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Ten Burning Questions: Eli-Peyton, Brady-Belichick legacy, Coughlin

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

The only thing better than watching one of the best Super Bowls ever is to see it again -- and to see it live.

That will happen when the New York Giants and New England Patriots pick up where they left off at Super Bowl XLII in Indianapolis on Feb. 5 in a game that features the same quarterbacks, same head coaches and, hopefully, the same frantic finish.

People tell me the Patriots ... no, no, the Giants ... can't be denied, and I tell them I'll wait to find out. In the meantime, I have 10 burning questions I want answered now, so let's get started.

Question: Which Manning gets more attention next week -- Eli Manning or Peyton Manning?

Answer: It's a push. Indianapolis is Peyton's Place, and people want to know what's going on with the Colts quarterback. Does he stay? Does he go? Will he play again? Do the Colts pay him a $28 million bonus in March? Normally, this might be a back story to the Super Bowl, but not with Manning criticizing the organization, and not with owner Jim Irsay saying that Manning sounds like "a politician" who's "campaigning." Please. A truce is needed, with both calling for one Friday, and hallelujah. But wait until next week. I assume both will be in town. I know Irsay will. In fact, there's talk he'll make an appearance late next week at media headquarters, which guarantees a prolonged shelf life for this story. Irsay and Manning would do everyone -- the Giants, the Patriots, themselves, the city of Indianapolis and Colts fans -- a favor by zipping it and allowing the teams and players involved to hold center stage ... and, yeah, I'm talking about Peyton's little brother. This week should belong to Eli, not Peyton, and it would if the game were played anywhere but Indianapolis.

Question: Would a victory put Eli in the same conversation with his brother?

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Answer: Yes. A victory would make him 2-0 in the Super Bowl and 8-3 in the playoffs, and that's proof you can't spell elite without Eli. He's the only NFL quarterback to win five playoff games on the road. He's the only NFL quarterback to throw 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes in one season. He beat Tom Brady with a TD pass in the last 35 seconds of Super Bowl XLII. He beat him again this season with two scoring passes in the last 3:03. Now, let's get one thing straight: I'm not saying Eli is Peyton's equal. But I am saying he's closing the gap ... and fast. Big brother has an NFL-record four MVP awards, and Eli has none. That counts for something. But so does Eli's postseason record. Peyton is 9-10 in the playoffs and 1-1 in Super Bowls. Peyton has more yards, more completions, more touchdowns, more everything in his career but he doesn't have more Lombardi Trophies, and, yeah, that counts for plenty, too.

Question: Will New England tight end Rob Gronkowski play? And, if so, how much will he be handicapped?

Answer: I wish I could tell you, but I can't. I consulted Dr. Steven Weinfeld, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and he said he would be "pleasantly surprised" if Gronkowski plays. Basically, he didn't think there was much chance -- though he did say trainers could stabilize Gronkowski's high ankle sprain with tape and try to reduce the swelling and pain with an injection of an anti-inflammatory. Yeah, I know, Gronk returned after hurting himself last weekend and finished the game, but "often," Weinfeld said, "the maximum swelling or inflammation doesn't occur for 24 to 48 hours." Meaning? Meaning that Gronkowski's return Sunday was no indication of the severity of the injury. In fact, he might've risked more damage by getting back on the field, but, hey, that can happen when you're trying to win, right? Anyway, let me point out that Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain in last year's AFC Championship Game and didn't play in the Super Bowl. Last time I checked, making lateral movements while running wasn't as necessary for an offensive lineman as it was a tight end. If, however, Gronkowski, plays you can figure that his movement will be limited -- which means his effectiveness will be reduced considerably.

Question: Who stands to benefit most from this game?

Answer: David Tyree. The former Giants receiver was the hero of Super Bowl XLII, with that astonishing third-down catch that led to the game-winning touchdown. It has been called the greatest play in Super Bowl history, and it's up there with James Harrison's interception and touchdown return in Super Bowl XLIII. All I know is that nobody thought of David Tyree until last weekend. Now, all of a sudden, you're seeing replays of his catch ... and they won't stop for at least another week. David Tyree is a terrific guy who made an unforgettable play. Trust me, the Patriots haven't forgotten. We won't either. And we can't ... not with YouTube in business and not with Tyree in Indianapolis next week. "It's not about the money," said Tyree, who retired in 2010. "It's about, for me, having a moment that transcends my own personal career to be a part of Giants history, NFL history, Super Bowl history. That's something that people who've had far better careers than myself never had." Amen.

Question: Who stands to lose the most?

