By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 04, 2005

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JACKSONVILLE -- The world champs are ready to go.

Patriots/Eagles
Close-Up
What: Super Bowl XXXIX
Where: AllTel Stadium
Jacksonville, Florida
When: Sunday 2/6/05
6:18 PM EST
TV National:
TV Local:
Fox
WFXT-TV 25
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 945
2004 Team
Records:
Patriots 16-2
Eagles 15-3
Latest Line: Patriots by 7
According to the AP pool reporter, the Patriots had their "best practice of the week" on Friday. Richard Seymour made everything complete with no reports of any problems with his bum knee which has sidelined him since the Jets game in December. The Patriots have an empty injury report, and are getting mentally ready to play Super Bowl XXXIX on Sunday.

Experts are beginning to weigh in on the game. More and more writers, commentators and former players and coaches are leaning towards the Patriots defending their Super Bowl championship. Meanwhile, the Eagles remain largely about Terrell Owens, and himself declaring that he will play while his coach, Andy Reid, continues to be evasive and largely pessimistic about his ability to contribute on Sunday.

Feel comfy, Patriot Nation? Don't blame you if you do.

Of course, Ram Nation felt comfy three years ago. They still have to play the game. And if you are of the opinion that the Patriots have this thing won by merely showing up, that's why you watch the game instead of play it. There is still a game scheduled for 6:18 PM EST Sunday at AllTel Stadium. The Eagles could very well rise up and steal this one from the Patriots and ruin everyone's parade plans on Tuesday.

The Patriots are too well disciplined and too well coached to come out flat on Sunday. If the Eagles win, it will be because they somehow come out and played hungrier, and that Reid and his staff simply came up with a better game plan than Bill Belichick and his staff. The smart thinking is that the Eagles will have a good plan in place, but the Patriots will play with better discipline and intensity, and claim their special place in NFL history with their second straight Super Bowl win and their third in the last four years.

A look at the head-to-head matchups doesn't reveal the whole story, but it helps a little bit.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb finally gets his day in the sun. He finally gets to show those knucklehead Eagle fans who booed him on draft day 1999 the reason why the Eagles drafted him. Expect McNabb to play well, but until Tom Brady shows otherwise, the Super Bowl is his theater and he is 2-0 on this stage, and 2 for 2 in Super Bowl MVPs. Edge: Patriots.

Running back Brian Westbrook is arguably the offensive player the Patriots should fear the most. Some Eagle fans may still pine for Duce Staley, but Westbrook can force the Patriots to not overplay the pass, especially if Owens plays. Corey Dillon turned out to be the steal of the century, and is now headed for his fourth Pro Bowl. Edge: Patriots.

Receivers Even if Owens plays, his injury will prevent him from playing at his customary astounding level. Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell are not prime time receivers, and the Patriot secondary should not fear either man. The loss of tight end Chad Lewis will hurt. In Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown, David Patten and Bethel Johnson, the Patriots will have plenty of material to attack the outstanding Eagle secondary. Look for Daniel Graham to be an ingredient to loosen up the Eagle defense, if screen passes and flat tosses are the way to do it. Edge: Patriots.

Offensive line The Eagles need right tackle Jon Runyan to be healthy (listed as probable). Runyan was hobbling in the NFC title game against Atlanta. Runyan, center Hank Fraley and left tackle Tra Thomas anchor a terrific line. If the Eagles decide to match up Jevon Kearse against Brandon Gorin, the Patriot right guard may need help. Otherwise, guards Joe Andruzzi and Stephen Neal need to have big games. The plan to run Dillon is likely to be to the outside, away from Jeremiah Trotter, but the inside game needs to get something. Edge: Eagles.

Defensive line In addition to Gorin versus Kearse, keep an eye on Hugh Douglas versus Matt Light. Corey Simon is a force up the middle who can also get to Brady if he's not checked. With Richard Seymour back in the fold, Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork will be able to ply their craft a little better thanks to the blockers he will tie up. Ty Warren has stepped up in the postseason, and Jarvis Green is right there ready to spell Seymour if anything happens to his knee. Edge: Patriots.

