INDIANAPOLIS -- I arrived in this unlikely host city skeptical of two things regarding Super Bowl XLVI: Indy's chances of rising to the occasion, and the Patriots' chances of departing with a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Today marks my eighth day here, and I assure you there isn't a hint of Stockholm Syndrome in play when I tell you that Indianapolis has been such an outstanding site that another Super Bowl here would draw a consensus of applause from the media and fans who have checked in to this hospitable, easily navigated, sneaky-fun city this week.
Oh, and also, that other opinion has changed.
I believe -- I'm convinced -- the Patriots are going to win Super Bowl XLVI.
Tom Brady will match Joe Montana in jewelry and legacy. Bill Belichick will be regarded, even among his detractors, as a coaching equal to the man for whom the championship trophy is named. Kevin Faulk will ride a duckboat into retirement.
The Patriots, in the delirious aftermath, will admit that hell, yeah, revenge was a motive. They will damn well will be aware of this.
It will feel so familiar that you'll forget it's been seven years since the Patriots were last champions. You'll buy the t-shirt the next day, and a couple for the kids, too.
It will not be easy; it will be intense, the most difficult challenge they have faced all season. The Giants have been a force in the second half of the season. They beat the Patriots in Foxborough, without Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw. They beat arguably the best offense (Green Bay) and the best defense (San Francisco) on the road to get here.
The Giants are brash, physical, and formidable, and their strengths match up with the Patriots' perceived weaknesses, or at least their vulnerabilities. Seeing Ty Law and Mike Haynes roaming around the media festivities this week made a Patriots fan wish the current team had someone, anyone, near their equivalent. Maybe Raymond Clayborn is available?
But its sometimes been lost in the perpetual hype this week that the Giants have flaws, too. Real ones. While Bradshaw is a threat, the Giants struggle to run the ball because the offensive line is somewhere between patchwork and porous. Vince Wilfork could punish them the way he did the Ravens during his tour de force in the AFC Championship game.
When it's on, their pass rush masks mediocre linebackers and defensive backs. But if the rush is stagnated or delayed by a Patriots offensive line that has been waiting four years for redemption, or should Bill O'Brien use the screen game to use the Giants' aggressiveness against them, the Patriots are guaranteed to keep the scoreboard operators busy. The Giants were 25th in the league in points allowed (25) and 29th in passing yardage (255.1). As well as it has performed recently, this is not Lawrence Taylor's Oldsmobile.
Still, the Patriots cannot afford, against this justifiably confident opponent, to play an incomplete game. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis can't channel Corey Dillon '04, Antowain Smith '01, '03 will do just fine.
Patrick Chung and the group of fledgling defensive backs must unfailingly execute the game plan structured to contain Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham.
Rob Gronkowski must be more than a decoy, and yesterday's pool report that his limp was absent is beyond encouraging.
Stephen Gostkowski must make the right turn should he find himself at the fork in the road that leads in one direction to Norwood, and the other to Vinatieri.
And an improbable hero might be required. It will not be Chad Ochocinco, whom Brady hasn't trusted to be in the right place at the right time all season; why would he have that faith now? My hunch: Deion Branch. He's seized the Super Bowl stage before. The Giants may overlook him, but Brady never will.
Tom Brady cannot flinch at the sight of Jason Pierre-Paul bearing down and leave points on the field. And he won't. He is as insanely competitive as anyone I've seen since Michael Jordan, and I'd bet you he'd knock a season off his career for one victory today. It would only be appropriate for Brady to collect his fourth ring with a transcendent performance.
Seeing this team for the past eight days, I've come to truly believe in them. Their coach certainly does, and of course that's a fine indicator. But there's a ... a calm about this team, a quiet confidence, that is palpable when you talk to the Matt Lights and Jerod Mayos. It never wavered all week here in Indianapolis, and it's enough to make a skeptic start wondering what weaknesses they've detected in their opponent that they know they can expose. They know something.
A victory in Super Bowl XLVI will require discipline, talent, ferocity, and poise. A little luck wouldn't hurt, either. They are due some against this opponent, after all.
A lot must go right to beat the dangerous but flawed Giants today.
They've won their first three Lombardi Trophies by three. They'll win their fourth by four.
Patriots 28, Giants 24. We'll remember this edition of the Patriots, and the city in which the fourth championship was secured, with enduring fondness.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.