Answer: Las Vegas. Sports books there took sizable bets this season on the Giants' chances of winning a Super Bowl -- with the odds sometimes as high as 80-1. That looked OK when the Giants were muddling their way through a 7-7 season and on a four-game losing binge. It doesn't look so good now. In fact, a Giants victory would do more damage to Las Vegas sports books than Christina Aguilera did to the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV. Let's just put it this way: If New York prevails, the people who put down big money on Big Blue are going to Disney World. In fact, they might wind up owning it.

Question: Who's the likeliest unlikely hero?

Answer: Stephen Gostkowski or Lawrence Tynes. Take your pick. New England won all three of its Super Bowls by field goals. The Giants won the NFC by a field goal. When the two met this season it took a last-minute drive by the Giants to win by four. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that there's not much that separates these two and that special teams could -- maybe should -- play a role in the outcome, as they did last weekend. The only question is: Who's Adam Vinatieri, and who's Billy Cundiff? Gostkowski was 28 of 33 this season and 10 of 13 on field goals from 40 yards and beyond. He's 4 of 4 in the playoffs, but no kick has been longer than 35 yards. Tynes was 19 of 24 this season and 4 of 8 from 40 yards and out. He's 6 of 8 in the playoffs but beat San Francisco with the game-winner in OT last weekend ... just as he beat Green Bay in overtime in the 2007 NFC title game. Gostkowski is slightly more accurate; Tynes has a history of making big kicks. You make the call.

Question: Where would a victory put Tom Brady on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks?

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Answer: Right up there with Joe Montana. Montana has four Super Bowls, and so would Brady. Montana is considered the greatest Super Bowl-era quarterback, but he might have to make room for Tom Terrific if the Patriots win. This is Brady's fifth Super Bowl, tying him with John Elway for most appearances in the game, and a victory would make him 4-1. Montana was 4-0, with three Super Bowl MVP awards and no interceptions. In Brady's four appearances, he has two MVPs and one interception. Hmmm, close. "I don't think he needs another win to be there with Montana," a GM I trust said of Brady. "I think he's there already." I don't, and neither do a lot of people in the Bay Area. But win another, and Brady will start to be considered among the best ever. Me? My list starts with John Unitas and Otto Graham, then moves to Montana. No matter what happens, Brady has already established himself as the best of his generation, and that puts him in rarified air.

Question: Does Bill Belichick need a win once and for all to put Spygate in his rear-view mirror?

Answer: I don't think so, but I know some people who do. Few are in the NFL, with coaches basically saying the subject is closed. I'm with them. The guy was 13-3 this season without videotape, for crying out loud, and he was 17-1 after the Patriots were caught following the season opener of 2007. Nevertheless, I know Belichick bashers who point to this number -- zero, as in the number of Super Bowls he has won since Spygate. Their point: He was 14-2 in the playoffs with New England and 3-0 in the Super Bowl before he was turned in; he's 2-3 and 0-1 since. "I don't think 'Spygate' should be part of the conversation," said an AFC head coach. "He lost the Super Bowl [vs. the Giants] on a fluke play when the quarterback should've been sacked, and the receiver makes a miraculous catch with his helmet. You're going to hold that against him? It's such a small shade of grey that it's not worth mentioning." OK, so we won't.

Question: Is this Tom Coughlin's last game?

Answer: Unlikely. Sure, it makes a nice story if the Giants win and Coughlin announces his retirement. I mean, the guy's 65, and you think he would have tired of getting fired in the New York tabloids every year. But I don't think it happens, and I've got company. Co-owner John Mara is so sure Coughlin is coming back that he said he would talk about an extension sometime after the Super Bowl. "He's having too much fun," Mara said. Coughlin repeated that message this week, telling the New York Daily News that he hadn't thought about retirement because, "I'm having the time of my life." That doesn't sound like someone ready to spend his weeks touring golf courses at or near Ponte Vedra.

Question: Why are the Patriots three-point favorites?

Answer: I'll give you two reasons: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. People trust them, basically because the only time they lost a Super Bowl it took a miracle to do it. The line tells you a lot of people out there think the Giants got lucky in Super Bowl XLII. Maybe. They still won, and sometimes it's better to be lucky than ... OK, so you know that one. Anyway, they beat New England this season, too. In Foxborough, no less. So they have won their past two against the Patriots. Their pass rush is back. They're running the ball again. Eli Manning is better than ever. They're not committing turnovers. And they were the last team to beat New England which, until last weekend, hadn't conquered an opponent with a winning record. So why aren't the Giants favored? "Because Tom Brady won't let New England lose," said one coach who knows him. "Trust me, he will not let them lose again."


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