Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz of the New...

Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants walk back to the sideline in the fourth quarter after Manningham scored a 17-yard touchdown. (Jan. 22, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The Giants' defense has gone into the last two playoff games with the knowledge that they did not have all of their players available when they faced those teams in the regular season. Against the Packers and the 49ers, they were able to justifiably argue that neither had seen what they were truly capable of doing because of injuries and missing pieces.

The Giants' defense was pretty close to full strength when they faced the Patriots on Nov. 6, but that doesn't mean the argument needs to be thrown away.

In fact, it can be recycled. By the offense.

When the Giants won, 24-20, they did so without three starting offensive players: center David Baas, leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw and leading receiver (at the time) Hakeem Nicks. All are expected to be available for the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, which has the Giants believing that the Patriots have not yet seen the best of what they can do.

"Confidence is sky-high, man," Mario Manningham said. "We're playing good right now. Gonna keep playing good."

And is it fair to say the Patriots haven't seen the Giants' best shot?

"We can say that," Manningham said.

The Giants had three pass plays of at least 23 yards in that game against the Patriots despite being without Nicks, a player who already has had four plays longer than that in this postseason.

"From the first time we played them, we had some pretty big plays against them," said Victor Cruz, who caught a 23-yarder in that game. "It's going to take a lot, a few more practices just to make sure we understand the coverages and what we're facing, but we definitely see some opportunities to hit the big play on them."

And considering whom they just played in the NFC Championship Game, facing the Patriots should be almost easy. The 49ers' defense was ranked No. 1 in the NFC and No. 4 in the NFL during the regular season, and the Giants scored 20 points against them. The Patriots finished the regular season ranked 31st defensively in the NFL. They also gave up a league-high 79 pass plays of at least 20 yards.

"That Niner game, I'm still a little sore from that game," Cruz said. "It was an all-out war. They were definitely one of the best defenses we faced. So I feel like if we can make a lot of the plays we did against them, we can definitely do it against anybody."

Manningham said the Patriots have more vulnerability in the middle of the field.

"I feel like the Patriots' linebacker corps isn't as strong as the 49ers', which they're not," he said. "You can make plays against both of their defenses."

Nicks, who did not practice Thursday while nursing shoulder and ankle injuries, was coy about what he can add to the Giants' offensive attack against the Patriots that was missing the last time.

"You never know," he said slyly. "We'll see . . . It all depends on how I'm being used in the offense."

At the very least, having Nicks and Bradshaw on the field will give the Giants more confidence to be able to score points against the Patriots.

"It's always nice to be healthy and have all your guys," said Baas, who also missed Thursday's practice with a neck injury he's been dealing with all season but is expected to play. "But when you have a game of this magnitude, when you have all your pieces out there battling, it gives you that much more confidence, that much more belief. We're happy to have guys back and guys healthy and we're looking forward to this."

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