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What does Week 17 mean for Super Bowl XLII?

What About Week 17?
Lessons Learned: Do They Mean Anything Tomrrow?

So much for that "meaningless" Week 17 matchup.

Would the New York Giants rest their starters in anticipation of their Wild Card game the following weekend? No. Would they play them for a significant amount of time? Yes, the entire game. Would they play until the game got out of hand and then be taken out? We never found out.

Did it impact the Giants in the playoffs? Absolutely. The Giants might not be playing tomorrow if they didn't play all-out then.

There are those who said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin would be fired if New York faltered early in the playoffs for "making the mistake" of playing his starters in Week 17. The Giants were dinged a bit, and a couple more players suffered injuries against New England. Of course, those same people figured Coughlin would be fired after Week 2. Heck, I thought he would be fired, but I didn't think at all that he should be fired.

I think his job is safe now.

But let's face it: The Giants grew up that night. They decided, as a team, that they indeed were that good, and they could make this run. They half-step through Week 17, they maybe don't have the confidence to beat Dallas on the road or Green Bay at Lambeau Field.

So what else do we know about Week 17? What else did we learn?

Significant Injuries

Giants fans are eager to remind everyone that New York had more than a half-dozen significant injuries, mostly wide receivers and defensive backs. Plaxico Burress was battling a year-long ankle injury and Sinorice Moss was out with a back injury. Conerback Kevin Dockery was out with a bad hip, and corners Sam Madison and Rod McQuarters had been ailing.

Meanwhile, rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw had hurt a calf and ended up sitting out. Bradshaw was a recent contributor and he's had a good postseason. Sinorice Moss and Dockery, who were inactive in Week 17, are likely to play, and the rest of the defensive backfield appears ready to go. Only Burress remains a very significant question.

But Patriots fans will note that New England was also banged up pretty significantly. The right side of the offensive line missed the game. Guard Stephen Neal, tackle Nick Kaczur and tight end Kyle Brady were inactive, and tight end Ben Watson was limited with a prolonged ankle injury. Running back Kyle Eckel, another pass blocker, was inactive. And guard Billy Yates wasn't nearly 100 percent.

The Giants sacked Tom Brady twice.

Offensive Performances

Without Bradshaw, New York had moderate success running the ball. Brandon Jacobs gained 67 yards on 15 carries (4.5 average). Reuben Droughns lost a yard on a single attempt. Eli Manning, who played possibly his best game of the season, also ran for 13 yards. As a team, the Giants picked up just under 80 yards.

That was far better than the Patriots, who accumulated just 44 net yards on 26 attempts (1.7 average). Laurence Maroney gained just 46 yards on 19 carries. Heath Evans added 4 yards on a single attempt. Kevin Faulk had a net loss of 2 yards on 2 carries. Brady was minus-4 on four kneeldowns.

Bradshaw should play tomorrow, and Maroney has back-to-back 122-yard games against a pair of excellent defenses.

Both quarterbacks were fantastic in Week 17. Brady was 32 of 42 with 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions and a passer rating of 116.8. Manning was 22 of 32 with 4 touchdowns and an interceptions and a passer rating of 118.6.

Manning spread the ball around, connecting with four receivers at least four times each (Jacobs 5, and Burress, Kevin Boss and Amani Toomer 4 times each). Brady did, too (Wes Welker 11, Faulk 8, Randy Moss 6, Watson 4). The world has heard little from Moss on the field since then.

Manning played one of his best games against New England's full defense and with a couple key receivers not 100 percent. Brady played an excellent game against a depleted New York secondary, but with nearly half of his regular pass protection on the sideline.

The Officials

Referee Mike Carey's crew called that game. Carey calls Super Bowl XLII, but with an "all-star" crew of officials. Carey's crew had a bizarre game. Both teams had five penalties enforced on them; New England had six called against them. The officials missed a bunch, but some of those called were truly bizarre in such an important meaningless game.

New York was flagged for illegal contact, holding on a kick return, defensive pass interference, unsportsmanlike conduct, and offensive holding. Four of them were obvious. The unsportsmanlike conduct on Toomer was mysterious, unless there was something seen or heard on the field not perceptible on the video replay.

New England was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct (excessive celebration), delay of game (holding down a player after the play), defensive holding (declined, touchdown), illegal formation, unnecessary roughness, and encroachment. Only two of those were indisputable -- the defensive holding, which was declined anyway, and the encroachment on Vince Wilfork. The excessive celebration was "ticky-tack" (as they say) at best. The delay of game is another one of those "it could be called on a lot of plays," just that it isn't. Not even noted Patriot-hater Phil Simms could pick out the illegal formation on the replay. Rodney Harrison's unnecessary roughness was a judgment call, but deservedly called when seen on replay.

There was the Wilfork poke, which was taunting at best. If he had really poked Jacobs's eye, as some allege, Jacobs would have at least had to go to the sideline. There was much worse happening than a player sticking a finger in another player's face, and none of that was called either. It's hard to justify that several egregious violations were missed or allowed, but that the excessive celebration and delay of game were.

Let's hope the "all-star" crew is fair and consistent, and that they let the teams play football in what could be the most viewed game in NFL history.

The Coaches

More important than anything we learned from Week 17 is what the two coaching staffs learned. Both teams showed a lot of what they do. The Giants were simply doing their best to win the game. New England, in what may be a rare "mistake," probably didn't expect to see New York in February.

Bill Belichick is well-known for the adjustments he can make when he sees a team for a second time in the same season. Tom Coughlin, despite "having his job on the line," is a fantastic, underrated coach, who has his team playing incredibly well at the most important time.

Because of Belichick and Coughlin, you can throw out almost everything you thought you learned in late December. No, neither of them is crazy enough to abandon what got them here, but they're both smart enough to alter their game plans that strategizing for either of those Week 17 teams would be folly. What worked a month ago may not and probably won't work with the same level of success tomorrow.

This may be the ultimate chess match (well, except for a real chess match) played by a pair of masters, possibly the best Super Bowl coaching matchup since Chuck Noll and Tom Landry.

And it probably wouldn't be this way, but for Week 17.

What else do you remember from Week 17, and how will it (or won't it) apply tomorrow?