Former Giants' DC Stays Out of Philly, but Ends up With Another NFC Power
One look at this year’s NFC title game matchup demonstrates how the National Football League is anything but predictable.
The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, owners of the NFL’s best record (15-1) this season and the NFC’s top seed this year are missing from that game, as are the previous Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints, despite going 13-3 this year.
In the Packers’ place are the fourth-seeded New York Giants, who only five weeks ago, were a mediocre 7-7 and fighting desperately for their playoff lives before upsetting the Packers by 17 points on Green Bay’s home field last Sunday, to continue their second magical playoff run in five seasons after missing the postseason each of the past two years.
And, standing in for the Saints, are the second-seeded San Francisco 49ers, who matched New Orleans’ regular season win total before beating the Saints in last week’s divisional playoff meeting.
It’s been quite a turnaround San Francisco, after going just 6-10 in a lousy NFC West, which made history as the league’s first division with nothing but losing teams last year.
In an ironic way, the Giants and 49ers did each other a favor.New York didn’t want to travel to New Orleans, where the Giants were embarrassed, 49-24, before a Monday Night Football national television audience in Week 12, and the 49ers prefer to host the Giants on Sunday rather having to take a trip to Green Bay.
Nevertheless, the Week 1 Thursday night marquee matchup that kicked off the 2011 NFL season, with New Orleans playing at Green Bay, turned out not be a foreshadowing of a later conference title game that many thought would take place.
Instead, the Giants and 49ers renew an historic rivalry with and eighth postseason contest between the teams.
This year’s NFC championship game underscores just how quickly things can change in today’s NFL – not only from season to season, but within the same season, in a matter of weeks – and how difficult it is for even the best teams to reach the Super Bowl.
That’s precisely why so much is at stake on Sunday. Neither of this year’s surprise conference title game entries know when they might get to this lofty stage again, especially with the NFL coaching carousel once again in motion.
The recent firing of ex-Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as the St. Louis Rams’ head coach caused the inevitable domino effect around the NFC.
The vacancy left by Spagnuolo’s departure opened the door for Jeff Fisher to return to coaching as the head coach of Rams, whom Fisher, as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, lost to in his only Super Bowl appearance.
Needing a defensive coordinator, Fisher, last Sunday, tapped the Saints’ Gregg Williams to join him in St. Louis, which opened the spot for Spagnuolo to once again do what he does best – focus on defense, as a coordinator.
While the Saints hadn’t officially announced his hiring as of Thursday night, it appears that Spagnuolo, the architect of a Giants’ defense that punished New England star quarterback Tom Brady in New York’s monumental Super Bowl XLII victory, is ready to team up with New Orleans head coach Sean Payton as the Saints’ new defensive coordinator.
That would give the Saints a formidable duo of ex-Giant coordinators who each took New York to Super Bowls in the past (Payton, the Giants’ former quarterbacks coach in 1999, was New York’s offensive coordinator when he helped the Giants go to Super Bowl XXXV).
With all of the Saints’ firepower on offense, adding Spagnuolo in an effort to improve New Orleans’ defense, should make the Saints even tougher as once again, one of the favorites in the NFC next year.
Additionally, the Packers should still be very good, along with a pair of talented yet underachieving teams from this season – the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys – both of whom should pose significant threats to the Giants in the NFC East next season.
Thus, when looking ahead to next year, the urgency for the Giants and 49ers is immediately raised, even beyond the already high degree of exigency that naturally comes from playing for a trip to a Super Bowl.
That’s not to say that the loser of Sunday’s showdown won’t be in the mix for an NFC title a year from now. However, for all of the talent the Giants and 49ers possess themselves, and as fortunate as they are to each be just one final step from football’s ultimate game, Sunday’s chance at gaining an NFC title is about the future as much as the present.