EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A game between the Giants and the New England Patriots is the NFL's version of a celebrity gala attended by big stars – with one major exception. At this affair, the stars would prefer the spotlight shines elsewhere.
Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are the NFL's two-winningest active coaches, and among the top 11 all-time. They've won six Super Bowls between them. Of course, the two Super Bowls Coughlin won were against Belichick's Patriots.
Their quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Eli Manning, started each of those Super Bowls. Brady lost two to Manning and the Giants, but won four others, including a 28-24 victory over Seattle last February in Super Bowl XLIX.
On Sunday, the 8-0 Patriots will visit the 5-4 Giants. None of the four prominent individuals wants the story to be about them.
When asked if facing Belichick, a fellow assistant coach with the Giants from 1988-90, "stir(s) your competitive juices," Coughlin took a predictably broader view.
"I think for our team playing against their team, a very, very good team, it's exciting," Coughlin said. "Let's face it, accomplished is the right word, but also remember, they are undefeated. In this day and age, being undefeated at this point of the season is quite an accomplishment in itself."
New England has won its first eight games for the second time in its history. In 2007, the Patriots finished 16-0 and won their first two playoff games before losing to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.
The Giants also defeated the Patriots in the 2011 regular season and in Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17. They are the only NFL team that hasn't lost to the Patriots since 2008 (though those are the only two meetings since then).
"Those games were a long time ago," Belichick said. "I don't think it really has any bearing or influence on what happens this week. I think this week is about the matchups with these two teams, and so that's what we're really focused on."
Belichick leads all active coaches and is fourth in NFL history with 219 victories in the regular season and 241, including playoffs. Coughlin is second among active coaches with 169 regular-season triumphs (12th all time) and 181, including playoffs (11th).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first meeting of head coaches with at least 388 combined regular-season victories since Dec. 17, 1995, when Miami's Don Shula (327) faced Buffalo's Marv Levy (126, for 453 combined).
Coughlin-coached teams are 5-1 vs. Belichick's teams. His Jacksonville Jaguars beat Belichick's Cleveland Browns twice in 1995, plus the 2011 regular season and the two Super Bowls. Coughlin is one of just five coaches to have faced Belichick at least five times and have a winning record against him (joining Bill Cowher, Jack Pardee, Wade Phillips and Mike Shanahan). Coughlin's winning percentage is the best of the group.
Belichick praised Coughlin on a conference call today.
"Tom is very intense, smart, obviously offensive-oriented," said Belichick, a former longtime defensive coordinator. "He always has a good plan of attack, and he does a good job of making the defenses work and attacking the weak points of whatever the defensive scheme or personnel is. They're sound. Their blitz pickup is always good. They have a good balance with the running game and the passing game. They always have a lot of big players on the field – fullbacks, tight ends – guys like that that force you defensively to defend everything."
In their four games against each other, Manning has completed 62.8 percent of his 145 passes for 1,052 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady has hit 64.4 percent of his throws for 1,240 yards, seven scores and three picks.
Like Coughlin, Manning has no interest in making this a personal duel with his counterpart on the opposition. But he spoke of his admiration for Brady, who this season has thrown 22 touchdown passes against only two interceptions, and has an NFL-best 113.5 passer rating.
"He's playing great," Manning said. "He's playing great football, throwing touchdowns, protecting the ball, not many interceptions, he's not turning the ball over. Some games he's throwing it 60 times, so they've got a good plan, a good scheme, he's getting the ball out quickly, and he's done a really good job getting their offense in a good place and throwing it accurately."
Playmakers on Patriot's first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike
Brady was asked about the past matchups, specifically the Super Bowls against the Giants, today at his news conference.
"I'd much rather have won them than lost them," he said. "But they won't have any bearing on this week or what the matchups are. It's a totally different team and game and situation and so forth, but they just have a great organization. They've had a great organization for a long time."
Brady, who would be a record 6-0 in Super Bowls if not for the Giants, didn't take the bait when asked if "the sight of the New York Giants disgust you because of the history?"
"They're a good team," Brady said. "They've always played us pretty tough, so we're expecting their best. They've got some really good players. They're obviously really well-coached, so they're just a tough team. We've always had very, very close games against them, even when we've won. We just haven't won as many of them as I would've liked to have won."
The Giants hope that trends continues when the NFL's best interconference rivalry resumes on Sunday."