Philadelphia, PA – Sibling rivalries have always made for great tales. Think Cain versus Abel. Romulus and Remus. Marcia and Jan.
So the prospect of brotherly warfare as the backdrop for Super Bowl XLVI should bring some additional appeal to a game that never needs any extra buildup, but could always use a spicy subject or two to further develop the plot.
And it's hard to imagine a more made-to-order riveting central theme than the potential sequel of the Harbaugh Bowl, unless maybe it involves a member of the NFL's first family of quarterbacks having the chance to one-up his more heralded relative in the very same city where the latter carved out his legendary and Canton-bound career.
Just think of the irony that would come out of the New York Giants, perhaps this year's version of the 2010 Green Bay Packers after dethroning the reigning world champions in a stunningly sweatless fashion last weekend, completing a run to a Lombardi Trophy that would have been viewed as virtually unfathomable a month ago on the turf of Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. The thought of Eli Manning owning one more Super Bowl title than big brother Peyton is strange enough in itself, but having the coronation of his stepping out of the four- time league MVP's immense shadow take place on Peyton Manning's home field would follow a script more akin to Hollywood than Central Indiana.
And who knows, it may just be the last time a Manning is playing in Indianapolis for a while. At least Rob Lowe thinks so.
Of course, the soaring Giants still have to survive the challenge of both a cross-country trip and a pumped-up San Francisco team that handed Big Blue a 27-20 defeat in Candlestick Park back in November to create such a scene. A 49ers victory, on the other hand, could keep open the possibility of the little brother revenge angle playing out.
And this time, those without the NFL Network on their cable systems won't be left out in the cold if Jim Harbaugh's fast-rising 49ers and John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens go at it with a bit more than Thanksgiving bragging rights on the line. A reprisal of that memorable Turkey Day encounter in Baltimore, won by the Ravens in a 16-6 slugfest, would also serve as reinforcement to the notion that stout and stifling defense still does win championships in a league that's blatantly catered to the offensive side in the current era.
It's a perfect scenario, and Indianapolis would be the perfect place to hold Harbaugh v. Harbaugh II. The family already carries considerable clout in the Hoosier State, since John and Jim's brother-in-law just happens to be Indiana men's basketball coach Tom Crean.
Then again, a Harbaugh-less Super Bowl would set the stage for a rematch of one of the most massive upsets in the history of the NFL's title game, when Manning's Giants spoiled the New England Patriots' quest for an undefeated 2007 season with a shocking 17-14 win at Arizona's University of Phoenix Stadium in Super Bowl XLII. With two of the league's marquee franchises and premier quarterbacks in Manning and Tom Brady involved, this matchup would obviously qualify as a home run as well.
A showdown between the Giants and Ravens, teams that squared off 11 years ago in Tampa during Super Bowl XXXV, would also hold plenty of cachet as long as the final outcome -- a 34-7 Baltimore wire-to-wire rout -- isn't duplicated.
Even a Patriots-49ers billing, seemingly the least attractive of the four possibilities, brings its share of intrigue from a historical perspective. That game would pit the team of the '80's against the one that dominated the 2000's and feature two opponents with a combined eight Super Bowl wins.
And for those who love tear-jerkers, the sight of New England patriarch Robert Kraft -- one of the NFL's most beloved owners and a instrumental figure in the resolution of this past summer's now-forgotten labor dispute -- hoisting the championship trophy if New England manages to prevail would make for an incredibly poignant moment after he lost his wife Myra to cancer in July.
With that in mind, enjoy the games on Championship Sunday. And be thankful that such an exciting and entertaining day will indeed be taking place.
NFL POWER POLL
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Hit on three of the four outright playoff winners for the second straight week but couldn't quite sustain my success against the spread from the Wild Card Round, drawing even in the four games after producing a sweep to start out the postseason. My overall records for the season now stand at 162-102 (.614) in straight-up selections and 125-130-9 (.491) with the line in play.
While there's been no advantage between favorites and underdogs so far in this year's playoffs, it should be noted that six of the eight contests over the past two weekends have gone over the projected total, with all but two of the winning teams scoring at least 29 points.
