If this was a Super Bowl preview, what does it mean?

Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers was billed as a preview to Super Bowl XLIX and, for what it's worth, it lived up to the hype. The match-up pitted Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers against each other for the first time in their storied careers, and neither future Hall-of-Fame quarterback disappointed on the national stage. In nail-biting fashion, the game came down to the final two possessions and left the Patriots wishing that they had made more plays.

It's easy to nitpick the Patriots shortcomings but in retrospect, we can't be overly upset about the loss. It was a hard fought game and Green Bay made a key defensive stop where the Patriots couldn't. But if these two teams were to meet again, is the outcome going to be any different?

There's only one place that they can see each other again, and as Brandon Browner said post-game, "it's in the Big One." However, since 2001 there have only been three times when teams that faced off against each other in the regular season ended up playing against each other in the Super Bowl. All three occasions happen to involve the Patriots.

2001 New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams

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In 2001, the Patriots and St. Louis Rams met in a regular season slug fest, the Rams walking away victors by a score of 24-17. At that time, the Patriots were still searching for their identity. They had yet to win three of the next four Super Bowls and establish themselves as the dominant team of the new century.  The Patriots came away with a moral victory that day-- Defensive Back Ty Law told reporters, "we can look at this game and learn from it, but I think we can also look at this game and say we can play with anybody." Nine games later the Rams sauntered into the Louisiana Superdome, 14 point favorites over the Patriots and confident that they would be taking home their second Lombardi Trophy in three years. Rather than roll over and die, the Patriots took what they learned about the Rams in their November meeting (note: I am not referencing Spygate) and applied it to their game plan, beating up Rams receivers and harassing Kurt Warner all night long. The physical play was highlighted on a second quarter interception by Law returned for a touchdown. On the play, Law was helped out by Mike Vrable, who delivered a bone jarring hit on Warner just as he released the ball.

2007 New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

To be honest, and after all these years, just thinking about the way this season ended leaves a sour taste in my mouth and make me sick to my stomach. Nevertheless, here goes nothing.

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In 2007, the Patriots were juggernauts, rolling through their 16 game schedule without losing a game. In week 17, they traveled to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants. The Patriots won the game 38-35 but needed a fourth quarter comeback to complete the first perfect regular season since 1972. The Giants were up beat and excited after the game: "We didn't win the game, but if you saw everybody in the locker room, everybody was excited. I never saw a locker room so upbeat after a loss because we played so well, did some good things and hung in there in a game where we didn't have to play," Eli Manning told the media. The Giants had every reason to be upbeat. They had almost beat the best team in football, and like the 2001 Patriots, the Giants knew that if they met again, the outcome could be different-- and different it was. Five weeks later, the Giants were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after beating New England 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots traveled back to Foxboro with nothing to show for their perfect regular season except a ridiculous banner that now hangs at Gillette Stadium. 

2011 New England Patriots vs New York Giants 

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Four years after the loss of a perfect season and 10 years after the beginning of their dynasty, the Patriots once again found themselves in the Super Bowl facing off against an opponent they saw in the regular season. But unlike the two meetings in the 2007 campaign where the Giants and Patriots split wins, in 2011 the Pats came out on the losing end of both the regular season and Super Bowl match-ups. In a truly rare occurrence, the Patriots lost a game in November at home, as Eli Manning threw a touchdown to tight end Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left on the clock, giving the Giants the 24-20 victory. When the two teams met in Super Bowl XLVI, it once again came down to last second heroics and the Giants walked away victorious ... again ... winning 21-17. 

2014 ???

If last Sunday was a preview of Super Bowl XLIX, I feel good about where the Patriots stand. Brady knows he has the weapons to hang with Rodgers and his high octane offense and Bill Belichick knows he has the pieces on defense to slow down Rodgers. Unlike in years past, this Patriots team, and defense in particular, plays on a different level when they have a chip on their shoulder. If they face off against each other in Arizona this February, I expect the Patriots to come out and give the Packers an entirely different football game.

One thing is for sure, away from home both teams struggle. Put them on a neutral site and we may have one of the best Super Bowls of all time.

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