By Steve Silverman
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There is no doubt about where Bill Belichick sits among the pantheon of great coaches.
Invite the game’s all-time great leaders to dinner, and Belichick is there along with Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll and Don Shula.
He’d probably get the chair directly to the left of Lombardi, thanks in large part to his four Super Bowl championships.
The thing that has separated Belichick from his modern competitors is his ability not to get caught up in the hype. No matter what happens every Thursday, Sunday or Monday night, Belichick takes a deep breath and moves on to the next game.
Call him a genius, and he doesn’t care. Call him a monotone football robot, and he doesn’t care. Call him a cheater, well, he cares a little.
But concentrating on the Xs and Os and coming up with a strategy is not the only thing on Belichick’s mind this week, no matter how he or any of his close associates paint it.
A game against the New York Giants means that he will be staring across the sidelines at Tom Coughlin, and he can’t help but be reminded of Super Bowl defeats suffered at the hands of the Big Bkue at the end of the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Another four years later, and the Pats and Giants are facing each other yet again, but this time it’s in the regular season.
On the surface, the Giants should have no chance in this game. The undefeated Patriots have been rolling up impressive point totals and victories all season. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski is basically unstoppable, and when you throw in Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount, that’s quite an assignment for any defense.
The New England defense was expected to be the team’s vulnerable area, but the Patriots rank eighth overall in yards allowed and they have been able to impose their will at times with hard-hitting linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. Additionally, the Pats feature a game-changing pass rusher in Chandler Jones, who already has a league-leading 9 1/2 sacks.
The Giants are not coming empty to the table for this matchup, because Eli Manning is throwing the ball as well or better than he has in years, Odell Beckham Jr. is a nearly unstoppable force and Rueben Randle is an accomplished No. 2 receiver.
The big issue for the Giants is their defense. Anyone with anything resembling a memory realizes that they can’t defend the pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees threw seven TD passes against them and even though the Giants scored 49 points, they couldn’t beat the Saints, the same Saints who lost to the Tennessee Titans last week.
So, that makes it a walkover for the Patriots? Not so fast. (Yes, I like Lee Corso’s schtick.)
Belichick knows that Coughlin has no fear of him when preparing to play the Patriots. It is extremely doubtful that any other coach in the NFL doesn’t have a degree of trepidation when confronting New England’s head coach.
But Coughlin’s two Super Bowl victories over Belichick and the Patriots mean he has gotten the best of one of the game’s all-time greats in a maximum-pressure and preparation scenario, and then confirmed that success a second time.
It’s somewhat ironic, because Coughlin appears to be overwhelmed with anxiety most weeks. You can see his angst when Chip Kelly or Jason Garrett is on the other sideline, and that anxiety has rubbed off on his team with its late-game performances.
But when the coach on the other sideline is a four-time Super Bowl champion, Coughlin has been up to the task. He knows what coaching is all about at the professional level. He has to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
He will do this to the hilt and at least give his team a chance to compete.
The oddsmakers say the road team is a heavy favorite to walk into MetLife Stadium and win by more than a touchdown, and the public is buying into the undefeated Patriots.
But Belichick knows his team will have a battle on its hands, and he is going up against a real leader who has taken his measure and beaten him in the fourth quarter in two of the most compelling Super Bowls ever.
Belichick may give no indication of it, but this is not just another game for him. He has to prove something to himself and his team, and he knows that confronting and beating Coughlin is a major challenge.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy