Friday, January 20, 2012

Championship Sunday: The Stakes

By Joe Parello

How could there possibly be anything more on the line than a trip to the Super Bowl this Sunday? Well, for the final four teams remaining in the quest for football's ultimate prize, history is on the line. You see, for each team still in the running, there is a chance to affect the history of the NFL beyond just this season. Several players have the chance to cement their legacy amongst the game's best, and each franchise has it's own milestone it can reach.

New York Giants: The Giants are seeking their fourth Super Bowl championship, which would move them into a tie for 4th most all-time with the Green Bay Packers. They are also looking to become the first team to win a Super Bowl in four different decades. They and the Packers have each won in three. FYI, those two teams are also the only franchises to win Super Bowls with three different starting quarterbacks.

Eli Manning: Peyton's younger brother has a chance to pass big bro in championships. He would join Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger as active quarterbacks with multiple championships, and fast track his path to the Hall of Fame.

Tom Coughlin: Similar to Manning, Coughlin has a chance to make his resume too good to pass up in Hall voting. With two Super Bowls, and an amazing building job in Jacksonville as an expansion coach, Coughlin would be up there near Bill Parcells in terms of accomplishments.

San Francisco 49ers: If the 49ers are able to bring home a Super Bowl championship they will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers at six for the most all-time. They will also tie the aforementioned Giants and Packers with three different Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, and they could match the Giants as a franchise to win in three different decades.

Jim Harbaugh: Has the chance to prove he is just that damn good. Harbaugh inherited an under-achieving team with a "bust" at quarterback and turned them into a championship caliber team in just one season. But, on the other end of that...

Mike Singeltary: Do you know who really hopes the 49ers don't win and make the past two coaching staffs look incredibly inept with all that defensive and offensive line talent? This guy.

Alex Smith: It's hard to make the case now, since Smith was so brilliant against New Orleans, but Smith would have rivaled Trent Dilfer as the worst quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. Well, since that's out of the question, let's just go with total redemption.

Patrick Willis: The league's best inside linebacker looks to enter Ray Lewis territory as the leader of an elite defense that overcame a less than stellar offense to win it all.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens will look to join the ranks of multiple Super Bowl winning franchises. This will be especially difficult for Browns fans to swallow, as the franchise failed to deliver a Super Bowl in 30 seasons in Cleveland. Meanwhile, since the move to Baltimore, the Ravens have been playoff mainstays, and may be able to deliver a second title in just over 15 years.

Ray Lewis: Ray-Ray can put himself in the same class as the top-five defensive players of the modern era with another Super Bowl to his credit. While he is no longer the dominant force he once was, Lewis is still the leader of the Ravens defense and one of the better linebackers in football. It would be tough to make a case against him, but Lawrence Taylor, "Mean" Joe Greene, Reggie White, Deion Sanders and Ronnie Lott are all tough to top. Oh, and that other guy on his team...

Ed Reed: What is the one thing Troy Polamalu has that Ed Reed doesn't? That's right, a championship. Well, he has two, but these aren't quarterbacks, multiple titles don't get you brownie points. Reed may be the best safety ever(though, again, that Lott guy was pretty good when he played the position), but if he doesn't win a championship, it may be hard to crown him so.

John Harbaugh: Gotta beat little brother to the title.

New England Patriots: Like the Giants, the Patriots are looking for their fourth Super Bowl championship. Just by making it to the big game the Patriots will have the second-most Super Bowl appearances with seven. Only the Steelers and the Cowboys would have more with eight.

Tom Brady: With another championship Tom Terrific can tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most all-time, and really amp up his case for the greatest quarterback ever. As a combination he and the next guy would also tie for the most titles of any duo in league history.

Bill Belichick: The evil genius can tie Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl wins by a coach with four. The combination of Brady and Belichick will tie Noll and Bradshaw for the most by any duo and, given their current record for wins as a duo and the era they have done it in, will lock down the title of greatest coach-QB combo in league history.

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