Although the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI, they weren't the best team in the 2011 NFL season. On there way to winning the Lombardi Trophy, the Giants were the hottest team towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
This is not to say the Giants are undeserving of their Super Bowl victory, but actually the opposite. It makes their Super Bowl run and championship even more impressive that throughout the year, they weren't even in the top five of the NFL's elite.
The NFL has changed significantly. Where it was once about being the best team all year long, it has now become all about clicking at the right time and carrying that momentum into the playoffs. The Giants perfected that this season on their way to Super Bowl XLVI.
The San Francisco 49ers shocked the world this season under coach of the year Jim Harbaugh, but came up just short of a Super Bowl trip. In Week 10, the 49ers handled the Giants as they jumped out to a 27-13 lead early in the fourth quarter and held off a Manning comeback attempt for a 27-20 victory.
In the NFC title game, it was back to Candlestick for a rematch. The 49ers took a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter and were looking to get the ball back with 10 minutes to go in the game following a Giants punt with complete control of the football game.
A muffed punt by Kyle Williams changed the story and assisted the Giants in scoring their go-ahead touchdown with 8:34 left in the game. It was another Kyle Williams fumble in overtime that set up the Lawrence Tynes field goal which sent the Giants right into Super Bowl XLVI.
While the 49ers appeared to be the better team and looked to have control of the game, the Giants took advantage of critical mistakes made by the 49ers and moved on. The young, inexperienced 49ers squad just weren't ready for the big time yet.
After getting knocked out by the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints never got their shot at taking down the Giants.
Heading into the playoffs, the Saints had won eight straight games dating back a surprising upset loss to the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 30. Since that loss, the Saints had taken their collective anger out at the record books, scoring tons of points and helping Drew Brees break the single season yardage record.
With an offensive line that could go to battle and ultimately survive against the Giants highly-touted pass rush, the Saints had a good chance of handling the Giants much like they did in Week 12 when they stomped the Giants 49-24.
The Saints were one of the best teams throughout the year, but failed to step up on the road when it mattered most.
When the Giants took the Packers behind the woodshed in the divisional round of the playoffs, it looked like the Giants were the 15-1 team while the Packers were the 9-7 team. The Giants absolutely destroyed the almost perfect Packers on their way to the NFC Championship game.
It was the perfect combination of the Giants being an extremely hot team, and the Packers being rusty after a heart-wrenching week. The Packers dropped passes, missed throws, failed to get pressure on Manning, missed tackles and turned the ball over. It was a recipe for disaster.
The Giants matched up fairly well against the Packers, especially when the Packers didn't take advantage of their biggest mismatch in Jermichael Finley against the Giants linebackers.
Leading up to this game, there was little question that the Packers were the best team in the NFL, and they probably were. They just forgot to show it against the Giants when it happened to matter the most.
The Ravens took big steps this year as they won their division, took advantage of a rare home playoff game and advanced to the AFC Championship. However, they were let down by a missed field goal late in the game which would have brought them into overtime.
It was a great year for the Ravens who finished 12-4. But looking back on their schedule, we see a very odd trend as all four losses came to teams that missed out on the playoffs. Against eventual playoff teams, the Ravens won all six games, beating both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals twice.
If Billy Cundiff hadn't shanked his last-second field goal attempt, and the Ravens found a way to win in overtime, they would have had a great matchup against the Giants. Their rushing attack would help to slow down the Giants pass rushers and their talented defense would be able to get pressure and rattle Manning.
With the Giants winning Super Bowl XLVI, many have said that the better team won. This isn't the case. If the Patriots did a better job of executing, they would have won that game. Not to mention how different the story would be if Rob Gronkowski's ankle was healed.
With Gronk unable to do his thing, these teams were extremely evenly matched and played the part all the way to the end of the game.
Coming into the game, the matchups favored the Giants and because of this many thought they were the better team. This isn't necessarily true as the Patriots ability to score points, along with the game-plan of Belichick, made them better team. However, the Giants were the better team yesterday and deserved to win the Lombardi Trophy.