Baltimore (13-4) at New England (14-3), Sunday, 3:00 (New England -7)
Storylines: Top-seeded Patriots in AFC Championship for first time since 2007 and recorded first playoff win since besting San Diego in that year's conference title game with 45-10 rout of Denver last weekend...No. 2 seed Ravens making third overall AFC Championship appearance and first since 23-14 loss at Pittsburgh in 2008 edition, and bidding to become conference's first Super Bowl representative other than Patriots, Steelers and Colts since 2002...Baltimore advanced with hard-fought 20-13 home decision over Houston last Sunday in which team scored 17 points off four Texans turnovers...Ravens 7-4 all-time on the road in postseason and handed New England a 33-14 defeat at Gillette Stadium in 2009 AFC First-Round clash, with running back Ray Rice leading offense with 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns and defense forcing four turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) from Pats quarterback Tom Brady...New England owns 6-1 overall record against Baltimore, however, as well as 6-1 mark in AFC Championship since 1970 merger...Patriots on nine-game winning streak and have scored 31 or more points eight times during that stretch, and club piled up 509 total yards against Broncos...Brady threw for 363 yards and tied NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes in Divisional Round triumph, with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski accounting for three of those scores while amassing 145 yards on 10 catches...Ravens managed just 227 total yards and 11 first downs against Houston, but face New England defense ranked 31st (411.1 ypg) during regular season...Baltimore safety Ed Reed notched eighth interception in 10th playoff game last week and probable for Sunday's tilt despite twisting ankle in contest...Tight end Aaron Hernandez (concussion) slated to play for Patriots, but offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back, foot) questionable...Brady can tie Hall of Famer Joe Montana (16) for most postseason victories by a quarterback with a win.
Fast Fact: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has now recorded five playoff wins, tied with Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner for the second-most by a signal- caller over his first four NFL seasons. Brady had six during his initial four years in the league.
Prediction: Brady and his mates will have to work for their points against Baltimore's stingy defense, but the Ravens won't be able to feast off mistakes like they did last week. Patriots 23, Ravens 17.
N.Y. Giants (11-7) at San Francisco (14-3), Sunday, 6:30 (San Francisco -2.5)
Storylines: Second-seeded 49ers aiming for first Super Bowl berth since 1994 season and reached NFC Championship for first time since 1997 after posting thrilling 36-32 triumph over New Orleans last weekend, with deciding points coming on 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis with just nine seconds left...No. 4 seed Giants came through with first playoff win since 2007 with 37-20 road upset of conference front-runner Green Bay this past Sunday and last advanced to both NFC title game and Super Bowl that same season...Quarterback Eli Manning led way for New York with 330- yard, three-score performance and has registered 10-to-2 touchdown-to- interception ratio over club's current run of four consecutive wins...Giants and Niners have squared off seven times previously in postseason, with home team prevailing in six of those matchups...New York did earn 15-13 decision over San Francisco at Candlestick Park in 1990 NFC Championship, but 49ers rallied from 24-point second-half deficit for memorable 39-38 home win in last postseason encounter with Giants, during 2002 NFC Divisional Playoffs...San Francisco also topped New York by 27-20 count at Candlestick Park back on Nov. 13 of this season, with Niners scoring two touchdowns within one-minute span early in fourth quarter...San Francisco 8-1 at home in 2011 following last week's result...Wide receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. questionable for 49ers with knee injury, while tight end Delanie Walker (broken jaw) uncertain to return from two-game absence...Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz probable despite sustaining thigh bruise against Packers...49ers led NFL with plus-28 turnover ratio during regular season and had five takeaways versus Saints...New York wideout Hakeem Nicks has racked up 280 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 13 catches in team's two playoff wins, while Davis set new league postseason record for tight end with 180 yard, two-touchdown effort in last week's outing...Giants own 4-0 all-time record in NFC Championship.
Fast Fact: Manning and Smith will become only the second pair of former No. 1 draft picks to start against one another at quarterback in a conference title game, joining John Elway and Vinny Testaverde in the 1998 AFC Championship between Denver and the New York Jets.
Prediction: At some point, the 49ers' heavy reliance on turnovers and struggles to score touchdowns in the red zone is going to hurt them, and rejuvenated Giants are a more complete and dangerous team than when they last visited San Francisco. Giants 27, 49ers 23.