Victor Cruz had a great preseason outing against the New York Jets, but this rookie campaign was halted quickly due to a hamstring injury.
Cruz became the fourth wide receiver at the start of 2011 and slid his way up the depth chart with each performance. The most significant may have been his September effort at Philadelphia, where he burned the Eagles for two key touchdowns.
In the end, Cruz set the single-season franchise record for receiving yards.
The statement Eli Manning made before the season rings true today.
His ability to carry the Giants through several rough stretches with his smarts and his passing ability make him one of the best at his position.
While the Pats' pass defense is nothing the be proud of, the Giants aren't that much better.
Over the course of the 2011 regular season, they ranked 29th in the NFL by giving up 255 passing yards per contest.
They have improved to the point of limiting Aaron Rodgers in the NFC divisional and holding Alex Smith to 196 yards on Sunday evening.
Bill Belichick is nearly unbeatable when he has two weeks to prepare for a game.
Put him against any coach in the league, and his club will likely emerge victorious.
Still, one shouldn't overlook Tom Coughlin's ability to get his players motivated and focused on the task.
In a year in which 10 quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards and three topped the 5,000-yard plateau, it's only right for two of the best signal-callers to finish off the 2011 season.
Tom Brady and Eli Manning could have a field day on the fast track of Lucas Oil Stadium. And considering that they're both facing weak secondaries, it has the makings of one last offensive showcase.
Neither come off as particularly lovable. Both do, however, come off as coaches that know how to win.
Belichick can seemingly take any player and find a role.
Coughlin has apparently been a tad more laid-back since 2007. Both ways, obviously, have worked out well.
Penn State's new head coach has vowed to stay with the Patriots as their offensive coordinator through the duration of the playoff run.
But with the death of Joe Paterno, the program's legendary figure, it seems that O'Brien's role has grown slightly.
He has stated that he will attend the funeral, and there's no doubt that the matter of his future will be a talking point among the media.
We'll see if that becomes a distraction.
That would go to the Patriots.
New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski made 28 of his 33 field goal attempts during the regular season and connected on his only try during the playoffs.
His counterpart, New York's Lawrence Tynes, was 19-of-24 during the regular season. That ranks third-to-last in the entire league.
The Pats also hold an advantage in terms of net punting average.
If the question were: will Peyton Manning be in attendance, the answer is a definite "yes."
Now, we wonder how many camera shots NBC will have in his direction in the luxury suite he's bound to be sitting in?
That'll be one of the prop bets Las Vegas will have ready to be wagered on.
It's common to hear "whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game." There's no disputing that here.
The Giants have forced seven fumbles—the most by any playoff club.
The Patriots during the regular season had 23 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
On the other side of the ball, each team has a quarterback with the capability of maintaining possession and not giving the pigskin away.
If you want to know the deciding factor in the Giants' Super Bowl XLII upset of New England, look no further than the New York pass rush.
They had several major sacks and were able to lay punishing hits on the future Hall of Fame QB.
They appear all-to-capable again this time around.
The New York front four is healthy and already made life miserable for Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith.
Eli Manning was roughed up by the 49ers on Sunday to the tune of six sacks, 12 QB hits and pressured numerous times.
Still, he shook it off to record a Giants playoff record for passes completed.
One superlative you may not always use for Eli Manning is "tough." But after what we witnessed in the NFC Championship Game, it's time to rethink.
This now is an interesting debate.
Brady is obviously the better of the two in terms of historical discussions. However, he's 34 and it seems more likely that his career will decline than improve.
As for Eli Manning, he's three years younger and is able to put up gaudy passing numbers.
For me (and most others), they'd probably still take Tom Brady...but it's not as much of an obvious choice as in the past.
The only physical ailment of significance is Rob Gronkowski. The star tight end was tackled by Bernard Pollard and twisted his left ankle.
He came back to action shortly after but left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot.
With nearly two weeks to heal up and the biggest game of the year up next, there's no question he'll play.
Otherwise, both teams appear to be at full strength.
The Giants have gotten hot at the right time. Therefore, they'd prefer to play the Super Bowl next Sunday if possible.
Is it possible for the extra week of rest to hurt New York? Provided they remain sharp in all the practices leading up to the game, then it shouldn't.
In a sports world where parity is king, the New England Patriots are a rare breed.
Three titles from 2001 through 2004 made them worthy of being called a dynasty.
Winning another this year would uphold that notion once again.
New York went through a midseason stretch that saw it play at New England, at San Francisco, home to Philadelphia, at New Orleans and home against Green Bay.
The Giants emerged 1-4 from that set of games. However, it made them battle-tested.
They learned from their errors and enacted revenge on the Niners and Packers in the postseason.
Eli Manning does a fine job of spreading the wealth in terms of the receiving game. In fact, eight different Giants caught a pass in the NFC Championship.
The two most important wide outs are Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Among those two, Cruz is the No. 1 option.
However, Nicks is a capable receiver on the deep routes.
This is a question that can be posed in an old NFL game.
Thanks to instant replay, the likelihood of a blown call costing one side significantly decreases.
That being said, there's still a chance that we're talking about a referee's ruling on Monday morning.