Linebacker Mark Simoneau is listed as probable, but he teams with Trotter and Dhani Jones to make a formidable linebacker corps. Trotter is a solid linebacker against the run. The Patriot quartet of Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer and Willie McGinest, plus Roman Phifer, Ted Johnson and Rosevelt Colvin, will simply provide fresher and smarter play. Most observers consider the linebackers to be the heart of the Patriot defense and the key to why they achieve so much success. Edge: Patriots.

Secondary Three Pro Bowlers. Lito Sheppard. Brian Dawkins. Michael Lewis. The depleted Patriot secondary will probably play smarter and have a terrific plan in case Owens does play, but you cannot ignore the talent the Eagles possess in this area. Edge: Eagles.

Special teams You have two terrific kickers in Adam Vinatieri and David Akers, both Pro Bowlers. Dirk Johnson and Josh Miller were both middle of the pack in punting. Give the Patriots the edge in returners. What really decides this category is the man from South Dakota who twice has shown that if the game hangs in the balance and the Patriots are within field goal range, bank it. Edge: Patriots.

Coaching Much like last year, Reid and his terrific staff are simply overmatched. Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel will want to celebrate their valedictories as assistants, moving on to head gigs next year. They along with Belichick will have the Eagles all figured out, and their players will carry their plans out to the letter. Edge: Patriots.

Here are the five keys to the game which will likely spell victory for the Patriots. Three of these keys more or less fall in the "intangible" category, but they are intangibles that cannot be ignored and will indeed have a bearing on the outcome of Sunday's game.

The Patriots scored a slam dunk win on Media Day on Tuesday. They said nothing to incite the Eagles. Meanwhile, Owens picked up a little bit on Mitchell's opening salvo the week before with more dissing of the Patriot secondary, playing up the "who dey" theme big time. Reports also abound that the Eagles have taken a more lighthearted approach to this week and are perceived by some observers as "cocky". Mitchell started it with his absurd challenge for Rodney Harrison, and the Patriots will make him pay and pay big on Sunday. Expect the Patriots to have the edge in intensity and poise all game long.

Dillon gets this writer's pre-game vote for game MVP if the Patriots win, not Brady. While Brady will give it his best shot and figures to have a great game, Dillon will be needed to soften up the Eagle defense and set up the passing game. He will also be needed to kill time in the fourth quarter. If Dillon can force the secondary to play eight or more in the box, giving Brady some better shots downfield against those outstanding defensive backs, and then later gain good yardage in the fourth quarter, he should get the MVP award. Brady may get it anyway if the Patriots win, like he did three years ago when many people thought a defensive player was more worthy.

While Harrison may want to decapitate Mitchell and cut Owens' legs out from under him, the Patriots need to be disciplined against the Eagle wideouts. Look for the Patriots to contain McNabb and prevent him from beating them with his runs. The Patriots will try and induce McNabb to win the game with his arm, and thus place the focus of the game on the Eagle receivers. Given that the Patriots did an effective job on the two receiver corps they faced in the previous postseason games, the Patriots figure to put the clamps on the passing game thanks to great coaching and hard hits.

"Fellas, let's play the last thirty minutes for the old man!" That's what Jerry Kramer told his Packer teammates during halftime of Super Bowl II, knowing that Vince Lombardi was going to leave after the season was over. With Weis and Crennel out the door at game's end, the players will want to play this one for both future head coaches. In particular, how the prospect of Weis leaving will affect Brady's level of play bears watching. Whatever intensity the Patriots bring to the table will be increased even more due to this prospect.

And though the players will downplay this prospect, their legacy does matter to them. The players want a second straight Vince badly. Most of the players had the taste in 2002 and 2004. The players want to taste again. Only one other team in NFL history has won three Vinces in four years, that being Dallas about ten years ago. The Patriots will ascend to the highest of NFL heights with a win on Sunday, and the players know that full well.

That is why dynasty should prevail over destiny, and that the Patriots will emerge once again the ultimate victors in the ultimate game.


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