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NFC Analysis

The Baltimore Sun

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This was the emotional state of the NFC champion New York Giants yesterday: excited, giddy, proud, determined, happy.

And exhausted.

"This is the best exhausted feeling that I've ever had in eight years of playing this game," wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. "But it was a good exhausted. I'm still a little tired from the flight and getting in here late. But it was worth it."

You think? The Giants survived the bitter cold of Lambeau Field on Sunday night and beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, 23-20, in overtime, on Lawrence Tynes' 47-yard field goal.

The next time they suit up for a game will be Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl against the unbeaten New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

It probably won't be zero degrees at kickoff.

More like 70, if the current long-range forecast for the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz., holds. The Giants don't care about the weather, though. Surely they proved that Sunday. They also proved that a team can make the Super Bowl after an 0-2 start, and by winning three playoff games on the road, and with Tom Coughlin as its coach and Eli Manning as its quarterback.

Can the Giants win the Super Bowl against an 18-0 Team of Supposed Destiny that was immediately installed as 14-point favorites (down to 12 1/2 yesterday) by Las Vegas oddsmakers?

Maybe, maybe not. They weren't going to seriously address that yesterday. As a smiling - from ear to ear, actually - Coughlin said, "I'm not going to start on the Patriots just yet."

No, yesterday was not a day to think or talk about the task ahead for the Giants. It was a day to make sure all of their fingers and toes were still attached, to bask in what has been accomplished so far and to let it sink in that they are playing in the biggest game of their life.

Coughlin said he asked Michael Strahan - along with Amani Toomer, the only player left from the Super Bowl-losing team of 2000 - to address the club yesterday.

Then, Coughlin gave the players today and tomorrow off before three days of practice starting Thursday.

Sunday is another day off before the team heads Monday for the desert and the circus that is Super Bowl week.

"Today, you start getting your plans and you start preparing for it," said Manning, one of the few players to address the media yesterday. "I am sure I am going to start getting ticket requests and will have to deal with those things, so I am going to try to take the first couple days and get everything prepared, talk to your family and friends and see who is coming to the game."

One thing the Giants were willing to talk about was their role as underdogs and how it has helped them in the postseason.

Expect a lot of quotes from them in days to come about how great the Patriots are.

But the Giants think they can win, especially after standing toe-to-toe with New England in a 38-35 loss in the last game of the regular season.

"We have something to prove every time that we play," Coughlin said, "because if there are 100 of you out there, 70 of you don't think we can win."

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