It's safe to say that this 2011 club doesn't have the dominance that past New England teams possessed.
The Patriots only beat one team with a winning record all year...which came with their victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. And that win wasn't incredibly impressive.
They won't care at all if they're holding up the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.
In his rookie year, Jason Pierre-Paul was nothing special. In 2011, he's been spectacular.
The South Florida product had 16.5 sacks over the course of the regular season, but only .5 during the postseason.
It's a great possibility, however, his presence has resulted in added focus from opposing offensive lineman.
Ever since Osi Umenyiora became fully healthy, the Giants pass rush has improved.
In just 11 games, he posted 12 sacks and made others around him more effective.
It seems like he and the rest of the New York defensive lineman are getting into midseason form at just the right time.
The bulking 325-pound makes an impact on the field...although not on the stat sheet.
On Sunday against Baltimore, Wilfork had six tackles and one sack and wreaked havoc on many Ravens offensive plays.
Considering the poor quality of the secondary, defensive linemen like Wilfork must continue to do the same thing when they play New York.
Ever since the outspoken running back parted ways with the Giants (and the NFL), the two sides have seen their respective fortunes go in opposite directions.
New York has won an NFL title and has appeared in two Super Bowls.
Tiki Barber, meanwhile, is no longer in television and left his pregnant wife for a 23-year-old woman.
The NFL certainly isn't concerned that they won't get a lot of eyeballs on the TV sets.
Instead, it has the possibility of being the most-watched game in history.
When you consider that two major markets are facing off, two well-known quarterbacks are participating and the ratings have improved with each passing season, the Nielsen number will be through the roof.
New England doesn't always need the run. But it's there when they need it.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis supplies key runs that help keep marches alive.
He had just 68 yards on Sunday, but his seven-yard run to pay dirt provided the first TD for the Pats.
It may not seem like much, but Ahmad Bradshaw gaining 74 yards on the ground against the 49ers was a solid afternoon.
The Giants haven't had much success running the ball this year. They ranked dead last (89.2) in yards per game, despite having two capable backs in Bradshaw and Jacobs.
At least one in this pair has the capability to break out and get New York over the century mark.
For the Patriots, the difference makers are the members of the secondary.
If they can take care of the New York receivers, then New England's chances of victory increase.
For the Giants, it has to be the pass-rushers. They proved four years back that a strong attack on Tom Brady can put No. 12 off his game.
With so much down time between now and the actual game, players have plenty of opportunities to run into trouble.
The two head coaches (and their staffs) have the somewhat difficult task of holding the players in check.
At least the site of the game doesn't lend itself to craziness.
Controversy usually involves trash talking.
Cameras and microphones are everywhere in this sports circus known as the Super Bowl. There's bound to be something said that's derogatory towards the opponent.
Each side has candidates who can fire verbal shots. We'll see if their respective coaches can keep them relatively silent.
Controversy also involves notable quotes.
This doesn't have to be a jab at the other team but merely a statement that says plenty about that particular player's intelligence.
The best forum for this is media day, held the week prior to the game.
This reeks of Jacksonville in 2005...a not-so-high profile city getting hold of sports' biggest event.
Having never been to Indianapolis, it's hard to form a true opinion on it.
However, with nothing much to do there (maybe besides catching a Pacers game), it'll be interesting to see if fans are kept entertained.
Of course, the Super Bowl isn't just about X's and O's.
The reason why so many watch is for the entertainment value. And part of that entertainment is the commercial advertisements.
A handful will be great, a handful will be lousy and all will cost a great deal of money for 30 seconds of airtime.
Another portion of the entertainment value in the Super Bowl is the halftime show—a matter that has certainly grown along with the growth of the game itself.
Performing this year will be Madonna, who we'd rather hear sing than have self-congratulatory speeches like the one seen at the Golden Globe Awards.
The man behind the mic for the big game on NBC is one who's no stranger to them.
Al Michaels has broadcast seven Super Bowls, eight World Series and has been a part of countless other major sporting events.
But football may be his specialty. The 67-year-old is the ideal announcer for delivering excitement at the right time and also not being over the top.
The others who call NFL games are good, but they all should aspire to be as good as Michael is still.
On reputation, Giants fans travel better than do the Pats' supporters.
With that, New York should have more support inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
In terms of national popularity, the vote will likely lean slightly in favor of Big Blue.
Fans outside of the Empire State don't want to see the Big Apple celebrate another sports title...although not as much as not wanting to see New England rule the football world yet again.
Until it finally happens, each Super Bowl has a chance to bring us the first overtime in the game's history.
Neither team in this year's contest has an overwhelming advantage, which make the chances of it occurring a little higher (just like in the NFC Championship).
And with the new overtime rules in play, that would add even more intrigue.
From Max McGee to David Tyree, there are the less-than-heralded players who become known worldwide with their performance in pro football's biggest contest.
While superstars certainly have an impact, sometimes the outcomes of these games are determined by the relatively unknown.
All of the questions asked over the course of the next two weeks are predicated on one main inquiry.
In the end, this is all we want to know.
And we'll find out on the night of Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.