Pats get this pick Super Sunday

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Enough hype, on with the show. And that's Super Bowl XXXIX, of course. Kickoff is at 6:25 p.m. on Fox on Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla., where either the New England Patriots will be re-crowned as NFL champions or the torch will pass to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots are favoured by seven points.

The Pats have won two of the last three title games, upsetting the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in 2001 and then hangin' tough last year, 32-29 over the persistent Carolina Panthers.

The Eagles have won zip, zilch. In fact, in their only Super Bowl appearance -- 1980 -- they were blitzed 27-10 by the Oakland Raiders.

But it's a new year, a whole new ball game.

Give the Eagles, 15-3 this season, their due. They're full value for their NFC title, just as the 16-2 Pats are for their AFC crown.

Fact is, the two best teams are in Jacksonville.

Easy to say now, you say. Granted, but I also said it -- in print -- on Sept. 10 on the eve of the regular season.

Here's why I like the Patriots on Sunday.

To start with, I actually believe all that stuff about how the Patriots are a family, a football family I mean.

They push -- no, they live -- the philosophy about all being on the same page, about playing for each other and about being a lunch-bucket gang that has no superstars.

No Pat is bigger than the Patriots.

Great stuff, although I don't necessarily subscribe to the no-superstar thing.

If chaps such as Tom Brady -- the quarterback and acknowledged leader of gang known as the Brady Bunch -- Corey Dillon, Troy Brown, Joe Andruzzi on the offence, and defenders Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Teddy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson aren't superstars, they're certainly great players and just the tip of the iceberg on a team that is solid top to bottom.

And if head coach Bill Belichick isn't a football mastermind, he does a brilliant impression of one. Belichick, a defensive specialist equally good at building up his own D and tearing apart those thrown at the Pats, is 9-1 as a postseason coach, a mark that matches Vince Lombardi for most wins in NFL playoff history.

Toss in Brady's 8-0 playoff record, including a pair of Super Bowl MVP awards, and you've got a devastating one-two punch driving the Pats.

But the key to the outcome could well be Dillon, who has run to glory -- 1,650 yards this season -- since signing with the Pats as a free agent from Cincinnati in the offseason.

His importance was underscored on Halloween afternoon when, with Dillon on the shelf and the Pats managing to rush for just five yards, the Pittsburgh Steelers dealt New England its first loss in two seasons.

By contrast, when Dillon was up and going in the AFC championship game -- rambling for 73 tough yards on 24 carries -- the Pats stoned the Steelers 41-27.

Expect the Pats to repeatedly ram Dillon into Philly's defensive front -- the Eagles are ranked 16th vs. the run -- hoping to force the Eagles into bringing their secondary, including All-Pro safeties Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard, closer to the line of scrimmage. If New England succeeds with Dillon, it will free Brady to fire at will to his corps of stellar receivers -- Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten and Bethel Johnson.

The Patriots could rack up a batch of points in a hurry.

Poor Philly? Not necessarily, although they'll need another amazing performance by linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, a Pro Bowler despite making only seven starts. The Eagles will need their league-leading sack attack -- 47, including 7 1/2 by Jevon Kearse -- to get busy as well.

While Donovan McNabb has been superb all season, lifting the Eagles to 27 points in each of their playoff wins despite playing without superstar wideout Terrell Owens, I just don't see Philly's offence in the same league with New England's defence. Owens, hampered by an ankle injury and a broken bone in his leg, is listed as questionable but intends to do his best to play Sunday. Playing is one thing but can he have an impact?

If the game comes down to kicking, you can't go wrong with Adam Vinatieri, the Pats veteran placekicker and a Super Bowl hero in his own right. Three years ago, his 48-yard field goal beat the Rams. Last year, he scuppered Carolina with four seconds left.

Cody's call: Patriots 31-21

Playoff record

Straight up: 7-3. Spread: 7-3


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