Saturday, February 05, 2005

Close But No Cigar
By Ben Valentine

Sometimes I feel like a suspenseful column that holds out until the end to reveal the writer's best guess at the outcome is the best way to go at it. But not today. I'm going to say it right away, the Patriots are my pick to win the big game.

But unlike my fellow columnists, I think the game will be close. Maybe it's wishful thinking. Maybe that plucky Eagles fan who keeps ranting about them while I'm asleep in class has subliminally influenced me. I mean the Pats are on a roll and have the best coach in the NFL. The Eagles have beaten no one and can't expect much from the injured Terrell Owens. It has the makings of a typical 80's Super Bowl; one team from the superior conference trashing the weaker conference team.

But like I said, I think it will be close. And here's what I'm basing it on:

First, the Eagles D is the best defense the Patriots have played against so far. The Colts defense is flat out abominable. The Steelers D is solid, but prone to the deep ball, as the Pats proved two weeks ago. The Eagles secondary is definitely stronger than either of those teams. Their front seven isn't as good as the Steelers, but they rely on well placed blitzes and disciplined play to contain their opponents. For more on that, break out the tape of them against the Falcons. Most people, myself included, thought Falcons would be able to run against that defense. They didn't, partially due to inept play calling and partially due to strong Eagles defensive play. Will the Eagles shut down the Pats? No. But they're good enough to keep it close and turn them over a few times.

Secondly, Donovan McNabb is the most difficult QB the Patriots will have had to scheme for this season. Peyton Manning has played the Pats enough for the brain trust to know his strengths and weakness. Big Ben Rothlisberger was playing poorly already; he handed the Jets the game the week before. McNabb is a threat with his arm and legs. And unlike the McNabb of old, he has pocket precense. He looks to pass first, run second. The guy showed that making two or three great plays on his own last week and on the best one, he made people miss in the pocket and made a great throw for a first down. He's no Tom Brady, but he's certainly improved. It goes without saying not having T.O will hurt, but Donovan will make plays.

Third, the Eagles shouldn't be tight. As much as I hate to say it, the Eagles real big game was the NFC Conference Championship. The pressure on in that game. The birds aren't expected to win this game, especially with T.O's status in doubt. They can go out, take chances and perhaps even make a big play or two. Remember, even without Owens, they still have a couple of big play guys in McNabb and Brian Westbrook along with three pro bowlers in the secondary. It's not as if this team was a one man team.
Bill Belicheck or not, this guy aien't easy to scheme for.

Fourth, the Pats seem to have a knack for playing the close game. I know they blew out the Colts and Steelers, but that is a rarity. And remember even in those games, the Cols were down by seven at half and the Steelers had a chance to make it a one TD game early in the fourth. So I expect the Eagles will have chances to make it close and maybe even pull off the upset.

Again, I think the Pats will win. They have proven themselves throughout whereas the Eagles have really yet to prove anything. They have the best coach in the NFL who had two weeks to scheme. Usually, that is the difference with teams of comparable talent. That being said, Andy Reid is no slouch and I doubt he'll pull any Mike Martzs in this game. All and all, I think we have an interesting Super Bowl on our hands here.

Patriots 24, Eagles 20

But like I said, it could just be wishful thinking.


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